Is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end room suddenly a strength? At the very least, for the first time in a while, they actually have three tight ends in the room that they feel like dressing for Sundays, with third-year Zach Gentry this year finally graduating from weekly healthy scratch status.
A former fifth-round pick out of Michigan, Gentry converted to the position from quarterback while in college, and the Steelers drafted him with the understanding that he would need time to develop. Now he’s making a nice little one-two blocking combination with rookie second-round pick Pat Freiermuth.
Freiermuth, the Penn State product, is the face of the position for the future, the first tight end that they have drafted in the first four rounds in more than a decade. He already appears to have largely secured the top tight end role, and he and Gentry have already forged a close relationship.
“Pat and I get along really well. I know that when they drafted him, a couple of guys in the building had told me that they thought we were going to be really, really close and we were pretty similar personality-wise”, Gentry told reporters about his relationship with Freiermuth. “That’s really blossomed. He’s one of my good buddies, for sure”.
It probably would have been helpful if they already had a guy like Freiermuth on the roster when he came in, though at the time they did have Vance McDonald, who was no doubt able to show him some of the ropes for the position. but he credited one player in particular back at Michigan for helping him become a real tight end.
“A guy that really helped me out a lot when I first transitioned at Michigan was Jake Butt”, he said. “Jake Butt was obviously a Mackey winner and a great tight end at Michigan. He really helped kind of take me under his wing when I first got moved, so I think he really did a lot of that when I first made the position change”.
Butt came out of Michigan in 2017, drafted in the fifth round by the Denver Broncos. He likely would have been drafted at least a couple rounds earlier had he not tore his ACL in a bowl game at the end of his senior season; he would spend his entire year on injury lists, and his injury would continue to dog him, actually keeping him out of all of the 2019 season as well.
Butt ultimately played in just eight NFL games, catching 10 passes for 90 yards, before announcing his retirement this Summer. He never fully recovered from that injury, sadly. But perhaps he can take some comfort in knowing that he played a role in developing Gentry into an NFL-level tight end.