Steelers News

Mike Tomlin On Tinkering With More 2TE Sets: ‘We’ve Been In That Mode’

A year ago around this time, we spent a lot of virtual ink talking about the possibility of the Pittsburgh Steelers increasing the frequency of their usage of two-tight-end packages on offense, following a draft in which they used their second-round selection on tight end Pat Freiermuth.

At the time, he was being coupled with Eric Ebron, a veteran former Pro Bowler who was entering his second season with the Steelers. Ebron is now gone, yet we’re still talking about two-tight-end sets being on the rise this year. Why?

Because fourth-year Zach Gentry is making that discussion viable, although it also doesn’t hurt that the Steelers do want to focus on rebuilding their running game behind Pro Bowler Najee Harris and a retooled offensive line.

Asked after practice how Gentry was coming along from a developmental and physical standpoint, and if that was gearing them toward making more use of personnel packages that employ multiple tight ends, head coach Mike Tomlin responded somewhat pointedly.

We’ve been in that mode”, he said, as though to say, you should have been paying attention to Gentry last year. Which, well, you should have. Before reading on, I want you to guess how many offensive snaps you think he played last season. I’ll tell you a bit later on in this piece how many that was. We’ll use the honor system to figure out who was in the right ballpark…or…field…or stadium, I guess.

A fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan in 2019, Gentry was a prospect the Steelers added knowing that he would need time to be developed, both mentally and physically. I’ve rewritten his mini bio enough times that any regular reader can fill it in for himself, but suffice it to say that he’s come a long way since being recruited by Jim Harbaugh to be a quarterback for the Wolverines, heading into the 2021 season with the Steelers as their primary blocking tight end.

He even told his local newspaper just before training camp that he never in a million years would have thought that one day he would wake up and find himself being a prominent blocking tight end. Perhaps he had inklings that one day he might eventually have to move to tight end—it kind of comes with the territory when you’re 6’8” and north of 250 pounds—but he came out of college as a receiving prospect.

And yet he played 473 snaps on offense for the Steelers during the regular season last year (how close did you get?), with the bulk of that being in the blocking capacity. While he has spoken about wanting to be more involved in the passing game, he also takes pride in holding off edge rushers like Von Miller and preventing them from getting sacks.

Something quite useful happens when you have two tight ends who can both catch the ball and block: you immensely expand your versatility and unpredictability. There is no package so versatile as the ‘12’ grouping, featuring one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. If you have two well-rounded tight ends, you can simply play off of whatever the defense shows you and do the opposite of what they’re set up for. So yeah, I sure hope the Steelers have been in that mode.

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