Tight ends finally emerging as go-to guys in Florida’s offense

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Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) is hit by Tennessee defensive back Nigel Warrior in the Sept. 21 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

Based on preseason scouting reports from the Florida offensive coaches a year ago, two big positives were anticipated at the tight end position last season.

One, the position was going to be an integral part of the passing game and the tight ends would be go-to guys.

Two, true freshman Kyle Pitts, with his combination of size, speed and athleticism, would be a major matchup problem for opposing outside linebackers and safeties.

But as the weeks passed and the games came and went, Pitts and the other tight ends remained in the shadows. Pitts, bouncing back and forth between tight end and wide receiver, never really exploited his mismatch potential and caught just three passes. And the other three tight ends combined for only 23 receptions for 309 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, a year later, it’s a much different story. What had been anticipated in 2018 has begun to occur this season.

Pitts has become a matchup problem for opposing defenses and a go-to guy for quarterback Kyle Trask. And the tight end position is evolving into a major component in the passing game.

In the last two games, Pitts has combined to catch eight passes for 90 yards and three touchdowns. And the tight end position has produced 11 receptions and four touchdowns.

“Kyle Pitts has gotten a lot more comfortable within the offense,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “You saw last year we played him a little bit more at receiver, trying to get him on the field, and then being more as the true tight end this year. I just think it’s a lot more of him getting to the role where we expect our tight ends to be.

“We expect tight ends to be a huge factor in our offense. Our tight ends had three touchdowns last week in the game and are big factors in our offense. Those guys are growing into the role and understanding it and you’re seeing them become bigger playmakers.”

Pitts has become one of Trask’s favorite targets since Trask took over for the injured Feleipe Franks in the fourth quarter at Kentucky three weeks ago. He’s had 11 receptions and three touchdowns since then and is now UF’s second-leading receiver, behind only wide receiver Van Jefferson, with 17 receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns.

Pitts said there’s nothing magical about his emergence this season. It’s happening because he’s put in the work.

“All summer and in my offseason I was in my playbook, getting ready for the season,” Pitts said. “It’s changed drastically. Last year I was kind of like timid. I knew it, but I didn’t know it like the back of my hand. This year I really took the time to study hard and get into the playbook.

“I can play more loosely and confidently. I’m able to play faster and not think about it.”

Pitts is exclusively a tight end now, but still lines up wide and in the slot at times as Mullen and the offensive coaches search for mismatches for the 6-foot-6, 239-pound Pitts, who runs like a wide receiver.

“He’s a tough matchup (for defenses) at tight end,” Mullen said. “You’re seeing him getting comfortable in the offense now. He can cause problems when you try to create a mismatch.

“You see his comfort of really growing as a route runner and being comfortable within the offense and running his routes and how he’s getting open. I just think you’re seeing him growing and maturing.”

And getting open and catching passes, the new go-to guy in the Gators passing game.

“Kyle Pitts, that’s my boy,” junior wide receiver Trevon Grimes said. “I’m so excited for him. He puts in a lot of hard work. Last year he was with the receivers and he worked very hard, but we knew he was always a tight end.

“He’s back at tight end now and he’s doing his thing and I tell him, right now, he’s one of the best if not the best (tight ends in the country). He’s smooth. You don’t see a tight end that’s that smooth, that big that can catch like that and run routes like that. Like I tell him all the time, he’s one of the best. He needs to think like that, talk like that, because I believe he is, as everyone else does.”

16 COMMENTS

  1. all true, but what about run blocking. seems like the o line issue still needs time, both for run blocking and keeping the qb upright. for that reason, in the upcoming mini tournament with auburn georgia and lsu, i only see one win, probably georgia, as much as i am unimpressed with the lsu coach. still this is the best gator team since macs first bunch until grier left, and as good as dan quinn’s last team. next year we run the table if trask stays.
    when lee mcgriff promised gator fans after appleby in the bama game that help was already there on campus at qb, i thought he was wrong based on franks that looked like a bigger version of treon to me. i didnt know he meant trask until the orlando paper came out with it. lee was right.
    go gators.

  2. CDM doesn’t say it, but Trask is the reason the TE’s are NOW featured in the Gator offense, as they were meant to be last season and earlier this season.

    Franks was NEVER going to get comfortable throwing the ball 10-20 yards downfield, between the hash marks and that area of the field is where TE’s make their living. He’s never been terribly accurate throwing it downfield, over the middle. Missing receivers over the middle means disaster, more often than not and CDM knows that. So, those plays just didn’t get called while Franks was the Gators’ starter at QB.

    • What you’re saying makes sense, StL. That would mean CDM was willing to sacrifice that aspect of the offense, or at least accept Franks’ limited ability in that aspect, in exchange for the perceived benefit of Franks’ superior ability (superior to Trask) to run the ball.

      • I don’t quite buy that Joe, but it is actually one hypothesis among others. Main reason being that we didn’t get to really see Trask run the ball that much, hardly at all in fact. It may just be one of those eternal mysteries why Franks always got the nod, aside from Trask’s injuries?

        • Those untimely Trask injuries explain all of 2017 and 2018 when it mattered after the Missouri game. In 2019, Franks simply hadn’t played bad enough to be yanked and risk creating the consequential locker room rift as players split into the two camps.

        • I didn’t necessarily mean it as an indictment of CDM, but rather my view of the way he sees things. I like pretty much everything about him except his penchant for the spread option, and that’s why I actually cringed at the idea of him becoming the Gator HC. However, the results so far are much better than what we were getting, so I appreciate that very much.

          My honest opinion is that the spread option is ruining football, by making the passing game simply an extension of the running game. Try to find an excellent pocket passer in today’s college game who can actually do what StL describes above. Until two weeks ago, about the only place you could find one was on the Gator bench.

          The spread passing game utilizes WR screens, quick slants, and short drag routes as essentially long handoffs. The downfield passing game consists primarily of lobs down the sideline in hopes that a receiver can run under it and/or out-fight the DB. The intermediate routes in the middle of the field, like StL alludes to, are essentially canned from the game plan unless a team is fortunate enough to have the very rare dual threat QB who is also an excellent pocket passer, and not just a strong armed thrower.

          This leads to some ridiculously inflated completion percentages, because most of the passes travel less than 15 yards…not 15 yards downfield, but from the QB’s hand to the receiver. In other words, they’re passes that any QB should complete at a high percentage. This leads to young fans thinking a guy like Tim Tebow was as good as Danny Wuerffel. Tim was good, but give me Danny and the Fun-n-gun.

          If you have good athletes who can make people miss catching those short passes, then they can produce significant yardage. If the QB is also fairly successful with the sideline lobs and an occasional post route, the yardage numbers can be very impressive. It can certainly get the job done, because most teams today run some version of it, but to me, it just makes the game look like you’re running the ball about 85-90% of the time.

          Having rambled on about all that, I think it’s perfectly fine for CDM to exercise his authority as HC and make a decision about which scheme and strategy gives his team the best chance to win. I’m sure he’d prefer to have both, but if he thinks having better running from his QB takes precedence over the intermediate passing game, then it’s his decision to make. I’m just saying I think that’s the way he sees it. I personally prefer seeing a healthy intermediate passing game, but I prefer winning even more. As long as CDM keeps producing wins, I’ll enjoy them no matter what they look like.

          Go Gators!!

      • Maybe so Joe, but I consider that a statistical tie. Roughly speaking, Franks has played about 10 quarters, Trask about 8 quarters and Jones the other 2 quarters. On average, Franks passed for about 280 YPG to Trask’s 324 YPG. Advantage to Trask by 44 YPG. Franks rushed for 27 YPG to Trask’s -4 YPG. Advantage to Franks by 31 YPG. Overall, Trask has a slight net yardage advantage, but doesn’t appear to be a major upgrade.

        Where Trask stands out is in point per game. Over his 10 quarters, Franks was responsible for 26 PPG to Trask’s 45.5 PPG. The Gators have averaged nearly 20 PPG more with Trask at QB! This comparison is even more one-sided if we focus on 1st halves, where Franks only led at half-time in the UTM game while Trask had 17 point leads by half-time in both of his starts.

        I’m going to venture a guess here on why the Gator D has only allowed 3 points over the 9 quarters Trask has been our QB. Maybe, it has to do with the 19 points the Gator O scored in the 4th quarter of the UK game and the two 17-point leads they’ve had in the 2nd half vs. both UT and Towson. Those leads made opposing offenses more one-dimensional, playing to the Gator D’s strength creating havoc by rushing the QB.

          • Well I can! It’s just that I don’t know what to say in the face of all those facts…..maybe I should say some thing like, “Oh yeah? Well we’ll take truth over facts any day or my name isn’t Cornpop!”.

            Trask sure as hell has an advantage in reading the field and accuracy, tho. And we don need no stinking touchdowns any way.

        • Well said, STL, I like a guy who puts his brain where his mouth is!!! I just might add that Trask’s rushing yardage is so low because he passes so well. When you can throw like that there is very little need to run and when you do its because a play has broken down and unlike the option run, everyone is out of place and the run defense is horrible anyway. Franks yardage was on option or QB designated runs which are far more successful since he is then an uncovered ball carrier. I’d much rather see him pass than run any day.