The people’s choice is back.
“I’m just going to do what I do and just play to the best of my ability and play hard,” rookie wide receiver Tanner Gentry said Wednesday. “The rest will take care of itself.”
Gentry, the undrafted free agent from Wyoming, typifies the hope-against-hope Bears fans will cling to after six consecutive seasons with no playoff berths. He made plays in training camp. He made plays in the preseason, including the biggest play rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky has made as a Bear — a 45-yard touchdown pass against the Titans. The 6-2, 209-pound Gentry created a buzz exceeded only by fellow rookies Trubisky, Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen.
And then he was cut. And then he cleared waivers, which seemed to confirm the notion that maybe we saw more in Gentry than was actually there.
But after a week on the practice squad, Gentry was promoted to the active roster after Kevin White was put on injured reserve with a broken shoulder blade. He’s last in line behind Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson and Tre McBride. And he might be inactive Sunday against the Buccaneers with Wheaton looking ready to -return from a broken finger.
But that won’t mean that Gentry isn’t ready, just that the Bears don’t have a spot for him. A year ago, Meredith was inactive in Weeks 1-2 and ended up leading the Bears in receptions (66) and receiving yards (888). The Bears don’t know if Gentry is ready to contribute right away.
“That’s a good question,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains acknowledged Wednesday.
“He had a good preseason. We just have to kind of figure out how the numbers are going to be this week and who’s up, who’s down. We are excited about what Tanner brings and hopefully we can create a role for him, if he’s active and playing this week.”
Gentry often is lumped in with other Cinderella stories of previous Bears training camps, like Mike Hass, Dane Sanzenbacher and Daniel Braverman. But Gentry is made from a different mold. He wasn’t just a get-open guy who worked the middle of the field. He showed an innate ability to find the ball, win one-on-one battles and make plays downfield. He’s not trying to be Wes Welker. He’s trying to be Dez Bryant.
“He has the ability to track the ball in the air — obviously we all saw that,” Loggains said. “He’s fast. He plays really hard. Sometimes there are guys that have a knack for the football. We kind of feel like Tanner could be that kind of guy.”
With the state of the Bears’ receiving corps, they probably should find room for a guy that has “a knack for the football.” He also seems to have a knack for adjusting well. Gentry has played with a different starting quarterback each of the last seven seasons, dating to his sophomore year in high school. Mike Glennon would be No. 8 — if Gentry gets the chance.
There still are many nuances Gentry will have to learn in order to put himself in the right place to do what he does best. If he can’t beat press coverage he’ll never get there. But he seems to know what he doesn’t know — lessons he learned from a productive preseason.
“I learned that this level is a lot different than college,” Gentry said. “Just being able to go against the top talent [of defensive backs] that there are in this league. Elite athletes. So you’ve just got to be very technical in your route -running and getting off press coverage and things like that. It’s a lot of technique.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.