QB’s best friend: Bears rookie WR Tanner Gentry is one to watch
Time had expired when Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen rolled right. A big-time throw-and-catch was needed if the Cowboys were going to extend their Nov. 12 game against UNLV to overtime. It was needed to win.
Allen, of course, looked for receiver Tanner Gentry.
“For Josh,” Gentry said, “I was a guy that whenever he threw the ball, he knew I was going to come down with it.”
And he did. Gentry made a one-handed catch on the right edge of the end zone and got a foot and a hand in bounds.
It was one of two receptions made by Gentry that day that appeared on ‘‘SportsCenter.” The first was a falling, one-handed, 50-yard touchdown catch with a defender all over him late in the first half.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t pull that one out,” Gentry said of Wyoming’s wild 69-66 loss in triple overtime.
To Gentry, winning is everything, but his performance still was an example of what he could be for a first-round arm.
Allen is widely considered one of the top quarterbacks for the 2018 NFL draft. Some pundits already have pegged him as the possible first overall selection.
Starting Friday at the Bears’ rookie minicamp, Gentry’s work begins with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the second overall pick this year and the future of the franchise.
“I know that he’s a great player,” Gentry said. “He can obviously do a lot of great things. He has a great arm. From the highlights I’ve seen, he looks like a big, strong quarterback. I’m excited to get to work with him.”
The Bears are excited about Gentry, too. He highlights their list of undrafted free-agent signees — a group of players that shouldn’t be overlooked under general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox. Gentry signed with the Bears over a few AFC teams.
Receiver Cam Meredith, tight end Ben Braunecker, cornerback Bryce Callahan and linebackers Jonathan Anderson and John Timu are among the Bears’ undrafted free agents to start and play in the past two years. Safety Harold Jones-Quartey and cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc are undrafted waiver-wire additions who also have played extensively.
“This weekend, [I want to] show I can just make plays on the ball,” said Gentry, who had 72 catches for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns last season at Wyoming. “Even if it’s not the best throw, it’s building that confidence [with Trubisky] that I’m going to come down with it and just compete for the ball.”
At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Gentry has the size to compete. At his pro day, he ran a 4.4 second 40-yard dash. He also has a 38-inch vertical jump, which would have been the fourth-best mark at the combine.
Having excelled in Wyoming’s offense, which has pro-style characteristics, will help Gentry’s transition. Unlike many other rookies, Gentry has experience running all routes. He lined up at all receiver spots and knows how to gain separation on play-action plays.
According to Pro Football Focus’ analysis, Gentry had 49 deep targets (throws of 20 yards or more through the air) to lead all college receivers in 2016.
“I try to do everything,” Gentry said. “I try to stay creative with my routes.”
Gentry also has the underdog, chip-on-my-shoulder personality that Pace and Fox search for and covet in players. He was a two-star recruit with two scholarship offers who developed into a star at Wyoming.
“I played a little upset about that,” Gentry said. “Going undrafted is definitely adding more fuel to the fire. I’m excited to go prove that I belong to play in the league.”
It starts with connecting with Trubisky as he did with Allen.
“I consider [Allen] one of the best friends that I have,” Gentry said. “We built a great relationship. A lot of that started by what we were able to do on the field together.”
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