On the way to an 11-2 finish in 2012, the Florida Gators offense wasn’t exciting but it was sufficient, largely due to the production that the Gators got from Jordan Reed at the tight end position.
Reed bolted a year early for the NFL — and had a good rookie campaign with the Washington Redskins — but the void he left behind became readily apparent, as Florida struggled to get any kind of production out of the position.
In Reed’s absence, Florida’s tight ends only produced four receptions for 42 yards in 2013. Those are numbers Reed surpassed in the first two games in 2012.
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will have his hands full trying to rebuild an offense that has finished on the wrong side of the top-100 offenses in the country since 2011 but when it comes to finding ways to use the tight end, it’s obvious he knows what he’s doing.
In Roper’s six years at Duke,the tight end has always finished among the top five on the team in receptions. It’s a position that can and should be used to Florida’s advantage, no matter what kind of schemes and system Roper installs in Gainesville.
Here is what Roper will have to work with at the position:
Holding Steady: Tevin Westbrook, Clay Burton
2013 Stats: 3 receptions, 30 yards
Westbrook is now two years removed from being a defensive end and he looks like it — in a good way.
His first season on offense, Westbrook was used merely as an extra lineman. He didn’t catch a pass in 2012 but led the tight ends with three receptions this season. He’s a big target for Jeff Driskel and he should continue his upward trend if he can continue making strides as a pass-catcher and as a route-runner.
Strengths: Westbrook is an underrated blocker when he can get his hands on the defender. If he can get inside position when blocking he is strong enough to hold on to his man long enough to break a running play.
Westbrook has also improved his hands dramatically since he switched to offense. At 6-5, look for Westbrook to be used a possible red zone target where the advantage that his height and size creates is magnified.
Weaknesses: Westbrook is inconsistent as a blocker. If he doesn’t get off the line quick and the defender initiates contact, rather that Westbrook initiating it, he’s toast. He is still relatively green to the position having only played it for two seasons but moving into year three it will be time for him to take the next and biggest step forward in his progression.
2013 Stats: 1 reception, 12 yards
Like Westbrook, Burton is a defensive end transplant who has had a slow adjustment to the new position. Burton was used mainly as a blocker his first season and was expected to take on a new, expanded role in the absence of Reed.
He spent the entire offseason in front of a JUGS machine, catching passes, but that work only yielded one catch (he technically had two but a two-point conversion against Georgia doesn’t count as an official stat) in 2013.
Strengths: Burton is an underrated blocker who — like Westbrook — is very successful when he gets off of the line and initiates contact. When he can get his hands inside a defender he can hold them in place or drive them back.
Weaknesses: Burton is still really green as a pass-catcher and a route runner. He has a lot of room to improve in both of those areas as well as improving his consistency as a blocker. When you turn on the tape there are too many instances where Burton would have an outstanding block on second down and a whiffed block on second down that made you scratch your head.
Moving Up: DeAndre Goolsby
The previous two names were big, physical, former defensive ends. Goolsby is the antithesis of that. He’s a 6-4, 225-pound athletic pass catcher who can stretch the field vertically up the seam. He’s an offensive weapon who will enroll in classes at Florida this January.
Strengths: Goolsby is a player in the mold of Aaron Hernandez or Jordan Reed. He’s physically impressive and should be able to use the spring to learn the playbook and get a leg up on the rest of the freshman class. He has all the tools to be successful in either a pro-style or spread offense and it will be interesting to see how he acclimates to the college game.
Weaknesses: He needs to add some size and strength to his frame. At 6-4, 225, he lacks the size to be a reliable blocker at first. That’s something that kept Kent Taylor off of the field and it would be a shame to see it keep Goolsby on the sidelines as well.
Moving Down: Colin Thompson
2013 Stats: Missed season with injury
Thompson has been sidelined in his first two seasons with a foot injury. He is a talented all-around tight end in the mold of Jason Witten but his injury has caused him to watch from the sidelines and it might prevent him from becoming the player that the coaching staff thought he could be when they signed him. Thompson has had multiple surgeries on his foot and it could be a case where his health may prevent him from ever making an impact at Florida.
Sources close to the team and to Thompson have told us that it is not a lack of effort or will on his part, Thompson would cut the foot off if that meant he could play.
Strengths: Thompson is an eager blocker who enjoys the challenge of taking on bigger and stronger defensive linemen in the trenches. He has above average hands and is a load to bring down in the open field. He’s nota burner but can break a tackle and turn a five-yard catch into a 15-yard gain with sheer brute force.
Weaknesses: He’s not a very good route runner but that is the only thing that he really would need to improve on. Well, that and getting healthy.
Buried on the depth chart: N/A