Over the past two seasons, the Florida Gators completed 365 passes. Jordan Reed was responsible for 73 of those catches – 20%. Coincidentally, his 863 receiving yards over that same time period were once again, 20% of the receiving yards.
Does that mean that Florida loses roughly 20% of their offense with Reed’s departure to the Washington Redskins? No, they’re losing much more than that.
Reed had not only developed into the Gators’ leading receiver, but he was a reliable, safe target for Jeff Driskel as he developed and grew into the starting quarterback. Just having Reed on the field demanded the opposing defenses attention, opening things up for the other playmakers on Florida’s offense.
With Reed gone to the NFL, Florida is left with a glaring hole in their depth chart at tight end.
“I think we’ve recruited well at the position,” Will Muschamp said at Florida’s Media Day. “We’ve got guys to help us out. With that being said, the tight end position is not enough of what I would call ‘combo guys’ that can play on the line of scrimmage and dent the edge and stretch the field vertically. We don’t really have that mix of guys right now.”
With Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson all vying for the starting job this fall, only one of those players stands out as a true combo guy at the moment.
Tevin Westbrook, a converted defensive end, has made strides as a receiver but he is much better as a blocking tight end and that is how he will be used in the offense. Kent Taylor is a tall, fast, offensive weapon that can be used to stretch the field, as well as provide a big target in the redzone. However, even with the additional size he has added – he’s up to 240-pounds now – Taylor has a long way to go as a blocker before the coaching staff can rely on him every game to pave the way for the run game.
The current starter and most experienced player in the bunch is inching closer and closer to becoming that combo guy Coach Muschamp is looking for. Clay Burton – another converted defensive end – is a very underrated blocker but isn’t quite a threat as a receiving option just yet. Burton is a very advanced blocker and went to great lengths to become a more well-rounded tight end this offseason.
That leaves us with redshirt freshman Colin Thompson. Thompson spent his first season in Gainesville redshirting, while he nursed a foot injury that required surgery. The time away from football proved to be challenging, but that period of time also gave Thompson a chance to learn the offense and learn from Reed.
“I think it was more frustrating being hurt, there’s nothing I could have done about it,” Thompson said. “There were a lot of moments that I wish I was apart of but, there were also a lot of moments where I was happy that I got to sit back and learn. We had a great veteran tight end in Jordan Reed, who was drafted by the Redskins, so there was some downside, but also a lot of upside.”
Thompson is a tight end in the mold of Dallas Cowboy’s tight end, Jason Witten. Thompson isn’t the best blocker on the team but he is more than adequate for a tight end. He isn’t the vertical threat that Taylor can be, but he has solid hands and when he turns and runs with the ball he is a load to bring down in space.
Thompson also has a different mentality than the other players he is in competition with. When asked if he would rather catch a touchdown or pancake a defensive end, Thompson had to stop and think about it while the other tight ends chimed in quickly.
“Oh, that’s a tough one,” Thompson said as Kent Taylor leaned over to hear what the question was. Thompson repeated the question to Taylor, who leaned back in his chair while exclaiming, “that’s easy, catch a touchdown.” Clay Burton agreed.
Thompson responded by not really choosing at all, “I would like to do both in one play,” He said. “Running over someone is so demoralizing and is such a great feeling.”
That mentality is one of the things that Thompson uses to his advantage on the field. He is a soft-spoken, nice player off of the field but plays football with a mean streak and a certain level of intensity and effort.
“I just want to bring physicality and effort, I think everyone brings it but just to bring that maximum physicality and max amount of effort,” Thompson said. “I want to make plays in the passing game and running game equally and that’s what it takes to play at Florida. You have to make plays every down. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
With four players battling for just one starting spot, you would think that it would be hard to turn the competition off when the players aren’t on the football field. That, however, is not the case. While being interviewed, Burton stared at Thompson, making faces. Burton, Taylor and Thompson all debated over what was better getting a pancake block or a catching a touchdown, getting sidetracked from the actual question. Skyler Mornhinweg, who was sitting to Thompson’s left, turned and said, “This always happens with these guys.”
It takes a certain level of maturity to keep the competition on the football field and Thompson believes that the players at his position are all big enough to keep football on the field and their personal lives off of the field.
“I think we’re friends no matter what on and off the field,” Thompson said. “Obviously, when you’re competing you just play, you don’t have time to talk. On the field, you’re focused on making the right play and off the field you’re just kind of relaxed and there’s a time to turn it off. We have a pretty mature bunch of tight ends so we know when to turn it on and off. We have a real laid back bunch and a really good group of guys.”
With fall camp getting underway and less than a month until kickoff, the competition will only heat up in the next few weeks until a starter is named.