Zach Gentry catching on at tight end with Steelers
As he ran routes and caught passes this weekend at rookie minicamp, Zach Gentry couldn’t help but conjure memories of the most prolific tight end to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Perhaps it’s because, like Heath Miller did for 11 seasons, Gentry provided an inviting target while sporting a No. 83 jersey.
Gentry has Miller’s number – for now. Time will tell if he’s able to match even a modicum of Miller’s production.
Miller owns the franchise record for catches, yards and touchdowns by a tight end, which should provide some inspiration for Gentry, who also entered college as a quarterback before having his position switched.
Miller enrolled at Virginia as a passer and left school as a first-round draft pick. Gentry was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round after playing tight end for two-plus seasons at Michigan.
Expectations are tempered, but coach Mike Tomlin was pleased with his initial observation of Gentry at rookie minicamp.
“It’s reasonable to expect him to get a lot better and do so in a short period of time,” Tomlin said Saturday. “We’ll see.”
At 6-foot-8, Gentry is three inches taller than Miller. He was drafted to fill the roster spot of Jesse James, who signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency. Xavier Grimble also will compete for the backup spot behind starter Vance McDonald.
Gentry showed some growing pains in his first day on the job with the Steelers. After catching a pass in an 11-on-11 drill Friday, he slowed up, thinking the play was dead. A defender punched the ball out of his grasp, causing a scramble for the ball.
After the draft, Gentry admitted that he needs to do a better job of protecting himself after catching passes over the middle.
“Just getting your shoulder down,” he said. “I think I did a decent job in college of breaking tackles, but I think something I need to work on a little bit is running after the catch. Yeah, I’m a big target, but I think I’ll be able to take some hits as well because of my size.”
While Gentry was given No. 83 for rookie minicamp, it remains to be seen whether he will continue to wear those digits when organized team activities begin May 21. Inside linebacker Devin Bush, who is sporting No. 55, is the only rookie whose uniform number is permanent.
When Gentry arrived on Michigan’s campus in 2015, he wore No. 10 because he expected to be throwing passes, not catching them. At Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, N.M., Gentry completed 316 of 582 passes for 3,734 yards and 22 touchdowns, while also rushing for 1,013 yards and 26 scores. He originally committed to Texas before coach Jim Harbaugh swayed him to Ann Arbor.
Gentry entered Michigan as a four-star recruit and No. 9 quarterback in the nation, according to ESPN. After redshirting as a freshman, Gentry moved to tight end at Harbaugh’s behest.
“I had played my entire life as a quarterback,” Gentry said. “But when I sat down with coach Harbaugh, he kind of laid out for me what he thought would be best for my future, with my body frame and things of that nature.”
Gentry weighed 230 pounds his freshman year and bulked up to 265 pounds by the time he arrived at the NFL Combine this winter.
“I feel really comfortable with my body now,” Gentry said.
Gentry didn’t have a catch in seven games during his redshirt freshman year, but he was named Michigan’s most improved offensive player as a sophomore when he caught 17 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
His development continued in 2018 when he caught 32 passes for 514 yards and two touchdowns. His breakout game came against Maryland when he had seven receptions for 112 yards. Gentry left school with a year of eligibility remaining, preferring to get his on-the-job training in the pros.
The Steelers believe Gentry is scratching the surface of his potential.
“I would say he’s more adept at the receiving end,” tight ends coach James Daniel said. “He has some adjusting to do. He can become a good blocker. I think the kid is excited about it and willing.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .