As of today, the Pittsburgh Steelers are officially on an extended summer break between the conclusion of the offseason program with the completion of minicamp and the beginning of training camp in Latrobe at the end of July.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has sent his players away on their own with the message that they get in the best shape that they can between now and then, but for others, the more important message might be simply to get their body right.
That seems to be especially true for second-year tight end Rob Blanchflower, who has battled injuries for the past two offseasons now after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft following a senior campaign that was itself bogged down by injuries.
No doubt in part because of the time and training that he missed sitting out in training camp and in preseason games due to his various ailments last season, Blanchflower failed to make the 53-man roster as a rookie, losing that spot to veteran Michael Palmer, who hardly played during the year and was not re-signed.
But Blanchflower was quickly signed to the practice squad after he was cut, and spent the duration of Steelers’ season there, promptly being signed to a Reserve/Future contract after the season.
The second-year tight end has reportedly been sitting out practices once again this spring with whatever unreported ailments are keeping him from practicing—and that is causing him to miss valuable experience that his competition is now getting.
This is of even greater concern because he may have a higher level of competition that he faced last year and is at greater risk of being passed over for even a spot on the practice squad, so it’s imperative at the very least that he ensures that he gets his body right just to get through the practices and show himself on the field.
Of course, the Steelers used a fifth-round draft pick this year on tight end Jesse James, who has been receiving some positive responses for his early showings. But there has also been whispers of undrafted free agent Cameron Clear opening some eyes after having previously been brought in by the team for a pre-draft visit.
It was once seen as a competition between James and Blanchflower for the last tight end spot on the 53-man roster, but if he fails to stay healthy once again, he may find himself in a battle with Clear to even remain a part of the team.
It’s not as though seventh-round draft picks have had no success with the Steelers at the tight end position. Both David Johnson and David Paulson made the roster and spent multiple years with the team. Had Johnson not suffered a torn ACL, he may still be with the team.
But Blanchflower is now on his second attempt to make the roster. By the end of the preseason a year ago, I felt that he had enough talent to make the jump to the 53-man roster in his second season. After drafting James and seeing the second-year tight end’s continued injury concerns, however, his opportunity may be slipping away if he’s not ready to go full force at training camp.