Last week, Steelers’ analyst Craig Wolfley predicted Zach Gentry to take a big second year jump. Should that proclamation come true, thank Vance McDonald for helping Gentry survive his rookie season. Sitting down with Missi Matthews on Steelers.com, McDonald says he helped take Gentry under his wing in 2019.
“I was very drawn to Zach Gentry,” he told Matthews. “His personality, he’s such a friendly guy. He’s so good at being a teammate. I sensed that in him and not that he needed my help at all, I felt like I wanted him to understand that we’re a bunch of human beings with a common cause here together.”
Gentry made the team as the #3 tight end. His role shifted throughout the year, occassionally elevated to #2 status due to weekly or in-game injury. He wound up playing 50 offensive snaps and catching just one pass, though it was a third down conversion against Buffalo late in the season.
Still, any rookie is sure to feel the weight of the world wanting to prove they belong but McDonald made it clear it’s a game and they’re supposed to have fun, too.
“There is a level of enjoyment you can have every single day. It’s not serious all the time, life or death. We’re going to go and play our absolute hardest on the weekends and we’re going to care about each other on such a deep level that it’s going to matter to all of us and mean something to us. But we’re all still living lives. It’s the NFL but it’s no different. He was definitely one of the ones I was drawn to the most.”
That’s a level of perspective only veterans can offer. 2019 was likely a growth year for McDonald as a person and a leader, being the oldest vet among the skill positions. In his TE room sat Nick Vannett, traded mid-season, Gentry, a raw rookie, and Christian Scotland-Williamson, still adjusting from the rugby game.
Of course, 2019 wasn’t a great year for McDonald on the field but it’s clear those intangibles and the projection of a 2020 turnaround with Ben Roethlisberger’s return is compelling the Steelers to pick up his option. Gentry will look to find more consistent playing time and should the team not re-sign Vannett, could be looking at a large role next year.