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Preaching to the converted

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- TE Jordan Reed is Florida's leading receiver.

In fact, he's pretty much the only weapon the Gators have in the passing game.

Imagine how good he could be when he finally completes the transition from quarterback to tight end.

Reed is only in his second season as a full-time tight end, and the move from throwing passes to blocking, route running and catching passes isn't as easy as some would think. While Reed has had success, he hasn't come close to hitting his ceiling.

"The natural process is your first year, you do however you do, and then you improve a little bit or a lot based on your decision in the offseason," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "He worked extremely hard and had a great offseason. This is his second year of playing. That was kind of my point earlier when somebody asked the question: 'What's the difference?' Experience."

Reed was a pretty good quarterback at New London (Conn.) High School. He was a finalist for the Joe Montana High School Quarterback of the Year award and was a member of the ESPN 150. Oregon, Boston College and Maryland were among the schools that wanted him along with Florida.

He redshirted and practiced at quarterback in 2009 but moved to tight end in the spring for two reasons: His size, speed and athleticism made him a matchup nightmare for defenses, and because the Gators had already settled on John Brantley as their quarterback for the next two seasons.

But the offense struggled and Reed ended up playing a lot of Wildcat quarterback in 2010, which turned out to be Urban Meyer's final season. He rotated with Brantley and Trey Burton and ended up completing 26 of 46 passes for 252 yards and 3 touchdowns with 1 interception and rushing for 328 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also caught 6 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

But when Muschamp hired Charlie Weis to be UF's offensive coordinator, Reed's time at quarterback ended. He became a full-time tight end. That's when things got complicated for Reed.

Blocking? Never had to do it before. Running routes? The Gators had kept it simple for him in 2010, but he had to learn the entire offense in 2011. The second part came much easier than the first, Reed said. Forget technique, Reed's early attempts at blocking were just running into someone as hard as he could.

It wasn't pretty.

But he was able to get by and made an impact in the passing game. Of his 28 receptions, 17 went for first downs -- including a 31-yard TD catch on fourth-and-19 against Georgia.

He worked hard in the offseason and now he's a much better blocker, which is actually a bit funny because the Gators don't have him do much blocking in pass protection. Reserves Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook have that job.

But Reed is proud of his improvement.

"I'm just being more physical and tenacious and things like that," he said. "I used to just throw my head in there, so now I use my hands more."

Reed also has to get better as a route runner and a receiver. He has a tendency to jump when he catches the ball -- even when it's not needed -- and he likes to hurdle tacklers instead of using his 6-foot-3, 239-pound frame to take them on. But that has worked for him, and his leap was not the reason he fumbled in the closing minutes against Georgia. That had to do with the way he was carrying the football, and his ball security is another thing that has to improve.

Those are the physical aspects of playing tight end that will become second nature the longer he plays the position. That's the part of the transition from quarterback that he'll still be learning next year -- whether it's at UF or in the NFL, should he decide to leave early.

Mentally, though, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Reed has progressed enough that the staff feels comfortable moving him around in the offense. He'll line up in the slot, at receiver, and at the traditional tight end spot. Last week, he took a few snaps while lined up at fullback.

"That's the biggest thing he brings to the table," Pease said. "He's a matchup problem. He's big and strong. He's fast. And he's got the capability and the learning situation right now to understand being a wideout, being an inside slot, being a tight end. You know, you can put him in three or four various positions."

Reed has caught 33 passes for 371 yards and 3 touchdowns this season and has caught the most passes or tied for the most passes in every game. But he has the potential to double his production next season and have a year similar to the one Aaron Hernandez had in 2009, when he led the Gators with 68 catches.

Provided he continues to evolve, of course.

"It's not add water, instant player," Muschamp said. "I know we all think that because Rivals puts 48 stars by their name, so they're supposed to just be an outstanding football player the moment they walk on campus."