Kranchick has speed to burn

When the Steelers selected Matt Kranchick with one of their three sixth round picks in last month's NFL Draft, it raised many questions.

Why were the Steelers taking a tight end who had only played the position for a limited time in college? Why where they taking a player who couldn't start for the worst Penn State team in 75 years? Why were they taking a tight end, who, as a former wide receiver, was considered a poor blocker?

Valid questions all. But the Steelers saw something in Kranchick that apparently Joe Paterno and staff didn't. They saw a 6-7, 270-pound player who had a rare combination of size and speed, capable of stretching the middle of the field.

"I think he ran a 4.6 (40-yard dash)," said Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, himself a former NFL tight end. "There is no question for a guy his size, he has very good speed and very good hands. He was a receiver, so he does have some skills, especially catching the ball. If the ball is in the air, he will go get it.

"The question with him is blocking. That is something we have to teach him. . He is definitely an interesting prospect."

Kranchick knows it is his speed that got him into the NFL. And he knows he has to work on his blocking. But he also feels he can make plays if given the opportunity.

"They had a program at the Blue-White game and they had the 20 longest plays of the year and I had nine of them," Kranchick said. "I think people realized I made things happen when I get in there and I am excited to do it at the next level."

Even though he couldn't get into the Nittany Lions' starting lineup more than two times in his senior season, Kranchick certainly caught the attention of opposing coaches. After a four-catch, 136-yard game against Wisconsin that included a 73-yard touchdown catch - Penn State's longest play in four years - Badgers coach Barry Alvarez admitted, "We couldn't match up. He's a nice player. The safety should be able to run as fast as the tight end, normally."

Now, about that blocking. That is something the Steelers feel will come with time. Kranchack is, after all, still growing into his massive frame.

He was 6-2, 150 pounds as a junior in high school before hitting a four-inch growth spurt by his senior year. By the time he showed up at Penn State as a freshman, he was a 6-6, 180-pound beanpole the team really didn't know what to do with.

He worked with the receivers, but as his body continued to mature, it became obvious, he was not the next Harold Carmichael and instead his future would be at tight end. Kranchack worked hard in the weight room to put on an addition 40 pounds before his senior season.

"It's all about technique and learning from the right people," Kranchick said of blocking. "I am sure the Steelers have those types of people and I can't wait to play for them."

Kranchick joins a Steelers roster that has an opening at tight end following the release of Mark Bruener.

Veteran Jay Riemersma returns for a second season after a disappointing injury-riddled first year with the team, one that left Jerame Tuman as a starter once again. Veteran Matt Cushing always seems to hang around, but if the Steelers don't feel they can hide Kranchick on their practice squad - where he could be signed away by any team that keeps him on its active roster - Cushing could be gone.

"He is an inexperienced guy as a tight end," said Whisenhunt. "But he is a big guy who can run. He is really somebody that hopefully can grow into the position."

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