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Friday, March 8, 2013
Spring question No. 5: Tight ends

By Michael DiRocco

As part of our spring practice preview, each day this week GatorNation addressed the five biggest questions facing the Gators. Today we’ll complete our series with a look at the situation at tight end.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tight end production in the passing game is a major question mark for Florida heading into spring practice.

With the departure of Jordan Reed -- who caught 73 passes in the last two seasons -- to the NFL, the Gators are thin on experience at tight end. There is a lot of pressure on a couple of young players to at least give UF some kind of production because there’s not a lot of confidence that the older players can get it done.

Juniors Clay Burton (12 games) and Tevin Westbrook (16 games) have played the most of any of the tight ends on the roster, but that isn’t much. The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Burton has as many drops in his career as he does catches (two) and the 6-5, 265-pound Westbrook is a former defensive lineman who was converted to tight end before the 2012 season. He doesn’t have a catch.

Kent Taylor
Kent Taylor will be one of the tight ends with the task of trying to replace Jordan Reed. He's likely the best receiving threat among the returing tight ends.
Neither is much more than a blocker, and they’ll find roles in UF’s jumbo package.

That means it’s up to sophomore Kent Taylor (6-5, 223) and redshirt freshman Colin Thompson (6-4, 256) to replace Reed. UF coach Will Muschamp said last August that liked Taylor’s athleticism and body control and hinted that Taylor would have a role in the Gators’ red-zone packages. But a concussion set Taylor back early in the season and he never made much of an impact. He caught just two passes for 5 yards and a touchdown.

It will be interesting to see if the Gators use Taylor as more of a flex tight end and line him up in the slot instead of a traditional tight end on the line of scrimmage. Taylor doesn’t have the bulk to handle SEC defensive ends as a blocker and will have a hard time fighting through an end or linebacker to get into his pattern.

But he could be useful as a slot receiver or even lined up wide. He is the tallest pass-catcher the Gators have, and that does help when the field shrinks in the red zone.

Thompson was forced to redshirt after he underwent a second surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. He is a traditional tight end, meaning his first responsibility is as a blocker. But he is able to be a factor in the short passing game and his size makes him an easy target on third-down situations.

Collectively, the tight ends can more than make up for Reed as a blocker, but it might be unreasonable to ask the group to be the same kind of weapon he was in the passing game.