Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada talked to Jim Miller, Pat Kirwan and Paul Alexander on Movin’ The Chains on SiriusXM NFL Radio Friday night and discussed the team’s current tight end room, specifically Zach Gentry and Connor Heyward.
“Big, strong, tight end, guy who works hard on his ball skills and working hard to be a combat catcher. The bottom line is we know what Gentry is,” Canada said. “He’s a big tight end that’s got a block and help us control the edge in some of those match up against some of those freak defensive ends that we all play. He’s doing a good job there and we’ll continue to watch him grow, Canada said.
“He is a Steeler in my mind. He came in, he’s gotten better and better and better and better the way the organization has driven a player they got in the draft and have brought along.”
Gentry had his best season as a Steeler last year, and his role will grow as the TE2 this year. Last year, both Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth were ahead of Gentry on the depth chart, but this year Gentry will be the No. 2 guy. Canada talked about his blocking ability, but he showed off his ability as a receiver last year, and at 6’8 he can be a weapon in the passing game. I think Gentry is going to have a nice role for the Steelers this year and be a player who impresses a lot of people.
As far as Heyward, the rookie sixth-round pick, Canada was impressed with his diverse skill set.
“All the things he can do, he’s a very diverse player. He can go make catches, he can block, he can do some different things. So we’re being careful. You know, how much we give him too fast, you know, ‘cause he can skill set, do a lot of things. But obviously we don’t want him playing slow. We want him playing fast. So we’ll keep feeding him as we go, when we’re trying to get a whole bunch of stuff on him as fast as we can. But excited about what he could potentially continue to become day after day.”
To me, that sounds as if Heyward won’t see a ton of playing time early. While he has the capacity to do a lot, there’s only so much the Steelers will need him to do, especially early on as he’s still getting acclimated to the team and the offense. His potential is certainly there, but early on I don’t know how much I would expect from Heyward.
Freiermuth has been banged up early and hasn’t gotten a ton of work in camp, so Canada didn’t have a lot to say on him. Still, we all know what he’s capable of, and he’s going to be a talented TE1 for the Steelers. I’d bet on him to improve on last year’s numbers and become more of a receiving threat for the Steelers.
I really do think Gentry is going to have himself a nice year, though. He won’t play as much as Freiermuth, but the team might run more two-tight end sets than they have in the past. Mitch Trubisky has spoken highly of the fourth-year tight end, and he definitely looked like a guy that could stick in the league in the flashes he showed toward the end of the year last season. I don’t want to beat the drum too hard for a backup tight end two weeks into training camp, but I would count on Gentry being more of a contributor than he’s been and being a guy who produces when his number is called.