GAINESVILLE -- The competition to replace Jordan Reed, Florida’s leading receiver in 2012 with 45 catches and three touchdowns, is progressing.
Although Gators coach Will Muschamp expressed his concerns with the inexperienced group at tight end during the spring, his tune has slightly changed early in fall camp.
“We’ve improved where we were,” he said. “That’s what you want to do is take a step forward. We’ve taken some positive steps.”
Reed, a third-round pick of the Washington Redskins in April’s NFL Draft, left a massive void as quarterback Jeff Driskel’s favorite target the past two seasons, and the candidates to replace Reed include two former ballyhooed, yet flawed recruits and a pair of converted defensive linemen.
“Jordan was such a freak of nature and a great athlete,” redshirt freshman Colin Thompson said. “When it comes to pure athleticism, I don’t know if we have that in the room now, but when it comes to collective effort we can produce.”
Thompson, sidelined all of 2012 with a pair of foot fractures, is in a four-way battle with Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook, two former defensive ends, and Kent Taylor, the nation’s top-rated tight end prospect in 2011.
“We’re all competing,” Thompson said. “Whether there’s a clear-cut No. 1 or not right now, I don’t know. Everyone is getting equal reps and getting a shot at different plays. The coaches know who’s going to be the guy, and it’ll be determined.”
Florida’s main obstacle is unearthing Muschamp’s preferred “combo” package: a tight end with a blend of blocking and receiving attributes.
So far that player doesn’t seem to exist on the roster.
Taylor, a 6-5, 223-pound sophomore, is talented, but Muschamp has publically questioned his toughness.
Thompson (6-4, 250) and Burton (6-4, 247), who started six games last season, are both reliable, physical blockers but offer little in the passing game.
Last season, Burton struggled mightily catching the ball while Thompson came to UF as a poor and inexperienced route runner.
“[Thompson] is what we thought: a tough, hard-nosed guy that’s going to be able to block at the point of attack,” Muschamp said. “He’ll do some things in the passing game to help us, [too.]”
Burton and Thompson both said they have improved as receivers, gradually gaining the trust of the coaches and quarterbacks. But it didn’t take Thompson long to redirect the battle to his strength.
“We need tight ends who can block,” said Thompson, a four-star recruit in 2011. “What did we do last year, run the ball 27 times in a row against LSU or some unbelievable number? Physical play is No. 1 for us.”