The tight end has been a staple of the Florida offense for close to 30 years.
From Kirk Kirkpatrick to Ben Troupe to the late Aaron Hernandez to Jordan Reed, the Gators have found creative ways to get the ball in the hands of their big targets in the middle of the field.
But Florida has had a hard time getting tight ends involved in the passing game this season. Through five games this season, Florida tight ends have combined for just 10 catches for 109 yards.
There were no completions to tight ends during UF’s 17-16 loss to LSU last week. In addition, the Gators are just one of four teams in the SEC who have yet to throw a TD pass to a tight end this season. Texas A&M, Auburn and Ole Miss are the others.
Florida coach Jim McElwain said a number of factors have come into the lack of production from tight ends in the passing game, including injuries and keeping tight ends on the line to help with pass protection.
“Attacking the middle of the field and getting those guys involved was big,” McElwain said. “We’ve obviously had to use them a little bit in protection as part of that piece as well, as you start to move the pocket and get yourself into your seven-man protection stuff. So things we need to get better at.”
Florida was expecting a breakout season from senior tight end DeAndre Goolsby, who was UF’s third-leading receiver last season with 38 catches for 342 yards and three TDs. But Goolsby suffered a leg injury in UF’s season opener against Michigan and hasn’t been much of a factor since. The 6-foot-4, 239-pound Goolsby has just three catches for 49 yards this season.
Asked if Goolsby is back to 100 percent, McElwain said: “He is back from that injury, he’s done a good job, and it’s really … that’s how you practice and he’s done a good job with that.”
Another promising freshman tight end, Kemore Gamble, suffered a foot injury late in preseason camp and hasn’t been a factor this season. Redshirt junior Moral Stephens leads Gator tight ends in receiving with three catches for 55 yards, with redshirt junior C’yontai Lewis adding four catches for 21 yards.
Overall, Florida’s passing game has had issues, with three different quarterbacks playing through the first five games. Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks, who will make his fifth career start against Texas A&M, has had a tendency to lock into his primary receiver when he throws rather than scan the field for other targets.
But McElwain said the tight ends also need to do a better job of running routes and finding holes in opposing coverages.
“They’ve got to go get open,” McElwain said. “That’s a big piece of it.”