The Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to make Michigan’s Zach Gentry their lone significant addition to the tight end position in an offseason in which they lost Jesse James in free agency has been met with a lot of skepticism. The fifth-round pick has only been working at tight end for a few years, is rather raw, and has left people with the impression that he may not even be ready to contribute as a rookie.
While most are comfortable with starter Vance McDonald’s abilities when he is on the field, the concern with him has always lied in his ability to do just that. He has dealt with injuries every season of his career, though in 2018, he played in the final 15 games. He suffered a foot injury during training camp that made him miss pretty much all of it, as well as the season opener, but he had no issues after that.
The threat of his missing time due to injury, however, makes the loss of James, who was a competent spot-starter as the number two, a bigger factor when the current player projected to be the number two this year is Xavier Grimble. And when you draft somebody who is viewed as a project, that only adds to the worries.
After Gentry was drafted, tight ends coach James Daniel talked him up, but made it pretty clear that he viewed his receiving abilities as ahead of his blocking abilities. That is not due to his frame—he is 6’8” and 265 pounds—but rather due to his inexperience.
But Bob Labriola passed on a note this morning in his first installment of Asked and Answered that I found interesting and worth passing on. When asked a question about Gentry relative to James, he finished his answer by noting, “I have been told Gentry is a more physical player than Jesse James”.
Admittedly, being a more physical player than Jesse James is a very low bar to clear. While I have in the past praised him for coming into his own as a blocker pretty well last season, I also joked that when he blocks successfully, it almost looks as though it was accidental. Like he just happened to stumble in somebody’s way at the ideal time.
Still, when you’re talking about a former quarterback moving to tight end and who is said to be a better receiver than blocker, anything that you hear that speaks to his potential for being a physical player should perk your ears up.
Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth were both great blocking tight ends. Both of them were also very physical in that aspect. So is McDonald. Grimble may not be a great blocker (he is pretty competent, however), but he is certainly a very physical one.
At the very least, Gentry being said to be a physical player at some level I think offers hope that he has the potential to develop into a tight end with a well-rounded skill set. And the sooner he can show that, the sooner he can contribute on the field.