One of the first standouts of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp this fall was tight end Zach Gentry, who showed considerable improvement after playing only six games his first two seasons. Gentry is one of many tight ends fighting for the third spot on the team’s depth chart this season, and his early work has made him one of the frontrunners in that group to make the regular season roster.
Whomever makes the roster behind starter Eric Ebron and second-round pick Pat Freiermuth, the mission has been laid out for the position group: Receiving is still an important aspect for them all, but blocking is taking on an increased importance this season. Ahead of Thursday’s second preseason game, against the Philadelphia Eagles, Gentry spoke with Missi Matthews for the team’s website about the increased focus among his position group.
“It’s something that our tight end group has been talking about, and coach Fredo [TEs coach Alfredo Roberts] has been talking about during and throughout this camp, as well,” Gentry said. “And that’s just stacking the little things. I think that all the tight ends in our group are willing and able to block and do a good job, but the execution comes down to the little minute details of hand placement, footwork, and stuff like that. So I think that that will really improve when we can kind of bring the whole package together.”
Gentry’s massive 6’8″, 265-pound frame makes him an intimidating presence as a blocking tight end, and part of the reasoning behind Freiermuth’s selection in the second round was his blocking ability while at Penn State. The two complement the receiving-focused Ebron, though Gentry’s spot on the roster is not secured. Pushing him is Kevin Rader, his main competitor thus far, as well as recent free agent signing Marcus Baugh, who has trailed both men so far in the competition.
Whoever makes the roster will be learning the differences in how Matt Canada operates his offense as opposed to previous offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, let go this offseason. That will be a requirement to capably block for Najee Harris in the team’s rebuilt ground game, but also to be an open target and safety net for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That versatility is an appealing quality of Canada’s offense, according to one of his potential tight ends.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything, and I think even within our group, you see guys that have different roles, kind of,” Gentry said. “That’s been the thing that’s excited us. Coach Canada’s offense is pretty versatile for us, and we’re kind of all over the field. You’ve got some plays when we’re lined up wide like a receiver, and other times we’re in-line blocking. I think that’s the kind of exciting thing for us as a group, is we’re kind of asked to do a little bit of everything.”
Ebron is the field-stretcher. Freiermuth is the capable pass-catcher in shorter fields and over the middle. Gentry, Rader, or Baugh would be the blocking tight end, though Gentry and Rader in particular have displayed the ability to get open and do some damage in the passing game thus far in camp.
Tonight’s game against the Eagles will be the second big showcase for Gentry, Rader, and Baugh to make their care for the third tight end spot.