For many rookie tight ends, the transition from college to the NFL is difficult. For Zach Gentry, it was arguably even tougher. He was an underclassmen, leaving Michigan after his junior season. And he was an especially raw player, having began his career as a quarterback before transitioning to tight end early in his college career. The Steelers knew Gentry would need time when they took him in the 5th round. TEs coach James Daniel said as much at the time. Now, he sees improvement.
“We took last year for Zach as a redshirt year,” Daniels told reporters on a Zoom call. “We were pleased with the way he approached it and we think he’s improved. Not just the blocking aspect of it but the pass catching aspect of it. To be honest with you, we expect it to be even better this year…it has to be better because we’re looking at some competition.”
Those steps forward didn’t come from Sunday experience last season. Gentry logged only 50 offensive snaps as a rookie despite the injuries and poor production from the tight end group. He caught just one pass, a third down conversion against the Buffalo Bills late in the season. But this is now his second training camp and most times, you see young tight ends make an immediate, noticeable jump their second season.
His 2020 role should be relatively unchanged from a year ago. Gentry opens camp as the #3 tight end. Comfortably, it’s worth pointing out, unlikely to be pushed by Kevin Rader or Dax Raymond behind him (though Daniel made it clear there would be a competition and now job would be given). But he’s not in a position to ascend either with Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron sitting atop the depth chart.
Of course, that scenario could quickly change. McDonald and Ebron have a history with injuries and it’s highly improbable both play in all 16 games. That’d elevate Gentry to the #2 role, one that would log serious snaps. Should that opportunity arise, he’ll have to carry over improved blocking he’s showing now to handle NFL defensive ends and outside linebackers. In our One Step To Take series, we noted improving leverage was his biggest 2020 challenge.