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UMass TE Rob Blachflower eager, closer to return

University of Massachusetts tight end Rob Blanchflower. JERREY ROBERTS

University of Massachusetts tight end Rob Blanchflower. JERREY ROBERTS

By MATT VAUTOUR @GazetteUMass
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
(Published in print: Wednesday, September 18, 2013)

It’s hard to tell who is looking forward more to Rob Blanchflower’s return to action for the University of Massachusetts football team, the Minutemen’s senior tight end and captain or coach Charley Molnar.

At 0-3 with a struggling offense, both are beyond eager to get him back on the field. Blanchflower’s status for Saturday’s noon game against Vanderbilt at Gillette Stadium remains uncertain, but he returned to practice on a limited basis Monday and increased his workload Tuesday.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up, but at the same time I’m trying to push it as much as I can and show progress. So far it’s going great. Every day, I’m pushing it a little more every day,” Blanchflower said. “I’m trying not to push it too hard, but push it enough at the same time to make progress.”

Blanchflower has been sideline with an undisclosed injury since late in preseason. He’s been listed as a game-time decision each of the first three weeks. Molnar said considerably more progress needs to come for him to face the Commodores.

“He’s just sticking his toes in the water right now. There’s a long way to go. He did slightly more than he did Monday, which wasn’t very much,” Molnar said. “We’ll increase his volume (Wednesday) if he’s able. It won’t be my decision. It will be the doctor’s decision whether he plays Saturday. I’ve got my fingers crossed that he can play this week, but I have no indication yet that that’s possible.”

Blanchflower said not playing, especially as a senior, has been hard.

“It’s been very difficult missing out on being out there with the guys day after day and missing a chance to get better,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but I’m trying to stay optimistic, take it day by day, work on rehab and get back on the field and being the best player I can be.”

Unable to fulfill the tight end part of his title for the first three games of the season, he’s been trying to contribute more as a captain.

“In the past, I’ve always been a leader by example, but when you can’t lead by example being a tight end or being a football player, you have to settle for being a vocal leader, which is something I’ve tried to get better at,” he said. “That’s how I’ve tried to stay being a leader without being on the field.”

Molnar said whenever Blanchflower returns, it will give his struggling offense a big lift.

“He exemplifies the toughness of a Minuteman. He’s mentally tough. He’s physically tough,” Molnar said. “He’ll play hurt. He stays in when he’s tired. He never wants to come out of the game. We had some games last year that were decided well before the end of the game, but he played every snap like it was his last. His skill set is well above average. Super hands. Excellent blocker. His knowledge of the offense. He went out there Tuesday. He hasn’t practiced in a long time and he’s right up there with all the players who have been out there every day since the beginning of August. He’s stayed very, very sharp mentally.”

The coach will be glad to get his captain off the sideline.

“He’s so frustrated on game day when he can’t play. He’s really in a bad mood,” Molnar said. “He yells at the guys on the field. He yells at the guys on the sideline to cheer.”

Because he plays home games in Gillette Stadium, wears No. 87 and has a polysyllabic fun-to-say-last name, UMass fans like to compare Blanchflower to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. It’s possible they could both return to action the same weekend as both are uncertain to play this weekend. But they are both closer than they’ve been all year.

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