The search for a tight end

There wasn't much to the Florida passing game last year, but when a positive play happened, it was usually tight end Jordan Reed catching the ball. He'll be starting his professional career with the Washington Redskins this fall, leaving the Gators searching for answers at the position. Despite multiple bodies at the position, the spring didn't produce any obvious answers.

Jordan Reed wasn't the perfect tight end at Florida, especially in the scheme the Gators want to run. He struggled with his blocking at times and didn't have the girth to serve as the ideal attached tight end. There were issues in his game, but he brought stability and a dynamic playmaker in the passing game.

This year's group of tight ends doesn't inspire much confidence on paper.

As individuals, each player has some positive traits that could be used to help replace the hole that Reed's departure leaves in the Florida offense.

Clay Burton provides the leadership and experience. As a sophomore playing his first full year at the position, Burton caught two passes for 12 yards. He was on the field much more than those numbers would suggest, usually helping in the blocking area that Reed struggled in.

It's rare to say someone with two catches can make up for the experience of a departed player, but the youth of the tight end position on the Florida roster makes it possible. He still has plenty of room to improve, as Burton struggled to catch the ball last year.

Sophomore Kent Taylor could replace Reed's receiving ability. He didn't play much during his true freshman season, making just one catch for positive yards on a five-yard touchdown reception at the end of the Sugar Bowl. His playing time in that game should be a positive sign about the progress he made during bowl practices.

Taylor could be a key part of tight end play

Weight was always the issue. Taylor ended the spring listed at 6-5, 224 pounds, the sophomore still has some room to add weight and be a Southeastern Conference-caliber tight end. Until that weight gain happens, Taylor can make an impact in the receiving game, even serving as a wide receiver in some red zone sets.

The one area of the tight end play that could improve in 2013 is blocking. It wasn't a forte of Reed, especially since he only played the position exclusively for two years before heading to the NFL. Colin Thompson, on the other hand, was born to block in the SEC.

The 6-3, 253-pound tight end redshirted last year because of a foot injury, but he's healthy and went through all of spring practice. He is the prototypical tight end that can put his hand in the dirt at the line of scrimmage and serve as another offensive lineman. Thompson thrives on it and should also help the run blocking and pass protection this year. He can still serve as a target in the passing game, but Thompson's biggest benefit to the Florida offense will come as a blocker.

Then there's Tevin Westbrook. After signing as a defensive tackle with the Gators, Westbrook played as a tight end last season. He's extremely raw at the position but is still an intriguing player with his 6-5, 262-pound frame. If he can get comfortable at the position, Westbrook has the athleticism to make an impact during his career.

Westbrook has the size for tight end

There's little doubt the tight end position will take a step back from the production Reed provided in 2012, but if the Gators play their cards right, they can use the strengths of the tight ends on the roster to still get positive play from the position.


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