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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Gresham's talents spark OU's offensive surge

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's hard to amaze Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes.

 
 Jamie Squire/Getty Images
 Containing Jermaine Gresham will be one of Florida's most pressing challenges.

But as the Gators' top linebacker has watched Oklahoma game films in preparation for Thursday's FedEx BCS National Championship Game, he's grown to appreciate the talents of one particular Sooner.

As Spikes has watched Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham rip through Big 12 defenses, he's become more and more impressed with repeated viewings.

"That big guy is pretty good," Spikes said. "I haven't seen many tall guys who are that fast and who can go deep and catch passes like he can. That dude is something."

Checking the 6-foot-6, 261-pound Gresham will be one of the Gators' major defensive challenges.

Gresham is the prototypical modern NFL tight end, considering he has the size of a defensive end and the breakaway speed of a wide receiver.

Pro scouts have been salivating over him ever since his arrival in college. That appeal has only intensified during the second half of the season. His big finish has evoked comparisons to NFL standouts like Tony Gonzales and Antonio Gates.

Gresham has become a nightmare for defenses to stop because he's too big for defensive backs and too fast for most linebackers. And in most cases, he's too fast for defensive backs and too big for most linebackers.

That combination has already caught the attention of Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who said the Gators will have to account for Gresham with some coverage tweaks.

"He will be a matchup problem for us," Strong said. "He does a great job of running routes and a great job once he catches the ball of just running away from defenders."

Strong said the Gators may go with more man-to-man defense against Gresham. He is considering matching Brandon Hicks, one of his most athletic defenders, specifically against Gresham.

Before the season, Gresham said he planned to return to college next season. But his draft stock has soared and he's ranked on most draft boards as the first tight end likely to be taken and a potential top 12 pick in the draft, should he come out.

It's interesting because tight end traditionally isn't the most coveted position in the NFL draft. Only four players have been picked No. 14 or higher in the first round since 2000. But teams appear to be ready to make an exception because of Gresham's talent.

"I'm not even thinking about that right now," Gresham said. "I'm more interested in everything coming up on Thursday night than anything else. After that, I don't know what I'll do."

Gresham set school single-season records for a tight end with 888 yards and 12 touchdown grabs, finishing as a finalist for the Mackey Award. He ranked second on the Sooners with 58 receptions and produced wide receiver-like numbers with a 15.3 yards-per-catch average.

His talents have been particularly big down the stretch. Gresham had a career game against Oklahoma State with nine receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns, including a pivotal 73-yard touchdown grab where he simply outran the OSU defense.

And he added eight receptions for 82 yards against Missouri in the Big 12 championship game. It was the most productive two-game stretch of his career.

"Things started coming along for me this season," Gresham said. "Those last two games really give me confidence. I've always thought I could play, but I'm getting more and more sure of what I can do."

The late spurt has also benefited Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who has noted Gresham's importance to the Sooners' offense. And it's no coincidence that Gresham's biggest games have come when the Sooners have reeled off a record-breaking streak of five straight games with at least 61 points.

"Jermaine has been a great asset to this offense because there are so many things he can do," Bradford said. "You can put him down the field on a long ball and he'll catch it. He can run a quick route and he can catch that, too. Jermaine can pretty much do anything he wants."