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UMass tight end Rob Blanchflower eager to show NFL teams his ability

Massachusetts' Rob Blanchflower (87) dives to catch the ball as Bowling Green's Ryland Ward (15) and D.J. Lynch (7) pursue on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Bowling Green, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sentinel-Tribune, Shane Hughes) MANDATORY CREDIT; TOLEDO BLADE OUT

Massachusetts' Rob Blanchflower (87) dives to catch the ball as Bowling Green's Ryland Ward (15) and D.J. Lynch (7) pursue on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Bowling Green, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sentinel-Tribune, Shane Hughes) MANDATORY CREDIT; TOLEDO BLADE OUT

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Monday, March 24, 2014
(Published in print: Tuesday, March 25, 2014)

Rob Blanchflower will be more spectator than participant at Tuesday’s pro day at the University of Massachusetts.

The Minutemen’s best NFL prospect is still rehabilitating the bilateral sports hernia that caused him to miss six games last season and forced him to undergo surgery in mid-December.

On April 23, Blanchflower will be a month healthier and will host a private workout for NFL teams either at McGuirk Stadium or Garber Field.

“As for being in tip-top shape, I’m on my way,” Blanchflower said. “Once I get back and I’m fully rehabbed I know I’m going to be able to show everybody that I’ve got it. I think when April 23rd rolls around I’ll be feeling even better than I am now and I’ll be able to turn some heads and increase my draft stock when people see me running around at full speed in full health.”

Blanchflower will use pro day to talk with scouts.

“I’ll be in attendance,” he said. “There’s a lot of scouts that wanted to meet and just talk and get to know me a little bit better.”

Blanchflower hoped his willingness to play through the injury, which he battled for most of the season, would be a positive in the minds of NFL coaches and scouts.

“I fought through all those things. I think that says something about my toughness and my character,” he said. “I could have checked out and got the surgery and missed the majority of my senior year. I chose to gut it out and play through it. I think that shows I’m a team player. I think teams like and respect that about me. I got invited to the combine and the Senior Bowl and I was one of the best tight ends in the country with half the amount of muscles that I was supposed to have.”

Blanchflower, who made 27 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns, knows that the injury, which prevented him from participating at the Senior Bowl or the NFL combine, could bounce him from a late-round selection to an undrafted free agent.

“I just want to get invited to a camp. Getting drafted would be great, but at the end of the day I feel like I just need to get my foot in the door. I just need to get into a camp and show them what I can do athletically. How I run and how I block and catch the ball. At the end of the day I think it will all work out,” he said. “If I get picked up on Day 3, I’ll be ecstatic, but if I don’t, I won’t look at it as something demoralizing. I’ve seen so many of my friends that haven’t been drafted keep persevering and they’ve been on teams for a couple of years now.”

Blanchflower said he’s been in touch with several former Minutemen who’ve played in the NFL. Emil Igwenagu, who was undrafted but made the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, has been especially helpful.

“Emil is a great guy and he was a great mentor to me,” Blanchflower said. “He calls me to check in and tell me if I have any questions to call him.”

When the fall semester ended, Blanchflower worked out in Florida at what was then called Athlete’s Performance, a facility that offers draft prep for football players among its many services in a wide gamut of sports. He lived in a dorm-style room on the same floor with likely early draft picks Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Aaron Murray (Georgia).

While he might head into draft week as an injury question mark, his status as a versatile tight end who can block and catch works in his favor.

“That’s appealing to coaches because I fit in their scheme,” Blanchflower said. “Not every NFL team is the same but the majority of them have a multiple-use tight end.”

He’s eager to join a team and begin training for football instead of speed and strength testing.

“You don’t play football to run 40s and things like that. I’m excited to talk X’s and O’s and meet the coaching staff I’m going to be with,” he said. “I’m excited for the whole process when I find out where I’m going to be living for the next couple months.”

IHEDIGBO A LION — Amherst native and former UMass All-American James Ihedigbo tweeted Monday that he is officially a Detroit Lion.

“It’s Agreed upon! I’m a @DetroitLionsNFL I’m excited for what’s ahead and helping this team achieve greatness!!! #HeartOfALion #LionsNation.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage