One of the most intriguing positions to watch this summer for the Pittsburgh Steelers is going to be the tight end position, as much for who is there as well as for who isn’t—and who hasn’t. For one thing, starter Vance McDonald has basically not yet had a training camp. He was acquired after the team left Latrobe in 2017, and he was injured through pretty much all of camp last year, even missing the first game of the season.
So having McDonald there, present, and working will be a big deal. But not having Jesse James there is something to monitor as well, especially as fifth-round rookie Zach Gentry out of Michigan looks to stake his claim on a roster spot as potentially the number three player at the position.
Gentry, all 6’8” of him, is a big body with intriguing upside, but you know what they say about upside. What you could be capable of doing is not the same thing as what you are capable of doing, and we have no idea how good he could be.
Which means he is going to be an interesting player to watch. Reports relating to him so far through spring workouts have been sparse, but not necessarily glowing, with perhaps the most significant thing noted of him also being the most obvious—he’s tall.
Can Gentry legitimately present himself a rosterable, NFL-ready tight end who can contribute to the team’s efforts in 2019? That would serve the front office a lot of headaches as they monitor the rest of the league for a potential veteran that they can add to the mix, having already attempted to acquire one off waivers, only to see a team with a higher claim get him instead.
Of course, Xavier Grimble, the other tight end, is a factor in this equation as well. If he looks the part as a potentially legitimate option at number two, then it’s much less pressing what Gentry looks like in 2019. During James’ rookie season, he barely played at all until Matt Spaeth was injured in the second half of the year. He would have remained on the bench otherwise because they were that comfortable in their top two players.
Another parallel between James and Gentry is that they both declared for the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining. The Steelers drafted the Penn State product knowing that his rookie season would essentially be his final year in college in terms of his development, and the same will be true of Gentry.
The bottom line is, if Gentry in particular, but Grimble as well, do not look up to the task, then that’s going to force the front office to try to bring somebody else in whom the coaching staff can trust to take some snaps, even if it’s somebody on the level of a Michael Palmer.