Kan Li / Scout

Will tight end continue to be a strength for Gators?

With the loss of tight end Jake McGee to graduation, the Florida Gators are looking for someone to step up and fill his shoes. But, this season, they are looking to have multiple guys step in and contribute a lot.

Jake McGee caught 41 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns in 2015. That was good for the second most catches and tied for the most touchdowns receiving on the team last year. The other tight ends combined caught just 21 passes on the year. Somewhere they have to pick up the slack.

Florida likes to utilize the tight end position when they can because they like to exploit mismatches on the field and if you have the right kind of athletes at the position, this offense is designed to do a lot of things with them.

With that in mind, Florida has four scholarship tight ends on the roster and they all have their own skill sets, but they are all working to be well rounded to help contribute to the team. Redshirt sophomores Moral Stephens and Cyontai Lewis, sophomore Camrin Knight, and junior DeAndre Goolsby all look to play a big part this season.

“(It’s) kind of the forgotten position, like in all of football,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said earlier this week. “There have really been four guys who have really stood out. I'll start with Moral Stephens, who has really become a guy that has kind of taken to the role as an in-line blocker playing physical. Obviously Cyontai, it's been good to have him back and in there. Goolsby really showed up in the last scrimmage. He made some really big plays in the pass game and has gotten a little bit better as things have gone you know from a blocking standpoint, especially some point of attack stuff. Cam Knight is a guy that just keeps getting better and better and he'll play a lot for us."

Stephens has been the guy that has struggled to get on the field, but McElwain’s remarks this spring have been very positive and that looks to change. Knight saw the field as a true freshman because of his blocking ability when Lewis went down with injury. Lewis only caught four passes a year ago, but two went for long touchdowns. He is a guy that is a tenacious blocker, but has the downfield ability. Goolsby caught 17 passes and a touchdown in 2015. He can do a bit of both but excels in the open field.

One thing Goolsby has been working on is his consistency, working hard every day in practice.

"That's something we talked about,” McElwain said. “Obviously in the offseason, and the only thing I would say he has done remarkably better than what he had done in the past is he has come to work and actually goes out and to get better every day. Where sometimes (before) he may take some practices off a little bit. You know what I'm getting at. His consistency, been really pleased with and hopefully he can maintain that. Now that I gave him a little pat on the head, he'll probably come out and not practice today. But, he definitely deserves what we're talking about because he's really had a good spring and has developed into a guy that the quarterbacks feel comfortable with too because he's there every day."

It has also helped this spring that the guys at the position have stayed healthy. A year ago Lewis had a big game early in the year and was hurt right afterward, it seemed to really slow his growth as a freshman. This spring, they are all locked in and practicing every day.

"Yeah, there's no doubt that the understanding of the guy being there, especially when you're talking about the passing game,” McElwain said. “Guys develop a sense of where a guy is going to be and that kind of stuff. And I think our quarterbacks have really gotten to where they really like throwing to those guys."

It is part of the maturation of what is still a pretty young group. Goolsby as the elder has buckled down and come to work every day with his game face on. For the most part, the others are working on parts of their craft to all become better.

It is easy to picture a lot of two tight end formations with this group and their ability. That means they should all see a good bit of playing time in the fall.


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