Although the Pittsburgh Steelers have done well so far this preseason, at least managing to produce a couple of wins along the way, there are still some questions that they are searching for answers for. One of those questions is whether or not they have enough talent to work with at the tight end position.
This stems from the loss of Jesse James in free agency, who has alternately been their spot-starter number one and their number two at the position over the course of the past three years, coupled with the relatively insignificant replacements they have brought in.
The most likely potential on-roster solution would be Zach Gentry, a 6’8” former quarterback out of Michigan who comes to the Steelers via the fifth round. He looked the part more often than not during the first preseason game, including elevating for a red-zone touchdown pass, but he sat out the second game with a bruised rib.
Over the final days of practice this past week, Gentry confirmed to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he received some snaps with the first-team offense, but said of that, “they’re just kind of mixing me in here and there, I think”.
The top of the depth chart is currently populated by Vance McDonald, who looks poised to break out for a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2019, and Xavier Grimble, who has been the Steelers’ number three tight end for the past three years.
Grimble had a big drop in the team’s last preseason game, but has always been known more as a blocker, and he did well enough there. Over the past couple of seasons, they have even had a package in which he is the only two tight end on the field (paired with either a fullback or a tackle-eligible) in certain running situations. But has their idea of the number two tight end changed since the Matt Spaeth days, where they need to be a bigger part of the passing offense?
Gentry missed some practice time the week before last, he said that he kept up to speed by remaining engaged on the sidelines, and said that he is focused on trying to keep his pad level low when blocking. At 6’8” and still learning the tight end position, that can be difficult.
As a fifth-round pick, he understands that his roster spot is not guaranteed. The Steelers have released their share of fifth-round picks during cutdowns over the years, some of whom didn’t even last on the practice squad.
The team has already shown interest in trying to bring in a tight end through the waiver wire earlier this offseason. If Gentry doesn’t step up and really take a hold of the number three position, it’s entirely possible that they acquire one this week through whatever means is available to them, which would obviously make his own roster spot quite vulnerable.