GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp delivered multiple zingers during his 30-minute press conference Wednesday, but none was more direct than his shot at Florida's putrid tight end production in 2013.
"It was a very offensive position when Jordan Reed was here," Muschamp quipped. "It was an offensive position last year."
Florida's tight ends -- Tevin Westbrook, Clay Burton and Clay Thompson (briefly) -- combined for just four receptions last season, as Muschamp publicly challenged the group throughout the year.
The Gators wasted little time addressing the position this offseason, signing three tight ends in their 2014 recruiting class, headlined by converted-receiver and four-star Taylor County standout Moral Stephens.
Three-stars C'yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby also signed with Florida, with both prospects targeted early in the process. While Lewis and Gooslby project as developmental players, all three freshmen are expected to compete for immediate playing time come fall.
“I felt like we needed to athletically improve ourselves at tight end. And I think we took some steps there,” Muschamp said. “Those guys need to step forward, probably have some young guys help us out there to be able to take the next step.”
During Kurt Roper's introductory press conference last month, Florida's new offensive coordinator never mentioned how he prefers (or plans) to use tight ends in his spread offense, but the stats suggest he schemes for tight ends to be involved … quite a bit.
In 2013, Braxton Deaver, Duke's junior tight end, was the team's second-leading receiver.
Deaver posted nearly identical numbers -- 46 receptions, 600 yards, four touchdowns -- to Jordan Reed’s heralded 2012 campaign (45 catches, 559 yards three touchdowns).
The Blue Devils' second- and-third string tight ends actually caught more balls (five) than Florida's entire group last season.
In 2012, Duke's top two tight ends combined for 50 receptions and four touchdowns.
It remains to be seen how Florida will integrate three raw freshmen with a group of underachieving upperclassmen, but Muschamp is fond of the phrase “competition is the best motivator” and appears geninuly excited about infusing the position with fresh talent.
“Cyontai is a guy that we targeted. Brian White was actually watching another player practice last spring and just kept noticing this guy's athleticism. We challenged him to come to camp. He came to camp and had an outstanding camp, and a guy that showed all the athleticism and ball skills to be really, really good. … DeAndre Goolsby is another guy we targeted early on. [Position coach] Derrick Lewis went out and evaluated him in the last spring evaluation, really liked his movement skills, his growth potential, his toughness, his point of attack and those things, and excited to have him on campus and a guy that can do some different things for you. And then Moral Stephens is a guy that we didn't think we were going to have room for. He came to camp. He did an outstanding job in camp. We really liked him, and then when we had some attrition, it opened up a spot for him, and we're really happy to have him.”
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