Before spring practice began, Gator Country took a look at the top eight position battles to keep an eye on during spring practice. Now that spring is over, we’ll take a look at how those position battles played out over the past couple weeks.
In the finale to this series we take a look at the tight ends.
Despite only spending two seasons at tight end, Jordan Reed became the most reliable receiving threat the Gators have had in those two seasons. Reed caught almost 25% of all the completions thrown in 2012.
That’s a lot of production that the Gators are trying to fill in 2013.
Throughout the spring, Will Muschamp kept stressing that the tight end position “needed to improve.” Just about every time Coach Muschamp would talk about the position he would mention various players as guys who “have done some nice things” but as a whole, they aren’t playing at the level that they need to be.
Burton has appeared in 12 games, including six starts, in his two years on campus. Burton was used as the primary blocking option at tight end last season and only caught two passes for a combined 12 yards.
Burton was signed out of high school as a defensive end and started his career there before being moved to tight end. With a season as a full time tight end under his belt, Burton looked more comfortable at the position and showed improvement this spring, especially as a pass-catcher.
“I’ve been doing really well with that this spring so far,” Burton said when asked how he was developing as a receiver in the offseason. “I caught a lot of balls during the winter conditioning program so I think I’ve handled that problem. I caught 2,000 balls in the month of February.”
Westbrook played three games as a true freshman on the defensive line before being moved to tight end in the summer of 2012.
Westbrook played in every game last season, including one start, but didn’t catch a pass. He was used mainly as a blocking option but worked on becoming a more complete tight end this spring.
Taylor came to Florida as a highly rated recruit and one of the top tight ends in the country. He earned playing time in six games as a true freshman and caught his first career touchdown pass against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
Much like Jordan Reed, Taylor can be a serious receiving threat for the Gators but is still very raw as a blocker.
“Kent Taylor is a guy that’s got to develop himself more in the blocking realm of it but does a nice job in the receiving part,” Muschamp said. “Got to continue to develop there.”
At 6’5” Taylor should develop into, at the very least, a dangerous red zone threat for the Gators in 2013, but both the coaching staff and fans are hoping he can be more than just that.
Thompson is the most complete tight end the Gators have. While Westbrook and Burton may be better blockers and Taylor might be a better receiver, Thompson is the complete package and can do both well.
Physically, Thompson reminds me of Jason Witten but we haven’t seen Thompson in game action yet due to an injury. Thompson had to undergo surgery on his foot, which forced him to spend his first year on campus watching from the sidelines. This was a new role for him and it wasn’t something that he enjoyed doing very much.
“It was challenging, a very challenging season for me,” Thompson said of redshirting last season. “It was tough to see us lose against Georgia, being at the game, and it was obviously tough to see us lose to Louisville.”
The coaches were happy to see him get back on the field this spring and are hopeful that he can make an impact in 2013.
“Colin Thompson, was great to get him back on the field in work and he’s going to continue to progress and will only get better,” Muschamp said.
If you put a gun to my head and make me pick a starter right now, it would be Clay Burton. Even though he has just 12 games played, he is the most experienced tight end the Gators have on the roster.
However, I believe that at some point this season Thompson will take over as the starting tight end. Thompson is a more than adequate pass-catcher and blocker and gives Florida their most well rounded player at the position.
Kent Taylor is too big of an offensive weapon to not be utilized in some form or fashion. He’s a tall, pass-catcher who can create mismatches for opposing defenses. Taylor is a player that, if he can add weight and progress as a blocker, would be an easy pick to be the starter. He is just too much of a liability right now as a blocker. However, his ability as a pass catcher will ensure that he gets on the field in 2013 in some capacity.
Truth be told, the position is still a mystery. There wasn’t one player that stood out markedly above the rest and playing time, and ultimately the starting role, is still up for grabs. Who will take command this summer and seize the opportunity by August, 31? Only time will tell.