Gator Locker Room
Gator Ticket Office

Football Headline

Young Florida tight ends Kent Taylor (left), and Colin Thompson, (No. 84), seek to make impact.

Tuesday August 6, 2013Highly Recruited Tight End Duo Vies for Playing Time

Young Florida tight ends Kent Taylor (left), and Colin Thompson, (No. 84), seek to make impact.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They took similar paths to get here, yet arrived in their current situations via very different circumstances.

Florida sophomore Kent Taylor was rated the top tight end prospect in the nation by a handful of recruiting services during his 2012 senior year at Land O’ Lakes (Fla.) High. Colin Thompson, out of Philadelphia, checked in at No. 2.

As freshmen last season, the former saw action in six games, while the latter took a redshirt year in recovering from a pair of foot surgeries.

“When you come in as a freshman, first you have to adjust to the speed of practice, and then the speed of the game,” Taylor said. “It’s a transition.”

Added Thompson: “Between the rehab and not being able to play, the adversity made me stronger.”

And with both of their experiences, the Gators just may have gotten better and deeper at a critical spot in the UF offense heading into the 2013 season.

Taylor and Thompson, the tight end gems of that 2012 signing class, make up half of the depth chart at a position that could lend itself to some unique implementation this fall, as the Gators look to fill the void left by the departure of Jordan Reed, a third-round pick of the Washington Redskins.

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease isn’t necessarily looking for a guy to be the next Reed, who led the Gators with 45 receptions, 559 yards and scored three touchdowns last season. The solution to finding a productive tight end outlet for quarterback Jeff Driskel likely could come through a combination of the four players competing for the job, a group that also includes juniors Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook, both converted former defensive linemen.

“We’ve taken some steps forward from the spring,” Coach Will Muschamp said.

Burton, younger brother of flanker and wildcat quarterback Trey Burton, is the best blocker of the bunch and as such entered preseason practice atop the depth chart. The need for a powerful blocking force in UF’s offense cannot be overemphasized, whether working from conventional one- and two-back sets, or Driskel running the zone-read option or Trey Burton taking direct snaps.

At this early stage in the preseason, Burton and Westbrook give the Gators some punch at the point of attack, but neither player has a track record for catching passes. Burton caught two in 12 games last year; Westbrook none in 13 games.

That’s where the tight end twins of ’12 might see an opportunity.

“Whatever it takes for us to make things work offensively, I think any of the four of us are not just willing but capable of doing that,” Thompson said. “We’re ready to take the task on.”

Taylor is the son of former NFL offensive tackle Rob Taylor, who played eight seasons (1986-93) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He didn’t inherit his father’s girth (dad went 6-foot-6, 293), but at 6-5 and 239 (up 16 pounds from the spring) the younger Taylor is long, athletic and maybe the best pass-catcher among the group.

“He’s gotten bigger and he’s doing a better job of blocking at the point,” Muschamp said. “We’ve just got to ask him to do things that he can do. He can catch the ball and play in space, so we’ve got to continue to try and get him the ball in those ways.”

After Reed, Taylor was the lone tight end to catch a touchdown pass last season, grabbing a 5-yard score late in the Sugar Bowl loss against Louisville.

“I would rather we’d have won that game, but that [play] was something of a confidence-builder for me, scoring on a big stage like that,” Taylor said of the most memorable of his two receptions in six games as a collegiate rookie. “But believe me, that one’s forgotten.”

Thompson’s college career got off to start he’d like to forget, especially given the memorable ending to his high school experience.

At Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood, Thompson won a Class 3A state title with a 52-0 victory in championship game and a month later was playing in the prestigious Under Armor All-America Game as a future Gator.

But while working out on his own in the spring -- running simple cone drills -- Thompson broke his foot. After surgery and rehab, Thompson arrived at UF in the summer only to suffer another break to the foot and undergo a second surgery in less than six months.

Thompson, now 6-4, 258, took the fall to rehab, but also used the time to lock in and watch Reed, while mentally absorbing as much of the offense as he could to prepare himself to rebound in the spring.

“I got to sit back, watch and learn how to be a teammate and a better player,” he said.

Now, the Gators have options at the position.

The next few weeks will be about sorting them out.

“Obviously, a guy goes in the third round of the draft, he’s going to be hard to replace,” Taylor said of Reed. “But collectively, I think we all have different strengths and I think we’re in the process now of trying to find the best way to fill that void.”

 

Email Chris Harry   |   Follow on Twitter   |   Like on Facebook   |   Harry's Hangout

Florida Athletics - A Championship Experience with Integrity - Vision Statement
  • University of Florida
  • NCAA
  • Sun Sports / Fox Sports Florida
  • IMG
  • SEC on ESPN

© 1998 - 2014 University Athletic Assoc., Inc., Sun Sports & IMG College. All Rights Reserved.