GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For the first part of this season, junior tight end DeAndre Goolsby was something of a safety blanket for whichever quarterback was manning the Florida offense.
He was a safe bet for a few catches a game, usually out in the flat but rarely much beyond that.
Redshirt sophomore tight end C’yontai Lewis, meanwhile, was more of a blocker. For Lewis and Goolsby, those roles were pretty well established.
Then Goolsby broke a finger in the sixth game, against Missouri, and Lewis went from something of an unknown to star of his own highlight reel. The following game against Georgia he had one of the Gators’ most impressive grabs of the season along the sideline and then scored his first touchdown in more than a year.
Two games later against South Carolina, he had a season-high 4 receptions for 38 yards and another touchdown.
But for the most part, the Gators didn’t take advantage of their tight ends in the passing attack.
Goolsby and Lewis combined for just one individual 50-yard receiving performance — that being Goolsby’s 7 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
Even with the offense floundering much of the season and a desire to see the Gators mix things up to find any spark they could, tight ends remained in the shadows. Of course, the offense needed all the help it could get in protection to bolster an inconsistent line, but it also needed more playmakers to open things up for everybody else.
It’ll be interesting to see if Florida coaches, in reviewing the 2016 tape, increase priority on finding opportunities for two experienced tight ends who seem capable of impacting the passing attack beyond the few glimpses of potential they revealed this fall.
This is not really a knock on the tight ends. Part of this has to do with their use. Lewis, in particular, was an effective blocker, but the Gators lacked a consistent running game and far too often stalled when passing. So it’s hard to raise the grade.
But again, there’s potential here because of the progress that Goolsby and Lewis made.
Star of the group
Junior DeAndre Goolsby.
Despite disappearing for a stretch late in the season following that finger injury, Goolsby had 36 catches for 315 yards and 2 touchdowns to rank as the Gators’ third most productive receiving option. He more than doubled his career high for catches.
Looking at 2017
Goolsby and Lewis can build on the progress they each made this season. Lewis seemed to seize his limited opportunities as a receiver, so it will be interesting to see how their roles align next fall.
Also, throw into the mix a significant 4-star recruit in 6-foot-4 tight end Kemore Gamble, out of state champion Miami Southridge High School. He had strong interest from Alabama, racked up 25 offers in all and stuck with the Gators. He plans to move to campus on Jan. 3 as an early enrollee.
Gamble is billed as a very physical and effective blocker and could make an immediate impact. Plus, as a former wide receiver — before his lanky frame filled out into his now-powerful build — he has strong ball skills. Florida coaches told Gamble that he could be an asset down the field while taking advantage of mismatches against linebackers.
Overall, this position is deep as any for Florida. Redshirt sophomore Moral Stephens and sophomore Camrin Knight also are getting development attention.
But the Gators look set at tight end for 2017 and the foreseeable future with Gamble on his way.
All recruiting rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of our position-by-position review with a link to the earlier installments.
Dec. 12: Special teams
Dec. 13: Cornerbacks
Dec. 14: Safeties
Dec. 15: Linebackers
Dec. 16: Defensive line
Dec. 19: Offensive line
Dec. 20: Tight ends
Dec. 21: Wide receivers
Dec. 22: Running backs
Dec. 23: Quarterbacks