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Florida tight end DeAndre Goolsby was a more featured part of the offense last season.

Gators need to get more out of their tight ends than just blocking

Ryan Young

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Florida’s tight ends were at the least a safety blanket for the quarterbacks last season. They sometimes were also contributors in big momentum-shifting plays.

Especially before his midseason finger injury, DeAndre Goolsby seemed a safe bet for at least several short sideline routes each game and sometimes much more.

He finished with 38 catches for 342 yards and tied for the team lead with 3 touchdown receptions. He piled up 8 catches at Vanderbilt and closed the season strong with 7 catches for 91 yards and a score in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. He added another touchdown in the Outback Bowl.

And when Goolsby was injured, C’yontai Lewis delivered a big game against Georgia with two key grabs for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Fans have astutely noticed that the tight ends are not nearly as involved in the passing attack this fall.

Goolsby has just 3 catches for 43 yards through five games, and his biggest catch came on a seemingly unplanned, heady play by quarterback Luke Del Rio to avoid a sack, buy time and find Goolsby running free down the sideline for 25 yards against Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Lewis has 4 catches for 21 yards and Moral Stephens has 3 receptions for 55 yards.

The lack of tight end usage has been a persistent source of frustration for fans, which leads to our Gators Mailbag Question of the Day:

Travis L. asks … “Have you all ever asked Mac point-blank why we don’t use the middle of the field with the tight ends or more cross routes and [gotten] a straight answer?”

Actually, the question has been asked twice this week. The answers, well, not entirely helpful.

On Monday, McElwain was asked about the need to exploit the middle of the field more, specifically with the depth of having three capable pass-catching tight ends.

“Yeah, attacking the middle of the field and getting those guys involved [is] big. 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,” he said.

OK, the need for extra blockers is the most logical answer for why the tight end reception numbers have been so depressed this fall. But surely there is something more creative the offensive coaches can do to spring those guys for at least a few more looks.

So the question came again Wednesday after practice.

“Probably throw it to them,” McElwain said. “I mean, they’ve got to go get open. That’s a big piece of it.”

OK, so either quarterback Feleipe Franks is missing opportunities or the guys aren’t getting open.

That latter part can’t keep being the excuse for everybody involved in the passing attack. That was the criticism of the wide receivers last week with Tyrie Cleveland sidelined, as well.

At a certain point, there’s a common denominator to consider. It’s on the play calling, on finding fresh and creative ways to get guys open if other stuff isn’t working. And it’s probably also partly on Franks, who has struggled scanning the field.

Stephens sprung free twice on a touchdown drive against Vanderbilt, contributing 2 catches for 45 yards. Instead of building off that, though, the Gators managed zero completions to tight ends against LSU.

That makes even less sense given Cleveland’s absence. With less-proven playmakers available in the receiving corps, Florida needed to leverage all of its options, and a 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end such as Goolsby seems like a potential mismatch to exploit.

The fans are right to be frustrated about the lack of tight end usage. Florida has some talent at that spot and isn’t cashing in. The coaches need to find a solution, or the question will keep coming McElwain’s way.

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