Florida Gators: Clay Burton

Florida's two-deep: B-position

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
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Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.

B-POSITION

The starter: Senior tight end Jake McGee

The backup: Senior tight end Tevin Westbrook

The rest: Senior tight end Clay Burton, senior fullback Hunter Joyer, senior fullback Gideon Ajagbe, true freshmen tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis, and true freshman h-back Moral Stephens

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMITransfer Jake McGee led Virginia last season with 43 receptions for 395 yards.
The lowdown: First, an explanation that in Kurt Roper's spread offense the B-position is a combination of the tight end, h-back and fullback positions. You'll see them on the line, in the backfield, in the slot, split out wide and often in motion. Considering the definite lack of involvement in the passing game from those positions in the previous offense, the Gators were expecting a rough transition for the B-position in 2014. That was until they found a perfect fit in transfer Jake McGee, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end who led Virginia in receiving last season. McGee, now on campus and rooming with Jeff Driskel, looks to be the quarterback's best friend. Driskel hasn't had one of those since 2012, when tight end Jordan Reed led Florida in receiving. If he can adapt quickly, McGee could be a major x-factor in reviving Florida's offense this fall. He hasn't played in Roper's scheme before, but the offensive coordinator recruited him in high school so there is familiarity. With McGee, the Gators won't have to force the ball to any of their other seniors who were rarely asked to do more than block in years past. Florida fullbacks Joyer and Ajagbe, however, showed in spring that they have some potential to contribute in the passing game.

The future: The Gators have had some bad luck in recruiting tight ends. Will Muschamp's second class in 2012 featured two of the nation's top four TE prospects in Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor. But Thompson's career appears over due to a foot injury, and Taylor did little before transferring to Kansas. Muschamp began to restock in the last recruiting cycle with Goolsby, Lewis and Stephens, and Roper believes they are good fits for his scheme. Goolsby is the most advanced after enrolling in January. He has had more time to add bulk and strength to his 6-4, 230-pound frame and got the benefit of a lot of reps in spring practice. Thanks to the presence of McGee, Florida likely will have the luxury of redshirting Lewis and Stephens to allow them time to learn and grow. Roper has said his offense affords a lot of opportunities for tweeners, which is why UF doesn't necessarily have to sign a prototypical tight end moving forward. The 2015 class already has a commit from Camrin Knight, a 6-4, 213-pound prospect with loads of athletic ability, potential to grow and willingness to learn.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For a team that was desperate for playmakers on offense last season, the Florida Gators have growing hopes for 2014.

Enthusiasm has been building since spring football ended, and it's not just because starting quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy or the young receivers and running backs have another year of experience and maturity.

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIJake McGee's 45 catches last season at Virginia were 41 more than Florida's entire tight end corps had.
It's the tight end position, and one player in particular.

Fifth-year senior Jake McGee, the former Virginia standout who announced his transfer to Florida last week, gives the Gators a dynamic threat that defenses will have to account for.

"I'm very excited," head coach Will Muschamp said to a gathering of media on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. "He's a guy that has tremendous ball skills, very good athlete at 6-5, 245 pounds and runs extremely well. I think he’s a good addition to our team, and he’ll certainly compete well."

The Gators haven't had a pass-catching tight end since 2012, when Jordan Reed led the team with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. He was Driskel's safety net and go-to target. Not coincidentally, the Gators had their best season under Muschamp, winning 11 games.

"I think it was a very offensive position when Jordan Reed was here," Muschamp said.

Last year, it was just plain offensive.

It won't be hard for Florida to improve on the production it got out of the tight end position last season -- a total of four catches.

Florida returns seniors Tevin Westbrook (three catches in 2013) and Clay Burton (one catch), who have been used primarily as blockers. The Gators also are building depth at the position with three true freshmen. DeAndre Goolsby enrolled in January and made a good first impression in the spring, while C'yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens are due to arrive in June.

With McGee on board, however, the freshmen won't need to be rushed into early playing time.

The focus throughout the spring was for the tight ends to learn the no-huddle spread offense brought from Duke by new coordinator Kurt Roper. His B position uses the tight ends and fullbacks in a variety of roles and disguises -- from motioning and blocking out of the backfield to inline blocking, lining up in the slot, or splitting out wide.

In every one of those wrinkles, Roper expects his players to be pass-catching threats.

"It's going to be an important position," he said during spring, "and it's going to be a playmaking position for us, so we're counting on them. ...

"I think I've seen growth. Those guys haven't done a whole lot of [receiving]. I think they enjoy doing it. I think they enjoy being part of the pass game. Because of that they go out and work hard and get better at it."

It's a work very much in progress. Now with McGee, suddenly the Gators have a more polished, vastly more experienced puzzle piece. He comes to UF with plenty of accolades.

McGee was Virginia's leading receiver last season with 43 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns despite a lingering shoulder injury. With his speed and athleticism, the Florida coaching staff is also excited about what he brings on special teams.

McGee was drawn to Florida by Muschamp who recruited him in high school, and Roper, who led Duke's offense against Virginia while McGee took note.

"Their offense, being on the other side, was sort of fun to watch," McGee said to Scott Carter of Gatorzone.com, Florida's official athletics website. "They did a lot of cool things and really did a lot with the tight end position that excites me as a player. There’s a lot of versatility with the position to create mismatches and be allowed to do all sorts of different things."

Those feelings of eagerness and optimism are very much mutual, as both parties anticipate a sudden impact. UF coaches know they very well might have recruited a game-changer in McGee, whose graduation from UVA last month enabled him to transfer without having to sit out a year.

"To be able to have a guy that defenses know they have to account for in terms of is he a receiver, is he a tight end, can he create a three-man blocking surface?" Muschamp gushed. "That changes things in the run game. It changes things in protection and how people will attack you. ...

"We feel like he's a very talented player and a great addition for our team."

Replacing the Gators: Offense

May, 14, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NFL draft is over, so it's time to talk about the next wave of Gators.

Florida had four players selected last weekend with just one from the offensive side of the ball.

On Tuesday we looked at the defensive replacements. Here's a look at who will replace the Gators on offense who were drafted or signed as undrafted free agents.

OG Jon Halapio
Sixth-round pick, New England Patriots
A three-year starter, Halapio battled through some injuries and was a rock at right guard. He was better as a run blocker than in pass protection, but the same could be said for most of Florida's offensive linemen. By the end of spring practice, Florida's starting guards were junior Tyler Moore and senior Trenton Brown, each of whom spent time last season at tackle. Brown is a behemoth at 6-foot-8 and 348 pounds who forced his way into the starting lineup by improving his footwork, pad level and consistency throughout the spring. Moore, no slouch at 6-5, 320, is still dealing with the linger effects of a broken elbow but seems better suited as an interior lineman. Both guards have the potential to upgrade Florida's line in run and pass blocking.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDemarcus Robinson, who caught five passes as a freshman in 2013, will be one of the Gators' playmakers next season.
WR Solomon Patton
Undrafted free agent, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a quiet first three years at UF, Patton became an indispensable contributor as a slot receiver, deep threat and kick returner. Patton's elite speed is something the Gators will be sorely lacking, but there are some emerging players on the horizon. Sophomore Demarcus Robinson was the Gators' best playmaker in the passing game throughout spring practice. He's not nearly as fast at Patton, but he's got some magic after the catch. Another sophomore, Chris Thompson, has the speed to be a deep threat and will be counted on to stretch the field. In the slot, the Gators' expectations are a bit lower as they look to juniors Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers to be solid route-runners and reliable targets.

H-back Trey Burton
Undrafted free agent, Philadelphia Eagles
In his unique career at Florida, Burton played every offensive skill position and finished his senior season as a wide receiver. In the pros he'll get a shot to be an H-back, which is where the Gators would have loved to have had him back. Under new coordinator Kurt Roper, UF's offense is perfectly suited for tight ends, tweeners and oversized wide receivers to play in the slot or release off the line. Florida's returning tight ends -- seniors Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton (Trey's brother) -- combined for four catches in 2013. While Westbrook, Burton and senior fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe showed flashes of pass-catching ability in spring ball, the Gators won't have to rely on any of the four veterans to do more than he is capable of. That's because former Virginia tight end Jake McGee transferred to Florida after graduating from UVA last month. His experience as the Cavaliers' leading receiver in 2013 could be a game-changer for Florida's offense, which was severely lacking in proven playmakers.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Undrafted free agent, Indianapolis Colts
Another three-year starter, Harrison anchored Florida's O-line and was a respected leader on and off the field. His replacement is a very similar player in senior Max Garcia, who was Florida's best and most consistent lineman last season. Garcia played much of 2013 at left guard but also has on his résumé a full season as a starter at left tackle for Maryland in 2011. Just like Harrison once did, Garcia is having some issues learning how to master the shotgun snap, but his coaches aren't worried and routinely praised him in spring practice despite some errant snaps. If he can fix that and also get comfortable calling out protections for his teammates on the line, Garcia could upgrade the position by being a little stronger as a run blocker.

OL Kyle Koehne
Tryout contract, Atlanta Falcons
Koehne became a key reserve on UF's line, as he backed up several positions and was able to step in as a starter for half the season with little drop-off. The Gators' starting O-line is set with all five players having starting experience. Where things get dicey is on the second unit. Florida's OL coach, Mike Summers, has his hands full trying to develop the next Koehne. His top reserve after spring practice was Trip Thurman, a junior who got a long look on the first unit and has played just about every position. Thurman will likely be Florida's top backup at all three interior spots. At guard, the Gators also have junior college transfer Drew Sarvary, who started 10 of 11 games as a freshman at Florida A&M in 2012 and has the requisite size at 6-6, 318. Options are even more limited with reserve tackles, where Florida has freshman early enrollee Kavaris Harkless, injured redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson, and soon-to-enroll freshman David Sharpe.
With former Virginia tight end Jake McGee transferring to Florida, the Gators got a major upgrade to their group of pass-catchers.

And this is an immediate upgrade because McGee has already graduated from Virginia and will attend grad school at Florida. Yep, McGee can start playing right away this fall, and it sounds like the Gators plan to use him a lot in the passing game this fall as another weapon for quarterback Jeff Driskel to throw to.

With plenty of questions at the tight end spot this spring, McGee not only brings the talent to stretch the field and be more of a playmaking tight end for the Gators, he has plenty of experience. McGee caught 71 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two years with the Cavs. Last season, he caught a team-high 43 passes for 395 yards. He also had two touchdowns. Returning tight ends Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton, both seniors, have combined to catch six career passes for 54 yards and zero touchdowns.

McGee's arrival will give the Gators a much-need receiving threat for a team that hopes to generate more consistency in the passing game. Florida is still looking for its go-to receiver, and McGee is expected to be used as a flexed tight end, meaning he'll do a lot more than block in Florida's offense. McGee was moved to receiver this spring because of his athleticism, and Florida's coaching staff plans to take full advantage of his athletic ability.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Progress. It's what Florida fans expect to see this fall. It's what they hope to see in Saturday's spring game.

Everyone is under much more scrutiny after the Gators' 4-8 record last season, but mostly the microscope will be on a brand-new offense that has been installed in just 14 spring practices. It's just one of several aspects of the scrimmage that fans and the media will be analyzing.

[+] EnlargeRoper
Jeff Barlis/ESPNAll eyes on Saturday at Florida's spring game will be on new coordinator Kurt Roper's offense.
The game, at 1:30 p.m ET at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, will be divided into four, 12-minute quarters with a running clock. Teams were drafted by honorary alumni captains on Thursday night, but fans will get to see a lot of first-team offense against first-team defense in the mix.

Here's what to watch for:

New and improved quarterback: All eyes will be on Jeff Driskel, the junior who hasn't exactly lived up to his status as the top QB prospect in 2011. He's coming off surgery and six months of rehab for a broken bone in his lower right leg. The injury, which cost him most of the 2013 season, ensures that he'll be a non-contact participant (as will all of the QBs). Driskel has had an excellent spring. He's clearly the starter and is a respected leader. His teammates have been raving about how good and comfortable he looks in an offense that is much closer to what made him a star in high school. Driskel said he just wants to show the fans that he is confident and having fun. But nothing pleases a crowd like putting points on the board. He can create a lot of goodwill if he finds receivers in stride and generally commands a smooth-looking offense.

Mr. Roper's offense: Some success by Driskel and backup quarterbacks Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg would go a long way in showing off the new scheme that offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought from Duke. The No. 1 thing that fans want to see is a very different-looking offense. Roper has the potential to deliver with his no-huddle, shotgun spread attack. At the very least, the tempo will be much faster than in any of Florida's last three seasons of taking a clock-chewing, run-heavy, pro-style approach.

Young secondary: The Gators have Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback, Jabari Gorman at safety and little certainty throughout the rest of the defensive backfield. Yes, there is a ton of talent, but it's young and inexperienced. There are three starting jobs open because UF operates so often in a nickel formation. Early enrollee freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson have had their expected ups and downs in competing with junior Brian Poole for the starting spot opposite Hargreaves. Poole is also in the mix at nickel corner, along with Marcus Maye. Keanu Neal might have the edge for the other starting safety spot, but keep an eye on Nick Washington and Marcell Harris. Don't be surprised if the DBs struggle on Saturday as Florida's offense looks to win fans and influence coaches.

O-line vs. D-line: This one is a toss-up. The Gators' offensive line has not been good in pass protection, but the defensive line isn't exactly loaded with pass-rushing demons. The uptempo offense should help Florida's O-line, as there is a new emphasis on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand in three seconds. The marquee matchup to watch is defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. against left tackle D.J. Humphries. They're two of the Gators' most talented players, and they've been going at each other throughout spring practice. The rest of Florida's starters are veterans, but fans might want to cover their eyes when the second units come on. Coach Will Muschamp has not been pleased with the development of his young linemen on either side of the ball.

The B-position: Tight ends and fullbacks have been largely overlooked in recent years, as blocking has been the top priority. That's changed under Roper, who said on Thursday: "It's going to be an important position and it's going to be a playmaking position for us, so we're counting on them." Roper said he's seen growth out of veterans such as Tevin Westbrook, Clay Burton and Hunter Joyer. He also said early enrollee freshman DeAndre Goolsby is more comfortable in a pass-catching role based on his experience in high school.

Playmakers at WR: It bears repeating that this spring has been all about the new offense. Fans were screaming for dramatic changes by the end of last season, and no position needs it more than wide receiver, where the Gators haven't had anyone crack the 600-yard mark in a season since 2009. As the spring wore on, playmakers began to emerge. Senior Quinton Dunbar is the unquestioned leader of the group and a certain starter. Sophomores Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson appear to be developing as reliable targets. Slot receivers Valdez Showers and Latroy Pittman have had solid spring camps as well. If the offense clicks, it will be a treat for fans to finally see these athletes make catches in space and show what they can do with the ball in their hands.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Thanks to a new offense, the Florida Gators are expecting some serious improvement this fall. Every player has hopes and dreams of better statistics.

The most realistic chances to double or even triple their production? That's easy.

Tight ends and fullbacks were an afterthought in 2013, used almost exclusively as blockers in UF's pro-style offense. Two tight ends combined for four catches. Two fullbacks had a total of six receptions and three carries.

[+] EnlargeTevin Westbrook
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTevin Westbrook hopes to be a bigger part of Florida's offense this season.
But rather than file a class-action lawsuit for neglect, the four rising seniors are thrilled to learn an offense that promises much more involvement.

"It's really exciting," tight end Tevin Westbrook said. "It's more of a competition. Every day when you go out you know that you've to play to be able to catch the ball and block, to move from off the ball to a bigger role. It's exciting. We're catching balls and blocking from the backfield, blocking for the quarterback."

With so little to see of the tight ends and fullbacks on last year's game tape, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has had to use the first part of spring practice to evaluate what he's got.

"The thing we're trying to figure out first and foremost is the tight end/H-back in our offense, who we call the 'B,' is who is that?" he said. "Who's the guy that's going to be the best in that situation? So it's a fun battle to watch between all those guys that we're repping at that position.

"I think that that B position, because it's so different from what they were doing in the past is probably the thing that we've got to watch the closest."

The change has been apparent.

Those four returning players -- Westbrook, tight end Clay Burton and fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe -- have probably seen more targets this spring than all of their previous years combined. And true freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby has seen as much action as any of the seniors.

Joyer, who has even gotten to show off his hands on intermediate routes, can't hide his smile when talking about the new opportunities available.

"Yeah, everybody's being used and used a lot," he said. "Everyone has a role in it and everyone determines our own roles. So as long as you're doing well, you'll have one."

It's all by design, says Roper. Last year at the reins of a Duke offense that averaged more than 409 yards a game, Roper gave significant roles to two quarterbacks, four running backs and six receivers.

"I think the biggest thing when you put together an offense is you want a defense to have to defend the field and defend all your skill players," Roper said. "Those guys [at the B position] are a big part of our offense. I think they're going to be put in position to make some plays.

"It's been fun to evaluate and we've had some big plays made by those guys. [Last Wednesday], we had two great catches by Gideon and Goolsby. So I think they're starting to get a feel for what we're asking them to do, and I think they're going to be capable of making some of those plays."

That's a huge development for an offense that got almost nothing there last year. Now there's potential and the promise of more to come.

Goolsby, a three-star prospect out of Derby, Kan., committed last November as Florida was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. He chose the Gators over Ohio State, Oklahoma Arkansas and Kansas State and is now seeing the benefits of UF's new offense.

At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Goolsby still needs work in the weight room, but the education he is getting in spring practice should work wonders in getting on the field this fall.

"He's a really good athlete," head coach Will Muschamp said. "He's a guy that can do some things as far as what we're looking for at that position. He fits it extremely well. … I think he's done a really good job. I'm very pleased where he is. I think it's a little early right now to tell where he will contribute."

Florida also signed two more players in its 2014 class who profile as part of the 'B' team -- tight ends C'yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens, who arrive this summer.

It should make for a robust competition that carries over from spring practice into the fall and maybe even turns into some long-awaited offense.

For the previously invisible tight ends and fullbacks, the new offense means they can dare to dream.

"If we make plays and we come out and block and we catch the ball, they’re going to have to put the tight end into the plays," Westbrook said. "As a unit, it's a chip on our shoulder. We need to step up and make more plays in practice and then there will be more action from the tight end."

UF spring players to watch: D. Goolsby

February, 27, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the Class of 2014 recruiting cycle in the rearview mirror, the long college football offseason is well underway. But fear not. Spring football is just around the corner.

We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

This weeklong series continues with a look at a fresh face at an important position that got lost in the 2013 offense's epic struggles.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Goolsby
Jeff Barlis/ESPNWith underwhelming talent returning at tight end, DeAndre Goolsby will have a chance to play right away as a true freshman.
TE DeAndre Goolsby
Freshman
6-foot-4, 240 pounds

Credentials: Goolsby is already on campus as an early enrollee. He was rated a three-star prospect coming out of high school and was the No. 9 tight end/H-back prospect in the nation. On signing day, Florida coach Will Muschamp called Goolsby "a really good athlete at the tight end position" and noted that he's already put on about 15 pounds.

How he fits: He's not an elite talent, but Goolsby has enough burst and athleticism to be a playmaker. He has good hands, can set up defenders in coverage and has enough speed and wiggle to make them miss. "DeAndre Goolsby is a guy we targeted early on," Muschamp said on signing day. "[Tight ends coach] Derek Lewis went out and evaluated him in the last spring evaluation, really liked his movement skills, his growth potential, his toughness, his point of attack and those things. Excited to have him on campus, and [as] a guy [who] can do some different things for you." The biggest reason Goolsby made this list is because he enrolled in January, which gives him much-needed extra time to learn the playbook and work with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. If Goolsby proves to be a quick study who's coachable, he'll earn loads of opportunity.

Who he's competing with: After a couple of transfers in recent years, the Gators don't have a lot of talent at the tight end position. In some regards, Goolsby won't have much competition this spring. Florida's three incumbent tight ends -- Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Colin Thompson -- just aren't natural pass-catchers. Westbrook had three catches last season to lead all Gators tight ends, Burton had one catch, and Thompson was injured for the second straight season. Goolsby will need a lot of work on his in-line blocking technique, but Florida won't bring in any additional receiving tight ends until signees Moral Stephens and C'yontai Lewis arrive this summer.

What needs to happen this spring: It's not easy for true freshmen to make an immediate impact at offensive skill positions, but Muschamp said it best -- "We need some help at the tight end position. [Goolsby] is a guy that’s going to come in here and certainly get his opportunities." To take advantage of the chance to play early, Goolsby needs to keep it simple and worry about learning the plays, running precise routes and catching everything he can. If he can just distinguish himself as the top pass-catcher among UF tight ends this spring, the Gators would call that a success and move forward with plans to involve Goolsby in the offense this fall.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the last decade, more than any other time in its history, Florida's status as a recruiting juggernaut has been proven.

Once head coach Steve Spurrier established his alma mater among college football's elite, blue-chip talent started flocking to UF. The Gators also recruited well under Spurrier's replacement, Ron Zook. Then Florida won two national championships with coach Urban Meyer.

The fact that Florida has thrived on the recruiting trail despite Meyer's soap-opera departure and some sub-par seasons on the field is a testament to the strength of the brand.

This week we count down the five most impactful UF recruiting classes in the last decade, not including Florida's most recent class, which isn't even fully assembled on campus yet.

No. 5 on our list in order of impact is the Class of 2011, head coach Will Muschamp's first class, which was ranked No. 12 by ESPN.

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
AP Photo/John RaouxLoucheiz Purifoy's big-play ability at cornerback allowed him to stand out in three seasons at Florida and should get him selected high in this year's NFL draft.
The stars: This is easy. Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy became lockdown cornerbacks and were the only three-and-done players from this 19-man class. Roberson made an instant impact, starting his first 10 games as a true freshman, and Purifoy first emerged as a special-teams terror. By the end of their college careers, the two clearly established NFL pedigree -- Roberson for his advanced technique, Purifoy for his supreme athleticism. They are expected to be picked no lower than the second round this May.

The contributors: Several players stand out in this class, including a few starters. Among them, starting quarterback Jeff Driskel is the one who could still push his way into the star category if he improves during his final two seasons of eligibility. Other starters have carved out significant roles for themselves, including fullback Hunter Joyer, safety Jabari Gorman and tight ends Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. Valdez Showers successfully converted from safety to running back last season. And Kyle Christy was a record-setting punter who stumbled in 2013 and will fight to take his job back this year.

The letdowns: Some of the top talents in this class never panned out at UF, as eight of the 19 players transferred and one quit football after injuries derailed his career. The biggest name to transfer was QB Jacoby Brissett, who started four games at Florida but left for NC State after losing the competition for the starting job to Driskel. WR Ja'Juan Story, TE A.C. Leonard, RB Mike Blakely and S De'Ante Saunders were four of the Gators' five highest-rated recruits in the class. Transfers Story, Blakely and WR Javares McRoy were recruited by Meyer for his spread-option offense and never quite fit Muschamp's pro-style scheme. Leonard and Saunders made strong impressions on the field, but both ran afoul of the law and transferred to Tennessee State.

The results: There have been high points, such as an 11-win season in 2012 in which Florida was just one Notre Dame loss away from playing for the national championship. But there have been more low points, such as a 7-6 season in 2011 and a numbing 4-8 season in 2013. The results on the field have been uneven, but there's still time for this class to distinguish itself.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four catches.

It doesn't get much worse than the nearly complete absence of production from Florida's tight ends last season. Four catches is practically invisible, although some of the blame can be shared with a passing offense that ranked No. 107 out of 123 FBS teams in 2013.

Just one year prior, the Gators got a fine season from tight end Jordan Reed, who led the team in receiving with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. Then the bottom fell out.

"It was a very offensive position when Jordan Reed was here," head coach Will Muschamp said recently. "It was an offensive position last year."

This fall, position coach Derek Lewis goes back to the drawing board to develop the players he has. There is also hope that new coordinator Kurt Roper will devise an offense that will better utilize UF's big targets over the middle of the field.

As we've gone through this week's series of the Gators' top positions with room to improve, it's not difficult to notice the focus has been on every offensive group except for running back. Here then is a look at Florida's tight ends.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Goolsby
Jeff Barlis/ESPNWith very little production returning from Florida's tight ends, incoming freshman DeAndre Goolsby could make an immediate impact.
Battling for No. 1: Just how much emphasis was there on tight ends blocking in 2013? Well, Clay Burton started nine of 12 games and had just one catch in the final game of the season. He's started 15 of his 25 games in an Gator uniform, but with questionable hands and just three career catches, Burton leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said for Tevin Westbrook, a converted defensive lineman who "led" Florida tight ends in receiving last season with three catches for 30 yards. Burton and Westbrook have good size and can block, but it's possible they've already reached their ceilings in terms of skill. If Roper opens up the offense and involves the tight ends, the best bets for receiving options are likely to come in the form of true freshmen.

Strength in numbers: Part of the problem with tight ends at Florida has been numbers. The Gators had just three on scholarship when Kent Taylor transferred after a lost 2013 season. That third tight end was Colin Thompson, who has hardly seen the field due to nagging foot injuries. Like Taylor, Thompson was one of the top tight end prospects in the nation in the Class of 2012. But even when healthy -- if he can get healthy -- Thompson profiles more as a blocker than a pass-catcher.

New on the scene: The Gators acted decisively in signing three skilled tight ends in their 2014 recruiting class. DeAndre Goolsby, an athletic 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, is already on campus as an early enrollee. That's critical because he needs to gain more weight and upper-body strength, and having Goolsby compete in spring practice could give him the best chance of any tight end on the roster at becoming the pass-catcher Florida has lacked at the position. Like Goolsby, C'yontai Lewis has been working to gain weight and is up to 6-4, 230. Lewis caught the coaching staff's eye in camp last summer when he showed good ball skills and athleticism. The third tight end in the class, Moral Stephens, was a big wide receiver in high school who was offered a scholarship at UF when Taylor's transfer opened a spot on the roster. Stephens, is 6-3, 200, so he will need to add some bulk, but the coaches like his playmaking ability and see him as a tight end and H-back.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's no secret the Gators are planning something big for 2014, something like turning a 4-8 team into a contender for the SEC East.

To do that Florida needs several players to step forward. Unknowns need to become contributors. Depth players need to become starters. Standouts need to become stars.

Here are five Gators who have to step up on offense in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxIt's safe to say that QB Jeff Driskel's improvement as a passer will be a key to the Gators rebounding from a disastrous 2013.
QB Jeff Driskel: Florida's official website lists him as a redshirt junior, which means Driskel is taking a medical redshirt for his disastrous 2013 season when he made two starts with a 1-1 record before breaking a bone in his leg. Driskel has produced very uneven results in starting 15 of 20 games in his career. He has the size (6-foot-4, 239 pounds) and athleticism to be an NFL prospect, but his instincts and decision-making in the passing game have not been consistently good enough to pull the Gators offense out of the ranks of the nation's worst. One of the top reasons Florida coach Will Muschamp hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator was for his work with quarterbacks. Roper will design an offense that plays to Driskel's strengths -- short passes and zone-read option plays with the tailback. It's entirely up to Driskel to show that he can grasp the principles, and more importantly the timing throws in the intermediate passing game in order for Roper to expand the offense into one that can be dangerous. Without a hint of understatement, the Gators' hopes of a bounce-back season likely depend upon Driskel's growth as a passer.

LT D.J. Humphries: It's no coincidence that everyone on this list struggled in 2013, either with injuries or performance or both. Humphries came to Florida with such pedigree, such advanced technique that he was never supposed to be the kind of player singled out in this manner. But he definitely fell into the third category as he struggled on the field before succumbing to an injury. Humphries started the first six games of his sophomore season before being taken out of the starting lineup against Missouri in Week 7. A sprained MCL cost him the final five games of the season. Now the Gators need Humphries to shake off the memories from those last couple of games and be the stalwart left tackle who protects Driskel's blind side. Humphries should devote his spring and fall practice sessions to polishing his technique, but at 6-5 and 285 pounds, he would benefit greatly from an offseason at the training table and in the strength program to add another 20 pounds and improve his upper-body strength.

WR Andre Debose: After a tearing his ACL in preseason last fall, the senior is expected back for his sixth season of eligibility. As many times as exasperated fans have thought "it's now or never" for Debose, the 2014 season really is it. Debose has teased Florida with his talent throughout a career filled with peaks and valleys. He was the nation's No. 2 receiver in the Class of 2009 and prompted then-coach Urban Meyer label him the "next Percy Harvin" before he ever put on cleats. Debose missed that first season with a knee injury and has just 29 career catches for 543 yards and four touchdowns. He's never started more than four games in a season, but he did prove to be an excellent kickoff returner. He's also a solid deep threat in the passing game, as all four of his career touchdown catches went for 64 yards or longer in the 2011 season. Now, more than ever, the Gators are desperate for a reliable veteran who can make plays at receiver. Debose has never impressed his coaches with his work ethic, but perhaps another long season on the sideline has helped mature a player who is obviously gifted.

[+] EnlargeChaz Green
John Korduner/Icon SMIThe Gators need Chaz Green to stay on the field in order to provide stability and experience to the offensive line.
OL Chaz Green: The Gators return just five offensive linemen with starting experience. With 19 career starts, Green is one of the most battle-tested of the bunch. But he's struggled with injuries throughout his otherwise productive career. Like Debose, Green suffered a season-ending injury during preseason camp last August when he torn the labrum in his shoulder. At the time, Muschamp said Green was "playing his best football" and had solidified his spot as the starting right tackle. But at 6-5, 300 pounds, it's possible Green could shift inside while one of his replacements last season, 6-8, 361-pound Trenton Brown, stays at right tackle. Either way, Florida needs Green to stay on the field more than anything.

WR Demarcus Robinson: Several receivers have come to UF in the last few years as the next big thing. It's almost become a running joke that a freshman emerges every spring looking the part of an instant contributor, if not a starter. Rarely has it carried over in games that count. Robinson did just that last year, following in the footsteps of previous spring stars like Latroy Pittman and Frankie Hammond Jr. and then finishing 2013 with five catches for 23 yards. Along the way, there were questions about his maturity and consistency. But there's no questioning Robinson's size, speed and hands. For Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, the extra attention he'll pay to Robinson this offseason could pay big dividends if he can put it all together in his sophomore season.

In coming up with this list, two positions stood out for very different reasons -- no running backs or tight ends were included.

Florida has a stable of capable tailbacks it can turn to this fall. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor got plenty of experience in 2013. There's a reliable senior backup in Mack Brown. Former starter Matt Jones is a wild card looking to return from last season's knee injury. And redshirt freshman Adam Lane is a promising prospect.

The tight end position, however, is a sore spot that produced all of four catches last season. Florida relies on two former defensive linemen in Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton. Colin Thompson looks the part but has seen his career plagued by a nagging foot injury. Florida's best hope might be an early entry freshman in DeAndre Goolsby.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, is known for his ability to adapt his offense to his players. It's one of the biggest reasons he was hired.

Will Muschamp is a head coach who needs results right away, and the Gators are expected to try just about anything to achieve them -- uptempo, no-huddle, spread, zone read. You name it.

After three years of a pro-style offense that had a heavy emphasis on downhill running, there will be changes.

Practice time will be at a premium, but Roper has a plan.

He'll start with incumbent quarterback Jeff Driskel and find what he does best. Then Roper will do the same with his offensive line and skill positions.

"I think you’ve got plenty of time through spring practice and through fall practice to make those decisions," he said. "So you get 15 opportunities in spring practice to make those decisions, and then you get 29 practice opportunities in the fall to keep making those decisions and finalizing going into fall camp.

"So everything moves fast, but you've got to figure those things out."

Here are some keys to Florida's offense next year.

Run, Driskel, run

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesIt seems likely that Jeff Driskel will run more in Florida's new offense in 2014.
The majority of Roper's success has come in the passing game, but this season at Duke proved he can succeed calling plays in a much more balanced spread offense. Blue Devils quarterback Brandon Connette, who started three games this season, has 13 scores on the ground. He and starter Anthony Boone have combined to score 17 of Duke's 25 rushing TDs.

Look for the read-option to come back at Florida in 2014. It won't take Roper long to see that Driskel's best success as a college QB came mostly on the ground.

One of former offensive coordinator Brent Pease's goals for 2013 was to get Driskel comfortable as a pocket passer, but it didn't happen in his injury-shortened season. In his two full games, Driskel ran 17 times for just 38 yards (2.2 yards per carry). Then he was hurt a few minutes into Game 3. It was a lost season. But if those first two games were any indication, the Gators weren't planning to use as much of the read-option that Driskel had good success with in teaming with tailback Mike Gillislee in 2012.

Look for Florida to turn Driskel loose, hope he stays healthy and not worry about redshirting incoming freshman Will Grier or a possible second QB signee who would likely be a dual-threat athlete.

Pray for the offensive line

This is where it all starts, and there's no doubt Florida has a lot of room for improvement. With D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, Florida has the makings of a capable line. But only one of those five -- Garcia -- played a full season in 2012. The injury bug hit the OL as hard as any position, so it will be critical for this group to miss as little time as the injury gods will allow. There is some size and talent on the bench, but zero starting experience.

Changing to more of a spread offense should benefit this unit more than any other on the offense, as it struggled mightily in pass protection throughout the last two seasons. The comparative simplicity of zone blocking will also help more of Florida's inexperienced players get on the field sooner. The Gators redshirted three offensive linemen in 2013 and hope to sign four or five more this year.

Another technique -- cut blocking -- could be incorporated next season, depending on Roper's scheme and the yet-to-be-hired offensive line coach. After Florida lost to Georgia Southern in November, Muschamp lamented how the cut block "negates talent" of the defense. In 2014, the Gators might prefer to be on the other side of that equation.

Any receivers who can get open?

This has been one of the most confounding problems at UF since Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez thrived as Tim Tebow's favorite targets in 2009. There are plenty of decorated recruits on the roster. The wideouts have had proven position coaches such as Pease and Joker Phillips mentoring them. In steps Roper, who has produced 1,000-yard receivers in four of six seasons at recruiting-challenged Duke. It's time for some of Florida's talented youngsters to step forward and demand the ball, and there is at least one starting job available.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesKelvin Taylor showed plenty of promise as a freshman.
The freshmen who played the most in 2013 -- Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson -- have the size to create mismatches. Another freshman who burned his redshirt late in the season, Chris Thompson, has plenty of speed. With all of the WR screens Roper likes to call, the Gators will miss senior Solomon Patton, a speedy jitterbug who could have thrived in the new offense. Perhaps a replacement can be found in freshman Alvin Bailey, who redshirted in 2013.

The tight end position took a huge step backward when Jordan Reed left early after a solid 2012 season. Florida lacked any semblance of a down-the-middle pass-catching threat in 2013, as Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton combined for four catches. The Gators have commitments from three TE/H-backs, so don't be surprised if a freshman emerges.

Bigger-play running backs

Tailback is one position that won't keep Roper awake at night, as the Gators have a bevy of talented runners. Florida entered the 2013 season expecting Matt Jones to become one of the SEC's best running backs. And while hopes are still very high for Jones, the Gators believe they found another featured back in Kelvin Taylor after Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury. Mack Brown gives UF a reliable backup, and the coaching staff is excited about the potential of Adam Lane, who redshirted last season.

Where Florida's tailbacks can improve is in hitting more big plays. Taylor averaged 4.6 yards a carry and Brown averaged 3.7. But explosive plays are more likely to come from Jones or little-used Valdez Showers, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry. The Gators are also hoping to sign a speed back who could play right away and complement the group of grinding runners already on the roster.

TE Colin Thompson knows his role

August, 20, 2013
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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.

[+] EnlargeColin Thompson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTight end Colin Thompson plans to bring a physical presence after missing his freshman season because of an injury.
"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."

Muschamp: Bigger is better at UF

August, 16, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans better get a good look at senior wide receiver Solomon Patton this season because guys like him are going to be hard to find around here from now on.

Small guys.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.

[+] EnlargeJon Halapio
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGuard Jon Halapio, at 6 feet 3 and 321 pounds, meets Will Muschamp's size criteria to compete in the SEC.
Size does matter at Florida now. Muschamp believes it’s the best way to have success in the Southeastern Conference.

"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.

"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."

Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.

This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.

Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).

Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).

It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.

And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.

"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.

"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."

Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:

Offensive line

Ideal number: 15-17

Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.

Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.

Defensive tackle

Ideal number: 8-10

Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.

Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.

Defensive ends

Ideal number: 6-8

Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.

Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.

Bucks

Ideal number: 4-6

Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.

Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.

Linebackers

Ideal number: 9-12

Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.

Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.

Tight ends

Ideal number: 3-5

Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.

Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.

Gators fall camp preview

July, 31, 2013
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Ronald PowellJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAfter missing all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL, Ronald Powell is ready to return to the Gators. He was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2010 ESPN 150.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins August camp on Friday. Here’s a primer to get you ready:

Three questions the Gators must answer in camp

Can the receivers contribute? It must sound like a broken record, but the development of the receivers is the key to the season. They haven’t been very good for the past three seasons, and that really hurt the Gators in 2012 because of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s inexperience. H-back/wildcat QB Trey Burton, with 69 career catches, will line up at receiver. That will help, but he’s not a downfield threat or someone that scares a secondary. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar and sophomores Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman must become consistent with their routes, adjustments and blitz reads. At least two of the five freshmen -- including early enrollee Demarcus Robinson -- have to become significant parts of the rotation, too. New receivers coach Joker Phillips, who has 18 years of experience and two former pupils in the NFL (Randall Cobb and Steve Johnson), should make a difference. But remember, a chef is only as good as his ingredients.

Can the linebackers hold up their end? The Gators are loaded in the secondary and with pass rushers, and the defensive line should be fine. The question mark on defense is at linebacker, especially with starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games. There’s little doubt that Morrison is going to be a big-time player, but there are questions at every other spot. Buck/strongside linebacker Ronald Powell is coming back from a torn ACL and the top two candidates at weakside linebacker (Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor) have been role players throughout their careers. Taylor will likely start in the middle while Morrison is out. That’s a steep drop-off from Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and the Gators need to find playmakers. Don’t be surprised if freshman Daniel McMillian takes over as the starter on the weak side by the middle of the season.

Will either kicker turn out to be reliable? It’s unfair to expect Austin Hardin or Brad Phillips to have the same kind of impact as Caleb Sturgis. He was the best kicker in school history and was accurate from long range. But it isn’t unreasonable to ask either of those guys to be consistent in the 40-yard range, and neither was during spring practice. It’s a battle that will continue throughout camp -- and possibly into the season. Sturgis consistently bailed out the offense in 2012, and the Gators won’t have that luxury if the offense struggles again (see receivers above).

Three position battles to watch

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
Brad Barr/US PresswireTyler Moore made four starts on the offensive line at Nebraska as a true freshman. He is battling Chaz Green to be the Gators' right tackle.
Right tackle: Chaz Green, who has started 18 games in his career and 10 last season, sat out spring practice after undergoing offseason ankle surgery. Tyler Moore, a Nebraska transfer, took all the first-team reps and heads into camp with a slight lead. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Moore has 10 pounds on Green, which isn’t a big deal. What is, however, is the fact that Green has missed six games over the past two seasons because of injuries. The loser of the battle will still get a lot of playing time in the Gators’ jumbo package.

Tight end: Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor are competing for playing time. The group struggled during the spring and Burton has a slim lead. Thompson was more of a blocker in high school, but his size makes him an intriguing option in the middle of the field and the red zone. He’s a better blocker than any of the other tight ends and could win the job if he can show some consistency and prove he’s a reliable receiver. Westbrook is more of a blocker and Taylor is a flex tight end with potential, but the coaching staff isn’t happy with his toughness. There’s not a lot of experience here -- they’ve combined for four catches for 17 yards in their careers -- and it’s unlikely any can be the weapon in the passing game that Jordan Reed was the past two seasons (73 catches, 866 yards, 5 TDs).

Safety: If the season started today, cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs would be the starters. That’s not a bad thing because both are solid players who understand the defense and won’t give up big plays. But what is a concern is that none of the other safeties showed enough consistency in the spring to earn one of the spots. Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers have four weeks to prove they can get the job done.

Three players you might not have thought to watch in camp, but really should

Bryan Cox: A redshirt freshman defensive end, he showed flashes of potential in the spring and made a few plays during the final scrimmage. He’s playing behind Jonathan Bullard, so he gets overlooked, but he’s got good size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and athleticism and could be a breakout player on defense.

Gideon Ajagbe: Hunter Joyer was the only fullback on the roster until the staff moved Ajagbe and redshirt freshman safety Rhaheim Ledbetter there in the spring because the staff was worried about overworking Joyer during the season. Ajagbe adjusted well and should give Joyer some valuable rest and therefore reduce his risk of injury.

Chris Wilkes: It was obvious that the staff wasn’t happy with backup quarterbacks Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg, which was one of the reasons UF added Wilkes. He was an Ole Miss signee in 2008 but instead chose to sign a baseball contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes enrolled in May and missed spring practice and hasn’t played football in five years, but he’s a former pro athlete and should at least push Mornhinweg and Murphy a bit.

Gator Breakdown: Clay Burton 

July, 25, 2013
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During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 88 Clay Burton

Junior tight end

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