Gainesville, Florida, may once again become a bastion of tight end development and production – perhaps as soon as this season – if Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain is to be believed.
McElwain, who was in a suspiciously positive mood for large portions of his media availability Monday, sang the praises of Florida’s tight end corps, led by redshirt senior Jake McGee.
The overly complimentary nature of McElwain’s comments was rare not just for the coach but for anyone speaking about the Gators’ tight end situation over the last few seasons.
Following a seven-year stretch from 2006-12 in which Florida relied heavily on tight end production, the Gators had the least-productive season in school history for tight ends dating back to the first year the position appeared on the team’s roster in 1966. Things got slightly better for UF in 2014 – it would have been nearly impossible to be worse than than four receptions for 42 yards and no touchdowns over the course of a full season in 2013 – but Florida still lacked talent, experience and (subsequently) production at the position.
McElwain is not only optimistic about McGee – Virginia’s leading receiver in 2013 who broke his leg in the 2014 season opener and is just now returning – but the talent of his unit from top to bottom.
“Our tight end corps, those guys, we’ve got some guys that are really pushing each other,” he began.
“[DeAndre] Goolsby is doing a good job … C’yontai [Lewis has] emerged. Obviously, I think Jake is going to be a guy that is going to help us a ton. Moral [Stephens] has been doing a great job, too. There’s some guys at that position [that will] allows us some flexibility in some personnel groups. …
“We’re kind of putting in a lot of formational things right now that maybe don’t look so-to-say maybe conventional, and [we’re] doing it because of the depth of that position.”
Depth? At tight end? It sure seems that way, even with freshman early enrollee Daniel Imatorbhebhe transferring at the conclusion of spring practice.
While a group of players doing well on their own is good news for a team, the tight ends look to be in position to take advantage of some miscues currently being made by the receivers.
Short and to the point, McElwain noted again Monday that he is tired of the inconsistency of the wideouts while (once again) throwing some praise the way of sophomore Brandon Powell, who he noted “has been a guy that has really adapted to a whole bunch of different spots.”
Similarly, McElwain has put junior WR Demarcus Robinson’s head in his playbook in an effort to “push his learning curve” and “move [him] around the field a little bit” so it’s not as easy for a defender to line up in one position and take him out of the game.
Ultimately, McElwain’s issues are with the group as a whole and not one player in particular.
“We’re getting some guys open. I don’t know if sometimes the receivers [are] so shocked the ball’s gotten to them or something, I don’t know, but then they react like they’ve never [caught a pass] before,” he deadpanned. “But there again, the consistency of what we’ve got to do to just play catch.”
The Gators have won a ton of games with productive tight ends either leading the way or playing a major role. With a starting signal caller not yet named and plenty of questions still in the air offensively, the position often known as a quarterback’s safety blanket may be more welcome than ever in 2015.
Bits and notes
» Rain forced Florida into an “abbreviated” practice on Monday, which included the Gators getting some work done on the field in shoulder pads before heading into Florida Gym for the duration of the day’s activities.”
» On Sunday’s double practice day: “I’ve got to say, [Sunday’s] two-a-day, guys, was as good a back-to-back practices as I’ve ever seen: the energy, the attention to detail, the guys came out prepared. We had a great night practice in full pads. What we’re trying to do is, when we go night, is work some of our full-pad practices because, obviously, our first three games are at that time. We’re just kind of getting our bodies acclimated and getting geared up for a night game. I was just really, really pleased with what they did [Sunday].”
» McElwain believes this third week of camp is where the Gators can turn the switch from being a decent to a good team in 2015. “Our need is from here to really keep driving forward and keep putting multiple back-to-back good practices together. We’re starting to kind of move some of those parts,” he began. “We’re really looking to where our leadership moves us forward to where we make a big huge push week rather than just a settle for average week.”
» Florida has installed four tempo implementations on offense. The unit is only adding new ones once the vast majority of the roster has the prior versions down pat.
» McElwain offered tons of praise for senior defensive end Jonathan Bullard and the player’s effort during the coach’s time in Gainesville. “Bullard [I’ve] been ecstatic about his fall camp so far and how hard he’s worked and how he’s affecting his position group in a positive way,” he began. “I’m sure happy he came back. Obviously he had a choice to make and chose to come back, and all I can say is he’s really handled it well and has affected the people around him in a positive way. He had a really good offseason, the way he’s worked, the way he’s moved at some different spots, being at end or inside based on the call defensively. That’s been really good and that flexibility is really gonna help us.”
» Sophomore tackle David Sharpe has stood out to McElwain on the offensive line for doing a “really good job adapting to the right side” and his ability to play either position.
Don’t be surprised to see one of those “Gators walk-ons surprised with scholarship” videos coming soon. “[There will] definitely be some guys rewarded and really proud of how they’ve handled it. As we all know, in whatever business we’re in or organization we’re in, we’re only as strong as how everybody performs. So those guys have done a really good job and there are some deserving guys there,” McElwain said.
» The least-informative injury update of all-time? “Injury side, [redshirt freshman offensive lineman Travaris] Dorsey and [sophomore WR C.J.] Worton are getting closer” from their undisclosed leg injuries. “That’s a good thing to get those guys back. [Redshirt junior WR Raphael] Andrades is still out” with his undisclosed scrimmage injury, though “he should be practicing probably [Tuesday]. [Sophomore defensive back] Duke Dawson [injury completely undisclosed] went through everything but contact so he’s really fine. “[Freshman running back] Jordan Scarlett we held out [Monday] from practice with something in his left or right leg, one of the legs, but nothing earth-shattering. He’ll be back.”