The year after Reed left, Florida’s leading tight end receiver was Tevin Westbrook with three catches for 30 yards. Clay Burton had one catch for 12 yards and was the only other tight end on the roster with one catch.
The production was better in 2014. Virginia transfer Jake McGee was supposed to be the starter and looked ready to produce during fall camp. He suffered a broken leg in the first half of the season opener and was lost for the year. Without him, Burton and Westbrook combined for 26 catches, 237 yards and three touchdowns.
Burton and Westbrook both graduated following the 2014 season, but McGee was granted a sixth year by the NCAA and will be the anchor at the position in 2015.
“It adds a great deal,” Florida tight ends coach Greg Nord said. “You get a guy who does have some age, does have some experience. Other than the football part of it, he’s the one guy that’s bigger than everybody else, just meeting them. You get a chance to add a guy that is bigger than all the rest of them and does have some experience, certainly. The more the better. The more the competition is this spring, the better we're going to be. Any time you add another guy that's good in the mix to the competition, that's going to make everyone else better."
Behind McGee, there are bodies but not much certainty. Florida had a trio of freshmen last season at the tight end position. DeAndre Goolsby played as a freshman but didn’t make a catch while C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens both took redshirts. The Gators also have a freshman on campus for spring practice since Daniel Imatorbhebhe enrolled early, and three-star Camrin Knight will be on campus during the summer.
Numbers aren’t the issue at the tight end position. The Gators just have to find a way to be more productive at the position. McGee has the talent to lead the position for the 2015 season, but the coaches would like to find out who the long-term answer at the position will be.
“I see some youth but also see some guys very willing to jump in with us and start learning what to do,” Nord said. “We’ll take what talents they bring to the table, try to enhance them to make them a vital part of our offense and mix them into special teams as well. Let’s go at it. In the meantime, we’re getting out there trying to look for the next Ben Troupe to come in here next year.”
The tight end position was supposed to be a big part of Kurt Roper’s offense in 2014, but McGee’s injury changed the game plan. The new coaching staff won’t have much of an idea what the offense looks like until they get on the practice field during the spring.
Florida coach Jim McElwain has said in recent stops that he’ll have a ‘get it to’ list for his offenses. When his team isn’t getting the ball to its best playmakers enough, he’ll look to that list and find a player drawn up for the best playmaker to get involved.
Different players are always involved. When McElwain and Nord worked together at Louisville, the best playmaker was Deion Branch one season. After he left, the Cardinals had two talented tight ends that were the featured players in the offense.
Nord wasn’t familiar enough with his personnel to say if the tight ends will be the focus of the offense in 2015, but they’ll focus on getting the ball to the players that can make plays.
“We look for guys that can go make plays and the biggest thing about our offense is get the ball to the playmakers,” Nord said. “We’ve got to have ‘get it to’ players in our offense. Where that comes from will be determined in spring through competition at every position. That’s going to be determined with who we may sign that’s a ‘get it to’ guy there now that comes out and joins us.”
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