Can you compare Zach Gentry to New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski?
Junior quarterback Shea Patterson thinks so, and he did exactly that on Saturday. Gentry would prefer you not.
“I mean, stature maybe,” Gentry says with careful consideration. “He’s gonna go down as one of the best tight ends ever. Pretty lofty, but maybe there are some similarities athletically. I appreciate what (Patterson) said.”
Added junior WILL Devin Gil: “He knows tricks to get by you or get underneath you. I feel like he’s a talented, unique tight end.”
Comparisons aside, the redshirt junior tight end is continuing to prove his worth for the Michigan football team this season and hoping to land on an NFL draft board. But he’s still receiving looks. Dane Brugler, an NFL draft analyst for The Athletic, ranked Gentry as the No. 5 draft-eligible tight end for 2019.
Saturday against Maryland, Gentry provided merit to that assessment. The 6-foot-8 Gentry set career highs in both receptions (seven) and receiving yards (112) acting as the primary receiver. Through six games, Gentry leads the Wolverines in receptions (20) and yards (306), and after the game, Harbaugh listed every attribute that came to mind.
“Yeah, he’s progressing well,” Harbaugh said. “To have everything you want from a tight end — being able to block, being able to catch, being able to create separation, make a tough catch, has the big catch radius, in-line blocking, in-space blocking. He’s got the speed that you’d like to see, the athleticism you’d like to see.”
The amalgam of it all is a dependable tight end. When Patterson faced pressure, throwing to Gentry was the theme.
But Gentry is far from perfect. Harbaugh already knows what else he wants to see from him.
“The thing that’s probably the next thing for him … is yards-after-catch,” Harbaugh said. “Get the ball and create those yards-after-catch. But I think that will come. Everything he’s done as a player has improved, developed, the next thing he’s attacked he’s grown and gotten really proficient in. I think that’s the best place for growth for him as a player.”
Added Gentry: “Maybe getting a little bit better vision and trusting my blocking a bit more downfield. I agree with that, I think that catching the ball and being able to turn it upfield is something I need to work on.”
This deficiency in his game was readily apparent with two minutes remaining in the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Gentry stepped out of a block for a screen pass, and caught a throw with sophomore wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and three offensive lineman forming a wall of blockers in front of him. Instead of charging behind their blocks, Gentry side-stepped inside, away from them and into a slew of Terrapin defenders, shortening a potential long-yardage gain to just seven yards.
According to Gentry’s counterpart, junior tight end Sean McKeon, yards-after-catch (YAC) drills are a skill that the two have worked on.
“We have YAC drills, we have stiff arms, just getting up field quick,” McKeon said. “As a tight end, you’re not gonna juke a lot of people, being like 260 pounds. Really just trying to be physical, lower the shoulder, stiff arm someone.”
There is no time like the present to improve post-catch routes, but Gentry, while still shuffling through the nuances of the tight end position, spent the offseason just focusing on catching the ball. He and McKeon ran routes, worked on timing with the quarterbacks and practicde bare-handed grabs with a JUGS machine firing high-speed footballs at them.
The outcome of their work is evident so far, and continuing to elevate his route-running could further involve Gentry in the NFL discussion.
But don’t mention the pros yet. Gentry’s mind is on other things at the moment.
“It’s obviously something I want to be a part of some day,” he said. “But (I don’t think) a whole lot right now (about the NFL). Got so much school and Wisconsin to watch.”