For a team that relied heavily on production from its tight ends over an seven-year stretch from 2006-12, the Florida Gators’s offensive woes in 2013 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 has 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 is around the corner and while Florida does return all of its lackluster tight ends from a year ago, the Gators made a concerted effort to beef up the position group with three-star freshmen DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis.
But it is the late addition of redshirt senior transfer Jake McGee that will likely pay the biggest dividends for the Gators.
Virginia’s leading receiver last season with 43 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns, McGee received his undergraduate degree in May and joined Florida late in the month to enroll in graduate classes.
Transferring to the Gators was an easy decision, he explained on Thursday, because of his previously-built relationship with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who recruited him out of high school. McGee has also spent the last four seasons watching Roper’s Duke offense operate from the opposite sideline.
The process was speedy and though McGee took time making his decision, he has been pushed right into the process of being a student-athlete for the Gators.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said in a sit-down with the media at the school’s facility. “I got down [to UF] and started class right away. The guys have been great. [I'm] living with some guys off campus and everybody has been awesome and relationships are starting to build. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Living with redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel – as well as senior punter Kyle Christy and redshirt junior offensive lineman Trip Thurman – has been an adjustment for McGee, who confessed he is not the “woodsy” type, but spending quality time with your signal caller is never a bad thing for a pass catcher.
In addition to doing his part the training room with the strength and conditioning staff, McGee has been catching passes from Driskel in player-run practices.
“You’re always in your quarterback’s ear. He’s been teaching me everything, so I’m on the same page as everybody else,” McGee explained. “We throw a few times a week and run the routes and run through he plays. [We] just get together sort of at nights and stuff like that just [to] be ready to go.”
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, McGee is the biggest capable target Florida’s had at tight end since Cornelius Ingram. He hopes to prove right away how much of a threat he can be for the Gators.
“My strength is my pass-catching ability. I’m just trying to become a well-rounded player,” he said. “From what I’ve gathered, I’m a mismatch to linebackers and safeties. I like to think of myself as a good weapon down the field and on pass routes and stuff like that. I don’t know my exact 40 [yard dash] time and speed, but I would say I move pretty well.”
McGee’s presence on the field for Florida could be exactly what the Gators need to ensure the head-in-the-sand embarrassment of 2013’s offense does not repeat itself in a make-or-break season for head coach Will Muschamp.