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.”