Zach Gentry enjoyed his first taste of NFL preseason action. As the Steelers' 2019 fifth-round pick, Gentry felt the pressure throughout minicamp, OTAs and training camp, struggling to find his groove and to make plays on a consistent basis.
Gentry, a 6-foot-8, 262-pound converted quarterback, is still working out the kinks in his game, and we've reported repeatedly about his struggle to keep his pad level low and to explode off the line at the professional level.
So when this happened in Gentry's first preseason game Friday night against the Buccaneers at Heinz Field, it must have felt pretty sweet:
Gentry admitted that moment "felt nice," and his little shrug celebration confirms it, but he quickly followed up with this:
"It's always nice to make plays, especially when they're kind of expecting you to make those, as a draft pick and everything," Gentry was telling me at his locker after the game. "It felt good. It definitely kind of got me in my groove a little bit to make a couple catches."
There's that pressure setting in again.
"There's a set of expectations to even be on the team," Gentry continued. "I think that it's just elevated a little bit. The coaching staff puts its trust in you to draft you. I think it's even amplified a little bit more, maybe in my mind, just because I am one of their draft picks. I mean, there's definitely a standard set no matter what."
All that said, Gentry certainly elevated his stock. He's in a better position today than he was before the team's 30-28 win against the Buccaneers, and that's what he must continue to do if he wants to make the final, 53-man roster. He was helped by Kevin Rader losing a fumble and Christian Scotland-Williamson tweaking his hamstring. A player never wants to see his teammates fail, of course, but when roster spots are on the line, Gentry's three catches and the touchdown stand out.
Then, add in Gentry's blocking — his biggest struggle thus far. Here, he felt he showed progress and continued development.
"I thought I did pretty good [at keeping my pad level low]," Gentry said. "I'm definitely taking steps in the right direction as far as that goes. Just working with [Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel] and those guys every day, I just keep getting better at that. I'm definitely taking the right steps I think."
And playing in front of Steeler Nation for the first time? Yeah, that was pretty sweet too.
"It was awesome. It was a great experience. Even though it was just a preseason game, it felt like a regular-[season] game atmosphere. It was really electric. It was awesome."