Tight end turning heads at camp

<b>LATROBE – </b>According to Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, one game, make that one play, has given rookie tight end Matt Kranchick the confidence he needs to make it in the NFL.<br><br> "You can just see the way he's carrying himself in practice this week," said Cowher. "It's night and day. He's doing things at a faster pace; he's catching the ball. You can just see the confidence level is so much higher and you can tell he's a lot more comfortable."

Matt Kranchick came out of Penn State with only one year of experience at tight end, but he was certainly a playmaking tight end. A converted 6-foot-7 wide receiver, Kranchick averaged 15.3 yards per his 22 catches, including a team-long 73-yarder.

Kranchick showed he could run down the deep middle early in training camp and then caught a 34-yard pass late in the fourth quarter to put the Steelers in position to score the go-ahead touchdown in their preseason opener last Saturday.

The Steelers didn't score, but the play atoned for an earlier mistake and drew praise from Cowher.

"That's nice," said Kranchick, a native of Carlisle. "I don't know if my confidence changed, but it felt good to do it in that type of situation. If felt good to have something good happen to me. I've been out here getting my head kicked in by these veterans, like Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell, learning how to block, so it felt good to get out there and make some plays."

Blocking has been a problem for Kranchick, who weighs 260 pounds. He moved to tight end as a senior at Penn State because an assistant coach "saw a lot of Troy Drayton in me," Kranchick said of the former Penn State and NFL tight end.

"I was kind of out of options, but the move worked out perfectly. I couldn't ask for anything better."

And so Kranchick is learning how to block at the highest level of the game, and he's paying the price.

"It's coming, but it's hard because I didn't do any of it in college," he said. "To have to come out here and learn it against some of the best players in the world is not the easiest task, especially when I've got to line up against Joey Porter and Alonzo Jackson and work on my steps. The other tight ends are out here working on other things because they've been doing it so long, but here I am making sure my steps are the right length, this and that, and I'm getting rocked. But I'm getting better at it. I think I'm improving every day and I think I'm going to be fine."

Kranchick regrets not having learned blocking fundamentals at Penn State, where his receiving skills and speed were highlighted. After his senior season, Kranchick was timed at 4.56 by the Steelers. The New York Jets clocked his 40-yard dash in 4.51, which was his best time. It was enough to interest several teams on draft day.

"I was surprised I was still there," he said of the sixth round, where he was chosen. "I had people calling me all the time. It was insane. I had so many visits and so many things going on. But you know what? If I'd have come back next year I would've been one of the top tight ends in the country. And if I would've improved my blocking, there's no reason not to think that way. I mean I ran a 4.5, I benched-pressed (225 pounds) 21 times, all my stats are off the charts and I make plays in the passing game. There's no reason I wouldn't have been a top-three round selection. I think the Steelers got some great value.

"Most guys start their careers at a position. I started there as a senior, so the sky's the limit. I'm just going to get better at it."

And his confidence is growing by leaps and bounds. Just ask him if he can make it in this man's league.

"Well, yeah," he said. "I've made plays in practice in the passing game on a daily basis. I did that last year at Penn State. I had like 20 of the top 35 long plays last year. I know how to do it. And I was happy when I came out here at training camp and picked up where I left off last season, doing the same type of thing.

"Actually, I think I'm doing better here because we don't have set routes. I can kind of convert on the move. It's helped me out a lot having options and choices. It's really been taking off, so I like my chances to be a playmaker here at this level."

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