The Pittsburgh Steelers have a history of fairness with undrafted rookie free agents such as Canaan Severin

Canaan Severin has the size, wingspan and hands to make a run at a roster spot with the Steelers.

In high school, he was the Marlboro Man.

In college, he was one of the top receivers in the ACC after he learned how to deal with his sickle cell trait.

And at rookie minicamp last weekend with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was Heath Miller.

From Marlboro, Mass., by way of the University of Virginia, Canaan Severin (KAY-nan SEV-er-in) is a 6-2, 205-pound undrafted wide receiver who showed up in Pittsburgh and -- in his words "Boom, boom, 83" -- was given the former jersey number of Miller, the great tight end from Virginia who retired from the Steelers in February.

"I know how much of an honor it is," said Severin, an affable, easygoing 23-year-old.

"I mean, the way they talk about Heath Miller at UVA is the same way they talk about him here. Heath is Heath. At UVA they call him 'Big Money.' His hands were top-notch. Herman Moore, kinda the same way. Those guys in our football program, those are the guys we idolize and hold to high standards, especially knowing Heath: on the field, great player; off the field, an even better person."

Severin got to know Miller through a mutual friend at Virginia: Severin's position coach and Miller's quarterback, Marques Hagans.

Severin is mentioned with Miller here not only because of the number, with which he was surprised by the Steelers, but because Severin showed off big, soft hands at the Steelers' rookie minicamp.

At Virginia, Severin caught 102 passes for 1,383 yards (13.6 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. The bulk of the production was compiled in his last two seasons. Last season he caught 54 passes to tie Herman Moore for No. 11 on the school's all-time list for catches in a season. Miller's 70 catches in 2003 ranks third.

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But for all the talk about Miller, Severin probably has a better kinship with another former Steelers player, safety Ryan Clark. Both deal with sickle cell trait, meaning they are both carriers of the sickle cell anemia gene. But, Severin hopes that they suffer from it in varying degrees. Clark endured a near-death experience by playing in the elevated altitude in Denver in 2007 and had to miss the next four games the Steelers played there. Severin, who employs the same agent as Clark, believes he's developed a handle on his condition.

"I've talked to Ryan about it," Severin said. "And I've dealt with it. If you noticed my time in Virginia, my last two years were my best years. That's when I learned how to handle sickle cell trait. Nutrition is really important to me because of that. Because of sickle cell trait I have to. I'm at a disadvantage."

Severin went through two seasons with an increased susceptibility to fatigue that necessitated a prolonged recovery time. But he changed his workout routine and began living on a twice-per-day/every-day meal of chicken, brown rice and spinach.

It seems to have worked. After catching six passes for 46 yards and no touchdowns in his first two seasons, Severin caught 96 passes for 1,337 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final two seasons. And he excelled late in games against some of the top teams and players in the nation.

So much for fatigue.

And so much for any self-pity that comes with eating the same foods all day, every day.

"When you eat that every day and you have 11 for 150 against Notre Dame, when the whole world is watching, it makes you happy," Severin said.

Actually, he caught 11 for 153 scintillating yards in a narrow loss to Notre Dame. It's a series of cut-ups worth watching.

"I was in a different element," he said. "I was possessed that game."

Severin also caught eight passes for 116 yards with three touchdowns against Louisville. And his 36-yard touchdown catch in overtime against Syracuse propelled Virginia to a win in triple overtime. He also caught a touchdown pass at Heinz Field last season, and made a "must see" one-handed diving touchdown catch against Miami.

Yet, in spite of possessing the size teams covet in the red zone, and the way he overcame a potentially debilitating physical condition, with A+ character and blocking skills, as well as three years of experience as a core special-teamer at Virginia, Severn went undrafted.

He wasn't invited to the NFL Combine, and a minor hamstring injury caused him to skip his pro day workout. Scouts estimate his speed to be in the 4.6-4.7 range, which can work in the NFL with his size, wingspan and those soft hands.

Does the fact he went undrafted bug him?

"Nah, it doesn't bug me. It motivates me," Severin said. "I mean, shoot, if I can make this team it'll have happened for a reason."

Part of the reason Severn signed with the Steelers after the draft is because of their history of fairness with undrafted players.

"Exactly," he said. "But like you said, whether it's against a team like Louisville, with three touchdowns, or Notre Dame, or Florida State with (Jalen) Ramsey guarding me the whole game and me catching five for 60 with a touchdown, you just have to do it on the field.

"See what I mean?" he added. "Yeah, you got my blood boiling talking about all that stuff."

(For Jim Wexell's in-depth thoughts on the Steelers' draft, go to the South Side message board.)

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