Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Florida tight ends, fullbacks part of Plan 'B'
By Jeff Barlis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Thanks to a new offense, the Florida Gators are expecting some serious improvement this fall. Every player has hopes and dreams of better statistics.
The most realistic chances to double or even triple their production? That's easy.
Tight ends and fullbacks were an afterthought in 2013, used almost exclusively as blockers in UF's pro-style offense. Two tight ends combined for four catches. Two fullbacks had a total of six receptions and three carries.
Tevin Westbrook hopes to be a bigger part of Florida's offense this season.
But rather than file a class-action lawsuit for neglect, the four rising seniors are thrilled to learn an offense that promises much more involvement.
"It's really exciting," tight end Tevin Westbrook said. "It's more of a competition. Every day when you go out you know that you've to play to be able to catch the ball and block, to move from off the ball to a bigger role. It's exciting. We're catching balls and blocking from the backfield, blocking for the quarterback."
With so little to see of the tight ends and fullbacks on last year's game tape, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has had to use the first part of spring practice to evaluate what he's got.
"The thing we're trying to figure out first and foremost is the tight end/H-back in our offense, who we call the 'B,' is who is that?" he said. "Who's the guy that's going to be the best in that situation? So it's a fun battle to watch between all those guys that we're repping at that position.
"I think that that B position, because it's so different from what they were doing in the past is probably the thing that we've got to watch the closest."
The change has been apparent.
Those four returning players -- Westbrook, tight end Clay Burton and fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe -- have probably seen more targets this spring than all of their previous years combined. And true freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby has seen as much action as any of the seniors.
Joyer, who has even gotten to show off his hands on intermediate routes, can't hide his smile when talking about the new opportunities available.
"Yeah, everybody's being used and used a lot," he said. "Everyone has a role in it and everyone determines our own roles. So as long as you're doing well, you'll have one."
It's all by design, says Roper. Last year at the reins of a Duke offense that averaged more than 409 yards a game, Roper gave significant roles to two quarterbacks, four running backs and six receivers.
"I think the biggest thing when you put together an offense is you want a defense to have to defend the field and defend all your skill players," Roper said. "Those guys [at the B position] are a big part of our offense. I think they're going to be put in position to make some plays.
"It's been fun to evaluate and we've had some big plays made by those guys. [Last Wednesday], we had two great catches by Gideon and Goolsby. So I think they're starting to get a feel for what we're asking them to do, and I think they're going to be capable of making some of those plays."
That's a huge development for an offense that got almost nothing there last year. Now there's potential and the promise of more to come.
Goolsby, a three-star prospect out of Derby, Kan., committed last November as Florida was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. He chose the Gators over Ohio State, Oklahoma Arkansas and Kansas State and is now seeing the benefits of UF's new offense.
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Goolsby still needs work in the weight room, but the education he is getting in spring practice should work wonders in getting on the field this fall.
"He's a really good athlete," head coach Will Muschamp said. "He's a guy that can do some things as far as what we're looking for at that position. He fits it extremely well. I think he's done a really good job. I'm very pleased where he is. I think it's a little early right now to tell where he will contribute."
Florida also signed two more players in its 2014 class who profile as part of the 'B' team -- tight ends C'yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens, who arrive this summer.
It should make for a robust competition that carries over from spring practice into the fall and maybe even turns into some long-awaited offense.
For the previously invisible tight ends and fullbacks, the new offense means they can dare to dream.
"If we make plays and we come out and block and we catch the ball, they’re going to have to put the tight end into the plays," Westbrook said. "As a unit, it's a chip on our shoulder. We need to step up and make more plays in practice and then there will be more action from the tight end."