For five days from March 5-9, OnlyGators.com handed a guest editor role over to you, the loyal reader. This is the fifth of five Readers’ Choice posts covering topics you want to know more about concerning the Florida Gators athletics program.
Portions of this post originally appeared on OnlyGators.com on June 4, 2014.
For a team that relied heavily on production from its tight ends over an seven-year stretch from 2006-12, the Gators’ offensive woes in 2013, which lasted into 2014, were only made more apparent by the fact that it did not have a single player who could effectively make plays, gain chunk yardage or score touchdowns out of that position.
In fact, 2013 marked the least productive season in school history for tight ends dating back to the first year the position appeared on Florida’s roster in 1966. Gators tight ends combined for four receptions (fewest ever, six in 1986 and 2010), 42 yards (fewest ever, 45 in 1986) and no touchdowns (sixth time).
The position had achieved double-digit reception totals in 83.3 percent of those 48 seasons, triple-digit receiving yard totals in 81.3 percent of those years and at least a single touchdown in 87.5 percent of those campaigns.
Florida’s offensive output as a whole was especially poor in 2013, but the lack of production from its tight ends – a position that is known as the “quarterback’s best friend” because its players are large targets that often create mismatches across or down the field – was obviously a major contributor to the Gators’ struggles.
UF’s issues in achieving the big-time plays it desired out of its tight ends primarily stemmed from backup quarterback play and the fact that two of its top recruits at the position in 2012 could not get on the field and are no longer on the roster.
The 2014 season was only marginally better for Florida as redshirt senior Jake McGee, a transfer from Virginia who was the team’s leading receiver in 2013 with 43 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns, suffered a season-ending injury in UF’s opener. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, McGee was expected to be the biggest capable target the Gators have had at tight end since Cornelius Ingram.
Instead, Florida was once again forced to rely on a pair of converted defensive linemen – seniors Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook – to fill the void. Both were mostly used as blockers, of course, but nevertheless combined to haul in 26 catches for 237 yards and three touchdowns, though their drops were much bigger headline-makers.
The good news for Florida is that McGee was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and will give it a second go-around with the Gators; he is expected to be cleared for spring practice.
UF also has four young players – sophomore DeAndre Goolsby, redshirt freshmen Moral Stephens and C’yontai Lewis, and true freshman early enrollee Daniel Imatorbhebhe – that head coach Jim McElwain, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and tight ends coach Greg Nord can develop in the offseason.
Florida’s tight end production should improve in 2015, how much could go a long way to determining whether the Gators’ offense can truly turn the corner from four years under Will Muschamp.
So there you have it, a look at Florida football’s tight end problem, per reader request. Be sure to check back soon for a full recap of McElwain’s introductory press conference for spring practice on March 10.