GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida needed DeAndre Goolsby to make a big jump this season, and he’s improved by leaps and bounds.
The junior tight end leads the Gators in receptions and has become a go-to target on offense.
“He’s chose to come out and actually practice at times with great tempo, understanding what it takes to be successful,” UF coach Jim McElwain said of Goolsby. “He’s seen some of the fruits of that labor moving forward. He’s a talented guy.
“We like to get the ball in his hands and he’s good in space. He’s got a long ways to go, but he’s a lot better than what he was.”
Goolsby has already surpassed his number of catches last season (17). His team-high 22 receptions ranks third in the SEC among tight ends.
After not recording any stats as a true freshman, Goolsby started six games in 2015 as he learned from sixth-year Jake McGee, who finished with 41 catches for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
“He has improved,” Florida tight ends coach Greg Nord said of Goolsby. “I think he finally got over being young and relying on Jake McGee. Now he fulfilled that role and has been able to go seize it and take control of the offense, being able to do things we’re asking him to do.”
Goolsby has more catches (22) and receiving yards (175) through five games than McGee had at the halfway point of last season. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound tight end credited McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier for the plays they’ve drawn up for him.
“Coach Mac and Nuss making schemes,” Goolsby said when asked what’s been working for him. “Mismatches for players, just trying to make the offense the best it can be. Whatever it takes to score points.”
Goolsby still needs gain more yards after the catch and make vertical plays in the passing game. He had five catches of more than 20 yards in 2015, but he only has one this year. The majority of his receptions have been in the flat.
That provides a safety blanket for quarterbacks, but Nord said he wants Goolsby to get loose on those short routes.
“Some wheels and some things up the seams have been pretty good for him (in the past),” McElwain said. “I think from a quarterback standpoint just understanding where the dots are and when he’s on his dot. When he’s where he’s supposed to be, he has an opportunity to get the ball. We talk about field spacing a lot. We’ve been pretty good at that.”
Goolsby was named to the John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List this week. In addition to his pass-catching ability, McElwain said Goolsby has improved another area of his game.
“He’s become a much better blocker, which is only going to help in the future,” McElwain said. “I think he’s starting to scratch the surface as to how good a player he can be.”