While the focus on the tight end position this year has largely centered around rookie Pat Freiermuth, and not without good reason, the reality is that they have perhaps the most depth available to them this year than they have in a long time.
Now, you can gauge for yourself whether or not that says more about their recent history of the position or about the current group, but the reality is that they have had three different players log (soon-to-be) at least 100 snaps at the position through six games. And that includes Zach Gentry, who spent his first two seasons as a healthy scratch.
Eric Ebron is the veteran of the group, and he spoke to the media yesterday about the younger players in the room. Much of his commentary was reserved for Freiermuth, but he discussed Gentry’s growth as well, and even left room to mention Kevin Rader, who is on the practice squad.
“Zach has put so much work into getting better”, he said of the former 2019 fifth-round pick. “As an older guy, you love to see people want to feel and be good at something, because nowadays, people just quit or give up, and it seems to be the easy thing to do, and he’s just dedicated so much time to it”.
As I’m sure you don’t need reminding if you’re reading this, Gentry originally went to Michigan as a quarterback prospect, and was converted to tight end while in school. The Steelers understood when they drafted him that he would be a project, but believed he had the physical and mental tools to develop into a complete tight end.
It took a couple of years, but he is showing some of those traits, even as a number three. But the fact that he has logged nearly 100 snaps in six games is awfully significant, especially when you take into account the fact that it’s considerably more than the total number of snaps he’d played in his first two seasons combined.
While he is contributing now, he had to earn that spot by keeping ahead of Rader, who has been around the team for a couple of years now. He did get called up last year when Gentry got hurt, and played a bit on special teams.
“Rader, he busts his tail, and you can just feel like, he can literally be on a 53-man roster somewhere else”, Ebron said, speaking to the overall depth of the entire room. “To just be the older guy in the room, the veteran guy, it’s an honor to just watch these guys grow, and eventually keep track of their careers, and hopefully they flourish”.
With wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster sidelined for the rest of the year, the tight end position is going to play a bigger role than the Steelers had even planned, so I expect to see everybody on the 53-man roster at the position to get involved, and it will be interesting to see how their usage develops over time.