Ask Jim Harbaugh where redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry has grown most, then sit back and listen.
First, to the physical stature.
“The way he’s grown most is probably putting on 40 pounds of muscle.”
That’s not all.
“He’s grown so much as a blocker.”
Then to his receiving ability.
“He’s grown as a hands catcher; he’s able to pluck the ball out of the air with the hands. He’s got a great frame and target, a great catch radius. But also makes the tight body catch, the contested catch.”
“And he’s got the best attitude you ever want to be around a guy.”
In Saturday’s 42-21 win over Maryland, Gentry added seven catches and 112 yards — both career highs — to a rapidly ascending breakout season. The former quarterback has evolved into the top target in Michigan’s receiving corps. He now leads all Wolverines pass catchers with 20 catches and 306 yards, nearly matching his career output prior to this year (20 catches for 324 yards).
When Harbaugh and his staff envisioned what a 6-foot-8 high school quarterback with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash could do at tight end, this is what they envisioned. A quarterback’s best friend. A matchup nightmare.
It should have been a sign of things to come when, in the face of adversity, Patterson turned to Gentry against SMU to open up the offense. In that contest, Patterson found Gentry down the seam on a crucial 3rd and four, after the Wolverines had started the game with three drives and zero points.
Against Northwestern, another sign. This time, Patterson looked for Gentry on the game-winning drive. The duo completed two crucial receptions, including a laser throw and catch to put Michigan in a goal-to-go situation.
These aren’t trends anymore, though. They are facts. Gentry is the primary weapon in the passing game and the player most trusted by junior quarterback Shea Patterson.
A reporter posed Patterson a question of that ilk after the game.
Shea, can you talk about your connection with Zach Gentry today?
“Ah, yeah,” Patterson said. “That’s my boy.”
When Patterson got to Michigan, Gentry was one of the first to welcome him with open arms. That relationship is now bearing fruit on the field, as well.
“He’s a heck of a target,” Patterson said. “You can really put it anywhere — (6-foot-8), fast too. Kinda like (Rob Gronkowski) out there. He’s going to play this game for a long time. Just excited I can throw the ball to him.”
Against the Terrapins, Gentry showed all the tools that have enticed him to Harbaugh and Patterson. He caught balls down the seam. He showed an ability to find pockets in the zone. He caught a pass with a defender draped on his back. He even showed that much-improved run blocking.
It hasn’t always been this smooth for the New Mexico native, though. His transition from quarterback tight end — while retrospectively a blessing in disguise — caused some frustration for Gentry.
“At the time, it was upsetting,” Gentry told The Daily on Sept. 10. “I had never played another position other than quarterback my entire life. Being recruited to be one, it was a little upsetting.”
Just four weeks ago, after a win over SMU in which Gentry registered four catches for 95 yards, he admitted that he had been frustrated early in the season with his lack of involvement. In the first two games of the season, Gentry registered just three catches for 31 yards. He knew he was capable of more.
“I hadn’t been maybe as involved as I wanted to be the first couple games,” Gentry said at the time. “I was just kind of patiently waiting.”
Wait no longer.
For the redshirt junior tight end, it’s all coming together at the right time. If he continues down this path, it’s not hard to imagine an All-Big Ten season, a high selection in the NFL draft. The Gronkowski comparisons come across as premature but hardly unimaginable.
Finally, 68 seconds after he began, Harbaugh tied up his answer into a bow.
“He’s really worked hard,” Harbaugh said. “Everything you want a tight end to be, he’s really growing into a prototypical type of tight end.”