It wasn’t until I read an article from Chris Adamski for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it dawned on me about just how incredibly inexperienced this group of tight ends is, and I’m not even talking about NFL experience. Vance McDonald is the foundation of the unit, of course, a veteran who has legitimate Pro Bowl potential, and it wouldn’t exactly shock me if Xavier Grimble performs ably as a number two.
But who else is there, really?
Of the four other tight ends on the roster, only Kevin Rader has a full background at tight end, and he’s the only one who has really even done anything in a preseason game, spending time with the Green Bay Packers most recently.
Two of the other three tight ends on the roster are rookies who were not exclusively tight ends in college. The other one is a rugby player who only started practicing American football in 2018. That’s pretty crazy.
The first name on the list is Zach Gentry, the Steelers’ rookie fifth-round pick. The 6’8” product was recruited at Michigan to play quarterback, but he ended up moving to tight end, where he spent the majority of his time there. It’s fair to say that he was still very much developing by the time he declared for the draft.
The other rookie is Trevor Wood. While he himself says that he is more of a tight end than a long snapper, he had a whopping 11 receptions in college. Then there is Christian Scotland-Williamson, an Englishman with a rugby background. As an international player, he has a roster exemption. Otherwise, the team wouldn’t bother having him.
This isn’t at all to suggest that there’s no way the Steelers can find a competent tight end from this group to serve as the number three at the position. By no means. Antonio Gates came from a basketball background, as just one example.
But it’s certainly an interesting lot that they’ve compiled, and yes, the reality is that they have already looked to add to the group—attempted to claim Jordan Leggett off waivers—and surely will continue to do so right up until the regular season begins. In the meantime, these young novices will work. And McDonald had some simple advice for them: work.
“I would encourage them to get into playbooks”, he told Adamski.
If the Steelers can’t find a player that they like among this group that they believe is capable of serving as the number three tight end this season, then the odds are that none of them will, because it will force them to make some type of move. Gentry, because of his draft status, may be kept for a redshirt year, but if he wants to play—maybe even dress—he will have to earn it.