It might be hard for some to envision Zach Gentry as a fourth-year player. The veteran tight end even acknowledged as much, speaking to Steelers Nation Radio when talking about now being the veteran in the room, and one of the veterans on offense, saying that he still felt like he was 17 years old.
The primary reason is because the former fifth-round draft pick hardly played, or even dressed, during his first two seasons in the league. Entering year three, however, he became the Steelers’ primary blocking tight end, and was able to showcase how much he’d grown since the 2019 NFL Draft. But he admits he’s looking to expand his contributions to other areas.
“I just want to hopefully get a little more involved in the passing game”, he told hosts Arthur Moats and Wes Uhler on the Steelers Blitz show, part of the SNR network. “I had 23 catches last year, which isn’t bad, but selfishly, I’d like a few more touches. But, you’ve got to work on your craft in order to do that, and I feel like I’ve done that in the offseason and gonna continue to do that”.
Gentry, a former quarterback who converted to tight end while at Michigan, was actually drafted by the Steelers based on two things: his receiving ability, and the potential that his size indicated for him to develop into a complete tight end.
He was not much of a blocker at all when he first got here, something former tight ends coach James Daniel (not to be confused with new guard James Daniels) fully acknowledged back in 2019. “He was a quarterback so I would say he’s a little more depth at the receiving end of it“, he said. “He’s got some adjusting to do to become a good blocker. But I think the kid is excited about it and willing”.
Gentry did catch 23 passes last season, with four coming in the Steelers’ postseason loss. As a matter of fact, he was the recipient of the final pass of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. He only totaled exactly 200 yards on those 23 receptions, however—he wasn’t likely ever a first option on a passing play, but he learned to make himself available, and Roethlisberger became increasingly comfortable turning to him as the season progressed. 13 of his 23 receptions came in the final four weeks.
Still, he knows this is an offense with talented wide receivers, and a number one tight end in Pat Freiermuth who came in as a rookie last year and played quite well as a receiver with seven touchdowns. They also have running back Najee Harris, who may well break the team’s record for receptions by a running back. With that in mind, he’s all in favor of getting on the field more with Freiermuth.
He’s “really lobbying for a lot of two-tight-end sets with my boy Pat”, he said, as we talked about yesterday. “I hope that our tight end room and just do whatever they can to help us win games on Sundays and be the best tight end group in the NFL”.
With likely two of their top four wide receivers this year being rookies, it might not be such a bad idea to open the season with more 12 personnel, even 22 personnel. They do want to run the ball, and they have tight ends and backs who can catch—and an H-back in Connor Heyward who can, as well—so it’s not like even 22 personnel would necessarily telegraph a run. Especially in a movement-heavy offense.