PITTSBURGH — The blocking sleds at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side are bright red, a color thought for years to bring out anger in animals.
It’s the legend behind why the muleta of a Spanish bullfighter wears red, thought the science behind that theory is lacking.
So too, may be the idea that the angriest, nastiest blocker does the most damage to the sleds that are build and bought solely for their ability to take physical punishment.
Simply put, there is a right way and a wrong way to attack the dummies, and, if lacking the proper technique, all the anger and strength in the world isn’t going to do a bit of good.
That was one of the lessons that longtime Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel was doling out during the team’s rookie minicamp last week, and one of the receipts of that advice was fifth-round draft pick Zach Gentry.
Gentry, a 6-foot-8, 265-pound tight end out of Michigan, was not used prolifically in Michigan’s passing offense. He had a 16.1-yards-per-catch average in his redshirt junior season in 2018, but was targeted just 32 times and caught two touchdown passes.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico native joined the Wolverines to play quarterback, and was covered to a tight end by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
That means that he’s still developing the tools and talents required to play the position, but the Steelers believe his frame, natural athleticism and football IQ will lead to a more-productive future.
“He’s a good football player,” Daniel said right after the draft. “Long frame. He’s a guy that we’re excited about getting in here and getting to work with.”
Working alongside first-year players Kevin Rader (Pine-Richland, Youngstown State) and Christian Scotland-Williamson, the 22-year-old was show the ropes of how, where and how hard to make contact with that red pad to drive the blocking sled backwards.
Gentry was asked to block in Michigan’s system, but it’ll be a different animal when asked to take on defensive ends in the NFL on a weekly basis.
The physical adjustment to being able to hold his own — and even drive back — stronger players, is going to be one of the toughest parts of the process for Gentry to master.
“It’s just going to be the size of everybody, I think,” Gentry said. “Everybody out there is a big, physical, fast guy. I’ve just got a little bit of a taste for it.
While that part of a game will be an adjustment, there’s plenty that Gentry has to offer. His big frame should make him an attractive red-zone target and his experience as a quarterback should help him absorb the offense quickly.
“That background has helped me with coverages and defense fronts, and also, it’s helped me draw a lot of parallels between defense,” Gentry said. “I’ve always been acclimated to learning the playbook quickly.”
Gentry, Rader and Scotland-Williamson will be battling for what will likely be one spot at tight end behind starter Vance McDonald and backup Xavier Grimble.
Rader (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) is a stockier player and probably more of a blocking threat, while Scotland-Williamson is a 6-foot-9 former rugby player.
Last week, Gentry got his first taste of what it’s like to play for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. But after four year of playing for Harbaugh, he’s pretty used to playing for a larger-than-life head coach.
“They both live and love the game of football,” Gentry said. “They live for it. They love it. They know every little piece of it. They’re both competitors.”