With a look to the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the process of shaping their summer roster. They re-signed nearly everyone on their practice squad, sans Tyler Murphy, to future deals that can keep this players through camp. They also added several players from outside the organization, as is the norm, to futures deal. We’ll take you through each one and give you the skinny on each player. Nothing incredibly in-depth but enough background on each to get your familiar with who these people are.
Issac Blakeney/WR Duke: 6’4/3 223
When you’re big and athletic, coaches can overthink your position, shuttle you around like cattle from one group to another, trying to find a perfect home. It took awhile for Issac Blakeney to find it but once he did, he took off.
Standing in at over 6’4, he’s clearly got size that gets coaches and fans excited about. But he isn’t just a lumbering body to throw jump balls too, akin to putting the big kid in net during gym class hockey. Blakeney can move, the embodiment of an athlete.
In high school, he took home state championships in the long and triple jump and second in the Junior Olympic State Championships. He was MVP of his 32-1 basketball team, bringing home a state championship, teammates with Jamison Crowder, who Blakeney would go to Duke with. Crowder is now a cog in the Washington Redskins’ passing attack. And oh yeah, his football team ran the table in the regular season with Blakeney picking off five passes and catching nine touchdowns.
In all, Blakeney was named the 2010 Charlotte Observer’s Athlete of the Year. Still, he wasn’t highly rated, just a two-star prospect, and committed to Duke in an impressive class headlined by Laken Tomlinson, an eventual first round pick by the Detroit Lions.
Now it became a matter of where to play this long, leggy athlete. He was a guinea pig for two seasons, not playing a single snap as the Blue Devils’ coaching staff worked him at defensive end and then at safety. Neither place stuck and he was finally swithced over to the offense. But not as a wide receiver. He was made into a tight end.
As a tight end in 2012, he caught 32 passes and one score. But knowing his frame, he wasn’t made to play in-line and finally, beginning in 2013, Blakeney was moved to receiver. He responded with an immediate knack for the end zone, only catching 19 passes but scoring four four times. Keeping his same position for two consecutive seasons for the first time, he was able to turn in a solid senior year, hauling in 47 passes for nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns.
Just like in high school, it was he and Crowder teaming up to lead Duke to a 9-4 record.
In 2014, Blakeney joined Duke’s track and field team with three football teammates to run in the 4×100 and 4×200 relays, turning in some of the best collective times in school history.
At his Pro Day, he timed the way you’d expect a 223 pound receiver would, a 4.62 40. But he jumped an impressive 36.5 inches and 10’9″ in the broad, showing off those high school skills again.
Unlike Crowder, Blakeney went undrafted, and signed with the San Francisco 49ers following the draft, a common trend of the player’s we’ve covered in this series. He spent the entire preseason with Jim Tomsula before getting released at final cuts, but as ESPN pointed out at the time, had a sense of humor about it.
He wasn’t out of work long though, picked up on the Redskins’ practice squad – again, teaming up with Crowder – a month later. That stint only lasted a couple weeks and he was released with an injury settlement and likely by those terms, wasn’t able to sign anywhere else for the rest of the season.
Now in Pittsburgh, he’s made it known his intentions are to make a roster.
We’ve discussed how deep the Steelers’ wide receiver group before. Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and Sammie Coates are locks. Darrius Heyward-Bey is uncertain to return, my gut says he doesn’t, but even if he doesn’t, the team has the ever popular Eli Rogers to go along with fellow future contracts Tobias Palmer and Levi Norwood. That’s before the draft, a place where the Steelers have taken a receiver all but twice under Mike Tomlin.
It creates a predictable difficult path to making the roster but with Blakeney’s unique size, no one else on the back end of the team’s roster has that frame, makes him a definite candidate for the practice squad.