There is a particular position battle that has flown slightly under the radar so far during fall camp for the Florida Gators. It isn’t in the kicking game, the safeties, or the answer to who will step up at wide receiver, it’s the tight ends.
Last season Jordan Reed was responsible for 29.3% of Florida’s receiving yardage output as the starting TE, hauling in 559 of Florida’s 1,902 yards through the air. That total was almost 200 yards more than any wide receiver. Reed’s three receiving touchdowns was a number only equaled or surpassed by two Florida wideouts, Quinton Dunbar – who had four touchdowns – and Frankie Hammond – three touchdowns.
In other words, there is a production crater in Florida’s already lacking aerial attack thanks to Reed leaving for the NFL.
Into said crater steps unproven targets.
Reed was more pass catcher than blocker, and that’s putting it nicely, Clay Burton may not be much of a receiving threat by trade but he is a blocker that can lower the boom. While Burton may be known more for his blocking than his catching, don’t tell him that he or any of his fellow tight ends aren’t primary options in the receiving game like Reed was.
“All of us have the tool sets to be threats if they need us. I don’t think we should be the last options. I think if we do everything we know we can, I think we can be number one options instead of the last options,” Burton said.
Redshirt freshman Colin Thompson missed all of last season due to a right foot injury. Thompson fits the bill of a prototypical TE, much like Burton does in the blocking scheme, but could stand to be a better receiver.
With the premium put on the TE’s role in the passing game, some forget the importance of the position as a blocking asset, it’s something Thompson says is a major focus.
“[Blocking and receiving] are equally important obviously for what we do. Last year we ran the ball 27 times in a row against LSU, or some unbelievable number, and we need tight ends that can block. Physical play is number one. Even in running routes, physical play is number one,” Thompson said.
Thompson and Burton aren’t the only option at the position. Junior Tevin Westbrook and sophomore Kent Taylor are also vying for the spot. Taylor has wowed at least one of his teammates during camp.
“Yeah, he’s definitely gained a lot of weight throughout the off-season and gotten stronger. He’s improved his blocking a lot from last year,” fullback Hunter Joyer said. He went on to elaborate about what he’s noticed about the position group on a whole “I’ve seen great improvement form all of them really. They’re all trying to step up and be the starting tight end, so they’re all working against each other and competing real well.”
Stepping up and taking the lead is something all four of Florida’s tight end hopefuls are attempting to do. In the end, Thompson knows it’ll all workout.
“We’re all competing, whether there’s a clean cut one or not I really don’t know. All I know is every play everyone’s getting a shot at some equal reps and everyone’s getting a shot at some different plays and what coaches think is going to be the best for them,” Thompson said. “The coaches know who is going to be that guy and it will be determined in a week or so, or two weeks. Whenever camp is over.”