Ron Lippock spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Zach Gentry, the team’s 5th round pick in 2019 from the University of Michigan.
First, how’s it going so far – what’s been the biggest adjustment so far?
It’s been going well so far. I can’t believe we’re already past week three. It’s crazy. Like everyone says, it’s really the speed of the game that stands out. Across the board, everyone is faster and quicker.
Is the playbook similar to what you had in Michigan?
I’m fortunate in that Michigan had a very complex playbook under Coach Harbaugh. It’s made adjusting to the NFL playbook a bit easier. The biggest issue is learning the terminology – it’s not the same of course so you have to figure that out. But it’s not as tough as it could have been due to what I had in Michigan.
The quick turnaround makes it harder too. Just the time to learn the playbook. You hit the ground running at rookie camp., have a week off, then OTAs. So just having to learn so quickly – that’s an adjustment too.
Have you had a chance to assess where you stand on the pecking order at the tight end position yet?
Definitely. I’m a competitive guy and I know there are only so many spots the tam can carry at tight end. I’m keeping my eye out. It’s a competitive tight end room definitely. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
Anyone help mentor you so far – and how?
A lot of the vets have been helpful – it’s a friendly locker room. The most helpful guy – the guy that stands out and who has taken me under his wing has been Vance McDonald. On and off the field. In the film room and just showing me the right and wrong way to do things – what to do and not to do.
He’s helped show me it’s a business. It’s a completely different experience and system. He’s helped me understand too how to take care of my body, how to study film in different ways – and some of the smaller fundamentals stuff too of course.
And you also had a chance to work with Heath Miller…
It was awesome being around him. He helped me a lot at the combine to get ready. He’s a heck of a guy. We had some fun talking about the fact we both transitioned from quarterback to tight end and what that was like -the different obstacles we had to face to make that transition.
How has having played quarterback helped you now as a tight end?
It’s helped a lot on how to read coverages. Also on body positioning and knowing what the quarterback is thinking on plays. When to shave off routes, and working my way back to the ball. And just on how to deal with quarterbacks better. If I’m open but don’t get thrown too, how to approach the quarterback and how to talk to them about it versus just going and telling him you wanted the ball.
There was some scuttlebutt on Ben asking you to give up the 83 number – any clarity you can offer on that?
I started out with 83 but I didn’t ask for it – it’s what I wore in college. Ben wasn’t being malicious – he asked me if I asked for the number and I told him they just gave it to me. I think they hope to see that number hanging from the rafters. I think it was just Ben showing respect for a good buddy. There wasn’t anything malicious about it at all.
There are pros and cons playing your position at your size – what are those from your perspective and how do you address the cons?
Like you said – it’s both challenging and helpful. I have long arms and levers – it helps me get into somebody’s body easier. The challenge is getting my pads lower and to fire off into guys. I’m working with Coach Dan Daniels and the other tight ends on that.
How’s the rookie class in general – guys bonding?
Yeah we’re all pretty right. Nothing crazy – just focused on getting to work – no Twitter deals! I’ve enjoyed being around the guys – it’s a good, fun group of guys.
How have you adjusted to the off-the-field part of the experience? Lot’s of changes. Have you been able to explore the city at all?
It’s all part of the experience – the acclimation period. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh before. So far mostly all I’ve had time to see has been my hotel room and the facility! I’m looking forward to having more time and freedom to explore the city and see and meet the people.
In terms of who you are off the field – what makes you tick besides football?
I’m a real chill guy. I like to hang out. Away from football, I just like to relax my body and mind. I like to hunt and fish. I’d love to have the time to do that here but I’m not sure if I’ll get that for a while.
Lastly – what’s success to you this year?
Making the 53. Contributing to the team – making plays to help the team. And staying healthy.
Interview with Zach Gentry during Steelers Rookie Minicamp