Jake McGee was supposed to change the tight end position for Florida. The Gators struggled to find production from their tight ends last season, totaling just four catches from the position throughout the 2013 season.
McGee showed in the open practices that he could be featured in the passing game and an important part of the offense brought to Gainesville by first-year coordinator Kurt Roper. When McGee went down on Saturday, it was obvious that the injury was serious. Trainers immediately put an air cast on it and carted him off the field.
It was tough for Burton to see it happen to a teammate that has become a close friend since McGee showed up in Gainesville.
“It’s more than football with him and I,” Clay Burton said. “He came in, and I didn’t know him at all. He has really pushed me to be a better player. We’ve become very tight as more than just teammates. I feel terrible for him.”
Despite McGee’s emergence, the biggest surprise of the first depth chart was that Burton remained the starter. Florida coach Will Muschamp said that Saturday’s performance was proof as to what they saw in practice. Burton led the Gators with seven catches on Saturday, but his 42 yards were fourth on the team.
The catches didn’t come on down the field. He mostly served as a safety blanket for Driskel when the pressure came close or when he needed a quick pass to the sideline where Burton could step out of bounds during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half.
He came into Saturday’s game with three catches during his career.
“Clay has played well for us,” Muschamp said. “We have all the confidence in the world for us -- that’s why he’s a starter. He’s very valuable member of our organization. He’s got really good hands. He understands offensively what we’re trying to do with him. He’s got a huge role moving forward in what we’re doing. That’s a very critical position for us.”
It’s especially critical to the quarterback. When Driskel has had a trustworthy tight end to throw to during his Florida career, the results have been positive. He was smart with the football and didn’t make mistakes during the 2012 season while making a run to the Sugar Bowl. Driskel had Jordan Reed that season as his tight end, and when the pressure from the defense came, Driskel was able to check the ball down and still have a chance to gain yards.
The hope for the Florida offense is that Burton can be that guy this year. With McGee out, the senior will have plenty of opportunities.
“I think he proved that he’s a complete tight end,” Driskel said. “His hands have continued to get better. He worked on that a lot in the offseason. They’re going to have to continue to get better, but he had a really good game. I’m excited for him.”