GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp didn’t sign tight end Colin Thompson to lead the team in receptions.
He wanted him to be a physical blocker to help open holes for the running game and contribute in the passing game -- not catch 45 passes like Jordan Reed did last season.
That’s just fine with Thompson, because that’s how he sees himself anyway.
"You’re going to see a lot of physical play," the 6-foot-4, 258-pound redshirt freshman said. "Jordan was physical, but in different ways. Obviously he was more of a receiver so he didn’t have as many opportunities to be [physical on the line of scrimmage], but you’re going to see physical play and guys that are tough and multiple tight end sets. That’s why I came here."
Thompson was the country’s No. 2 tight end coming out of Warminster (Penn.) Archbishop Wood in 2012 and was on pace to play as a freshman until he broke a bone in his foot on the day the Gators checked into the hotel in which they would be staying for preseason camp. It was the second time he broke that bone and this time it required surgery and cost him the 2012 season.
A completely healthy Thompson is now competing with juniors Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook and sophomore Kent Taylor for playing time at tight end. Burton heads into the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo as the starter, but Thompson will get significant playing time, especially when the Gators use two tight-end sets to run the ball.
"He’s what we thought. He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy that’s going to be able to block at the point of attack and do some things in the passing game to help us," Muschamp said. "When you sit out of the game for a year it hurts. You’ve got to get back in playing shape, the collision part of it. But he’s done that. He’s done some nice things for us. We’ve got to continue to develop his role.”
Thompson wasn’t much of a pass-catcher in high school -- he had 13 catches for 208 yards and four touchdowns as a senior -- but Muschamp said he has been pleased with Thompson’s receiving skills. Thompson isn’t going to make plays down the field, but he is a viable option in the short passing game.
"He works the middle of the field," Muschamp said. "He does a nice job on all the bounce and the option routes off the linebackers and safeties. He does a good job of getting himself open and creating space from the defenders."
Thompson snagged a couple of short passes during Monday’s open practice. He also was behind the defense for what could have been a touchdown but cornerback Marcus Roberson made a great play when he came off his man and was able to tip the ball just enough so that it wobbled off course and fell incomplete.
Thompson likes being involved in the passing game, but he knows that’s why he’s going to be on the field. When the Gators are in the red zone and he’s sent onto the field, it’s not for him to work the end line or catch a fade pass Rob Gronkowski-style. He’s there to block.
"Last year we ran the ball 27 times in a row against LSU or some unbelievable number," Thompson said. "We need tight ends who can block, so physical play is No. 1. Even running routes, physical play is also key. Being physical in the blocking game and the passing game is important."
The Gators have a lot of production to replace at tight end. Reed caught 73 passes for 906 yards and five touchdowns the past two seasons. He led the Gators in receptions in 2012 (45 for 559 yards) and was second in 2011 (28 for 307). The four tight ends battling for playing time this season have a total of four career catches (two each by Burton and Taylor).
"Obviously Jordan was such an elite athlete and he was such raw talent, a freak of nature," Thompson said. "When it comes to pure athleticism wise I don't know if we have that in the room but when it comes as a collective effort I think we can produce."