Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Zach Gentry didn’t play much during his 2019 rookie season as the fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan logged just under 50 total offensive snaps in the four games that he dressed and played in. Because of his limited usage, Gentry, a college quarterback-turned-tight end, now enters the 2020 league year as perhaps one of the biggest offensive carryover unknowns on the roster.
Gentry obviously isn’t taking for granted that he’s a lock to make the 2020 Steelers roster and that’s being demonstrated by him staying close to Pittsburgh this offseason in an effort to work on the little things he needs to improve on of which one of them is his overall strength.
“I am going to be in the weight room all offseason working,” said Gentry, according to a recent interview with him posted on steelers.com. “I want to make sure I continue to get stronger. I want to work on flexibility to make sure I can bend my hips and stay lower to the ground.
“It’s a no brainer for me to stay here. I can work with the conditioning staff, I can have the training staff here, everything I need I have here. I don’t see a point in leaving. It’s a new home so I am glad I am staying here.”
Gentry getting stronger this offseason and becoming a better blocker is a must as those deficiencies in his overall game showed up quite easily in his limited offensive snaps played during his 2019 rookie season and especially earlier in the season as I highlighted in the previous post linked to above.
While Gentry might not have had a lot of in-game opportunities to show his overall in-season development during the second half of his rookie year, he indicated in his recent interview with the Steelers official website that he did learn a lot from his teammates and especially from veteran tight end Vance McDonald.
“He helped me out a ton. I call him dad,” said Gentry of McDonald. “He knows so much, knows the offense, he knows about the day to day life. I really appreciate him.
“With him it was small things you might not notice, like on the first step of a cutoff block making sure you get off really quick, something you might not think about. Little things that resonated in my mind, made me a better ball player and I am really thankful for that.”
Currently, McDonald and Gentry are the only two tight ends that ended the 2019 season on the Steelers 53-man roster that are under contract for the 2020 season. We’ll know within a month if McDonald’s 2020 option will indeed be picked up. We’ll also know within a month and a half if the other tight end that ended the 2019 season on the Steelers 53-man roster, Nick Vannett, will be back in the fold to compete for a roster spot in training camp later this summer.
While Gentry is a lock to make it to training camp this summer, he could have yet another young tight end to compete against while at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe if the team spends one of their currently scheduled six draft picks on one like many of us expect them to do. Even if that happens, that prospective young tight end will have to go through what Gentry went through a year ago and that process is one the second-year tight end is glad he doesn’t have to go through this offseason.
“A rookie year is challenging, but it’s what we all signed up for,” said Gentry. “It’s a lot going from the last season of college football, right into combine training, then preparing for the NFL Draft and the season. You have a 20-game season with the preseason. It’s challenging but rewarding at the same time.
“I am excited for this offseason. I can’t wait to work and not have to worry about a hand-held time in the 40-yard dash. I can’t wait to know what is in front of me. I can’t wait for my second season to come and know what I need to work on and just go for it.”
After the Steelers drafted Gentry last year, I did a full contextualization of all his 2018 pass targets at Michigan and the link to that post is below. Gentry posted some fine numbers in his 2018 season at Michigan as the underclassman’s average target depth was just under 10 yards at 9.96 yards. The average depth of Gentry’s 32 receptions in 2018 was 11.09 yards, which is a very strong number. Gentry also averaged 3.53 yards after the catch in 2018, another healthy number.
Could the Steelers be more optimistic about Gentry than most of us on the outside are? We’ll see sooner rather than later as we’ll have our answer to that question right after the 2020 NFL Draft has concluded in late April. In the meantime, however, Gentry is planning on controlling what he can control and that’s him working on getting better this offseason in his attempt to make the 53-man roster.
“It’s a numbers game,” Gentry said. “At the end of the day it is what it is. I am setting myself up to be more of a role and a factor next season.”