One option missing a little from the passing game this year for the Florida Gators has been junior tight end Tate Casey who has just one reception for 22 yards. He probably expected to be more of an option this year after five touchdown catches his first two years but the Gators have found other options and that’s fine with him. He now considers himself a proud member of the offensive line.
No one is writing Casey off as a pass receiving tight end. He offers a different dimension and one that will have its place and time to be utilized. At 6-7 and 240 pounds he can run and has height advantage over any defender down field. He will be an option at times this year to catch the ball, but right now he is content opening holes for backs and protecting quarterbacks.
He is coming off a fine game against Tennessee’s tough defensive front. Last year the Gators never really got it going up front and while this group of linemen may be young, they are making progress on the field. It is progress that Casey can see for himself and takes pride in as a part of the group.
“The strides we made as an offensive line unit, and I put myself in there,” Casey started. “To be honest with you I haven’t been too involved in the passing game in the last couple of games and I don’t worry about that. I am proud to be on the offensive line because everything is going good. I like to say there has been a lot more coming off the ball, more hard nosed, and hitting people in the mouth. We are getting that way, we aren’t there yet, but we are getting there. By the end of the year towards the Auburn and Georgia game hopefully we will be where we want to be and get on a run.”
Casey sees a different mentality with this group as opposed to the lines of the last two years. There is a lot more business like approach of doing their job one play and then line up for the next.
“For us it’s more about doing it than saying it,” Casey said. “It is different than in the past, where they would say we weren’t tough and we would say we would show them and then you didn’t see it on film. Now we just show them and prove everyone wrong and see what they say about us afterward. We just take it one game at a time and if they say it, we will just say, ‘What do you think about us now?’ and then ‘What do you think about us now?’ Hopefully after the season, it will be a new way everybody looks at the offensive line and the young guys that are on it.”
There are many things contributing to the change up front on the offense. Some of it is personality, some is attitude, and a great deal of work done in the off-season.
“It is a little bit of everything,” Casey said. “There is some athleticism mixed in. You have guys like Drew Miller, (Phil) Trautwein, (Carlton) Medder, (Steve) Rissler and not only that, it’s a new attitude. It’s looked on a little bit different than it was. There is a lot less complaining and a lot more getting it done and a lot more action. Now it’s about going out take your lunch pail and getting it done.”
There is a new toughness on the front line and Casey thinks that is primarily the focus of the strength and conditioning staff for the football team. All the long hours of hard work in the spring and summer are starting to offer up rewards on the football field.
“I think it is the off season, and our strength staff,” Casey said. “They have done a heck of a job. Not only with us, you can look at the wide receivers and guys like Dallas Baker, even the young guys from just the summer session. We kind of see a new start of toughness that hasn’t been here in a while.”
That toughness may be personified in a true freshman quarterback who was called into duty on Saturday to come up big and he did just that. Tim Tebow ran the ball seven times in the huge game Saturday and accounted for 29 yards and four first downs. No run was more important than his fourth and two run in the last quarter that helped the Gators complete finish off the winning touchdown drive.
“With Tim it is always so exciting when he comes into the huddle,” Casey said. “I think the guys kind of feed off that a little bit. I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that Tim was going to get the first down. He has been working his butt off all season. We know how he is and his effort.”
The new team toughness has become a mental thing as well. This team is learning how to win tough games when the odds may seem to be stacked against them. On the drive mentioned above, the Gators were not going to be denied.
“We made our minds up on the sideline before that drive that we were going to get into the end zone,” Casey said. “Dallas and the seniors made it pretty clear that it was going to happen, for us and some of the others we didn’t have any doubt. We just tried to go out there and execute the best we could on that drive.”
Casey has seen the young and inexperienced offensive line grow. They have matured a great deal in three games and they should only get better. With only one player starting a game at his same position before this season (Jim Tartt started one game at LG last season), this is the least experienced offensive line the Gators have had sine 1980.
Last year’s very experienced group had to go through growing pains as it learned a new system. They suffered early in the year and allowed 14 sacks through the first three games of the season. This season, the young guns have allowed only five sacks through the first three games. The unit that has taken a lot of criticism early this year is starting to show it’s doubters according to Casey.
“Being in the meetings with them, I can see where they have gone since spring ball,” he said. “The whole offensive line, as far as being criticized as much as they have as a unit, they are kind of like a new group. (It’s great) seeing how much they work and their competitive edge with the way they work and see how far they’ve gone as a group, especially as much as they have been challenged.”
There is a lot to be accomplished with this group according to Casey. These guys are smart, aggressive, and they will surprise you athletically.
“You look at guys like Trautwein, Miller, and Steve Rissler and even guys like Medder and Jim Tartt … they are big guys that can move,” Casey said. “Drew is a prime example. I hate to say it but he was a former tight end in high school until he got too fat (he said laughing). He can actually move. On Fridays we play some touch football before walk through and I had to cover him. He beat me for two touchdowns the other day. I was picked by one of his guys, but for him to run down the field it wasn’t pretty but he can run for a big guy.”
Casey is happy and proud to be associated with the guys up front that don’t draw attention until the news is bad. He loves being added to the blocking scheme along side the big uglies on the front line. He wouldn’t mind a lot more of it.
“I feel like it is starting to become that. I hope it is,” he said. “Being the lone tight end for so long, I tell Coach Addazio all the time it kind of sucks. I am either with the offensive line or the receivers and never really part of a group. I always hang with the offensive line anyway.”
He already has the right mindset of the unselfish lineman. Tate Casey sounds like he would almost rather be the big block for a winning touchdown than catch it
“What feels the best is looking up after you make the block, you can’t see the back but you can feel the back, you know where he is at and know where he is going,” he said. “As soon as he is passes you up you can tell because the defender always turns and tries to run after him. Getting that feeling and seeing DeShawn (Wynn) or Kestahn (Moore) or Markus (Manson) 10 or 15 yards down field and finishing off blocks, guys cutting people, and guys getting aggressive and knockdowns, it is kind of a great deal, especially when it is a touchdown. When they break a 20 yard run those feelings are just unreal for us.”