The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Zach Gentry will be active and an offensive contributor this season.
Explanation: During his rookie season in 2019, Zach Gentry spent 12 of his 16 games on the inactive list as a healthy scratch, in spite of the fact that the team only had two other tight ends. It’s very rare for the team to dress only two tight ends for a game unless due to injury.
Gentry may have come into the NFL raw as a former quarterback, but he has an NFL season under his belt now, and snaps played. The bottom line is that he is a 6’8” target. He is the biggest player that anybody on the 53-man roster has even thrown to except for that one time Chris Boswell threw a touchdown pass to Alejandro Villanueva.
He is not and probably will not be a superior blocker, although even without a preseason and a proper offseason I would imagine that he will have still made progress in this area. What he can do is jump up in the air and catch some passes, and he’s not so athletically disinclined as the likes of Jesse James and Nick Vannett have been.
He may not get many opportunities, but the Steelers often find a way. They managed to find snaps for Derek Moye several years ago and he can tell his kids that he once caught a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger. I’m sure Gentry will have some as well, perhaps with at least one this year.
Gentry’s inexperience isn’t the only reason that he dressed so little. It was also because the extra lineman had become their preferred ‘third tight end’. It’s something that they have done for the better part of a decade, but Zach Banner really excelled in that role last year, and he may continue to do it this year. If not, it will be Chukwuma Okorafor, who did it in 2018.
The bottom line is that Gentry will have had little opportunity to grow since last season, and no preseason games to serve as evaluative touchstones to measure progress. He may dress, but behind Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron, there isn’t much reason for him to see more than a couple dozen snaps all year, especially with a group of wide receivers at least four deep.