Spring Evaluation: TE's and FB's

Two positions that are going to be a lot different on the football field for Florida this fall will be very important to a new offensive style with a new quarterback at the helm. The fullback looks to get a much more expanded role in the offense in 2010 while the tight end will look to bring more of a power game. Both will be significant contributors to an offense looking to diversify.

As the Florida Gators transfer the offensive helm from Tim Tebow to John Brantley at quarterback, so comes a change in personnel outside of the quarterback himself. Brantley will be taking snaps from directly under center a significant amount of time in 2010, a big change from the three previous years with the triple option threat of Tebow.

With that change comes the increased role of the fullback in the offense as primarily a blocker in the Florida offense. The fullback will be asked to lead block for the running backs a lot more and asked to help pass protect for Brantley as he will most likely drop back a great deal more time than Tebow ever did.

With two scholarship fullbacks on the roster, Florida feels pretty good about the position. Junior Steven Wilks and sophomore T.J. Pridemore are a big sturdy combo of fullbacks and both should see a lot of playing time.

Brian White coaches the fullbacks and likes what he saw from his group this spring.

"Steven Wilks has had a great spring and T.J. has continued to get better," White said late in spring drills. "I feel great about both of them."

The one that is really pushing for an increased role for the position itself is Wilks, who may surprise some this year.

"Steven has outstanding hands," White said of the safety turned fullback when asked if he can be a threat with the ball in his hands. "We have to be able to do some two-back stuff with John Brantley and so it should expand their role."

Running back coach Stan Drayton was around when one of the best fullbacks the Gators has ever had donned the orange and blue just a few years ago. Drayton sees a lot of Billy Latsko in Steven Wilks.

"Billy Latsko was a phenomenal player here and Steve Wilks is as good to me," Drayton said with the high praise. "He's a football position kid, a tough nut. He's one of those guys that hasn't missed a practice...hasn't missed a rep. He is playing physical football right now.

"Just ask the tailbacks they feel like they are getting separation from contact and getting angles and lanes. Why is that? Because they feel like they have a guy in front of them that is attacking the defense in front of them. Any time they have a guy who is decisive and physical like that...I would like to run behind that."

"He has really good hands. He has some upside that is unbelievable and I think he is going to be a great player for us this year."

While Wilks may be the prototype at fullback, I believe Pridemore can be very useful in an H-back role and as a guy that extends the line of scrimmage as a tight end at times. Pridemore is a bigger fullback and has had more time at the position having played there in high school as well. He is excellent with his pass protection and a wide body that is a good compliment to Wilks.

While the Gators won't likely get 68 receptions from the tight end position in 2010 like they did from Aaron Hernandez, this position won't disappear. Four freshmen tight ends will dot the roster in the fall and two of them got a great deal of work this spring.

White thinks he has a pretty good bunch.

"They are pretty assignment sound and improved fundamentally," White said of his tight ends. "They are still a ways away from where they need to be to play championship football, but we will get him there."

From my perspective, after watching every practice this spring, Jordan Reed was the surprise among the entire team. The redshirt freshman who was a quarterback a year ago, really came out and made a statement big enough for everyone to take notice and plant himself in the first unit heading into the fall. At 6-4 and 240 pounds, reed is an imposing force, but he has some exceptional athletic ability for a guy his size.

In the fall, Reed started out as a quarterback and midway through the season he was sliding to the tight end position. As the season wore on, he got more and more work at the position. Coach White could see that he had a special player even before Reed dominated this spring.

"I did...I saw the way he moves and runs, his ball skills and body type," White reassured when asked if he saw this coming from reed before the spring. "I was pretty confident that he was going to make the transition this year."

Behind Reed all spring was true freshman Gerald Christian who was the odds on favorite to take the position over in the spring. Reed's super play kept that from happening, but Christian, while showing flashes of super play, also didn't emerge as a big time threat this spring.

Christian is a big strong tight end, but more on the lean side and reminds a bunch of Cornelius Ingram in the way he is built. He can carry a few more pounds, but he plays tough and hard at his current weight, so I am not sure how necessary that really is.

Arriving in January, there is no doubt that Christian was tentative at times and that showed. My guess is as he gets more comfortable in the offense, he will loosen up and the game will come to him and he will perform at a higher level.

Having played just one practice all spring, we didn't get much out of Desmond Parks. Parks tore some ligaments in his wrist in the first practice and at out the rest of the drills. This was a big spring for Parks who is actually in his second spring on campus after enrolling early a year ago. Parks is more of a down field threat and still needs to put on some bulk in order to play the position how it will likely change in this offense. Still, another down field threat would be welcomed in this soon top be pass happy offense and missing all this time didn't help him.

Mike McFarland will join the tight end group in the fall, but the duo of Christian and Reed made a solid impression and showed they will be a force in the fall.

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