The next 28 hours or so are going to be a trying time for many in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room. 38 players will hear from Mike Tomlin and others that they are going to be released. It will be a mix of veterans and undrafted rookies and everybody else in between, and it will simply be a bad day.
But at the same time, it will also mean the start of a career for others taking their first steps in the NFL. Among those most notable on the roster bubble would be Zach Gentry, the rookie tight end who was drafted in the fifth round.
Gentry is the only real addition the Steelers made after losing Jesse James in free agency, outside of the addition of Trevor Wood as a rookie college free agent, and he has consistently run at the bottom of the depth chart all year.
The team knew that Gentry was raw when they drafted him, having only converted to tight end from quarterback a few years prior, so they will be more lenient with him than they would with others. He finished playing in three games, catching five passes for 33 yards and one touchdown. He doesn’t know where that leaves him in the team’s plans.
“I don’t think anybody really knows”, he told reporters in the locker room after the game. “I think there’s a small group of people on this roster that know that they’re on. But nobody I think has been really told much of anything, so we’ll see how it plays out”.
Vance McDonald is the only firmly established player at the tight end position on the current roster, but Xavier Grimble has been in their system for several years, originally signed to the practice squad in 2015. He has been the number three tight end since 2016 and is now being asked to graduate to the number two role.
Nobody else on the depth chart has ever been on a roster before. Gentry’s main competition was seen as Christian Scotland-Williamson, an English rugby player who was assigned to the Steelers last year via the International Player Pathway system. He showed progress in his second year here but that was stifled by injury.
Gentry dealt with injury, as well, but he didn’t have to miss as much time. He has done everything that the coaches have asked of him, and he seems to feel comfortable in his body of work relative to his assignments.
When asked if he felt that he did enough to deserve as post on the roster, he said, “yeah, absolutely, I think I did. Throughout practice and showing some things in games, I feel like I definitely did”.
Personally speaking, I think he did as well. He is still actively and consciously working on lowering his pad level in the blocking department, but frankly I thought he had done better as a blocker this preseason than I was expecting.