The failure of the Florida Gators to recruit and get production out of the tight end position over the last few seasons has been well-documented, but Saturday’s 2015 Orange & Blue Debut spring game absolutely provided reasons for optimism.
It was no accident that two of the Gators’ four leading receivers on Saturday were tight ends with sophomore DeAndre Goolsby (two receptions, 40 yards) and redshirt freshman C’yontai Lewis (four receptions, 54 yards, touchdown) each flashing while being used in a variety of formations.
In fact, while so much pessimism surrounds Florida’s offense – due to it having an unnamed starting quarterback and serious depth issues at both offensive line and running back – the tight end position looks to be stronger than it has been in years.
Noticeably absent from Saturday’s scrimmage was redshirt senior Jake McGee, a transfer from Virginia who was the Cavaliers’ leading receiver two years ago. Held out of action as a precaution as he continues to recover from a broken leg suffered in the Gators’ 2014 season opener, McGee is the expected starter in 2015 but should be just one of many players that make an impact in that role.
“Our tight end group is young, but you’ve got some guys that are going to have a chance to be pretty good there and give us an opportunity,” head coach Jim McElwain said Saturday.
Goolsby got started early in the game. He was targeted on all three of redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier‘s passes in the scrimmage’s opening touchdown drive, hauling in two of them for 40 yards. But what was most noticeable then and later in the contest were on-target passes that he was unable to latch onto.
“It was good,” McElwain said of Goolsby’s performance. “And yet, he’s also a guy that stopped a drive with a drop, OK? It was good stuff but there’s things that need to be worked on. Another guy that needs to understand the importance of every detail in your life and how that’s going to help you be successful.
“He’s a guy that definitely can play. Our first scrimmage, he was our leading receiver, had a lot of catches and a lot of production. Obviously [Saturday] he did some good things. We’re expecting big things out of him and out of those guys around him.”
The other one of “those guys” that saw extensive action Saturday was Lewis, a unheralded recruit that Florida grabbed out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
At 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds, Lewis unquestionably has the size to make himself a player at tight end, but McElwain is proud of how he’s developed over the last month.
“He’s had a really good spring,” the coach said. “He really enjoys to practice; it’s important to him. [He’s] still making some declaration communication mistakes, especially in the run game, but he’s a guy that it’s important to and he’ll be able to play for us.
“I’m excited about that group.”
McElwain has every intention to use his tight ends as much as possible; many will see the field in an H-back role as the Gators plan to make use of each player’s versatility throughout the season.
Whether McGee, Goolsby, Lewis or any of Florida’s other tight ends – redshirt freshman Moral Stephens, freshman Daniel Imatorbhebhe and other first-year players moved into that position group – can reverse the sinking production trend from that unit, well, that remains to be seen.