The final edition of alligatorSports' Position-by-Position series focuses on the most inexperienced unit on UF's depth chart: tight end.
Florida was a team that rarely utilized its tight ends in the passing game last year. C’yontai Lewis, who has since graduated, led that group in receptions with just nine. Instead, coach Dan Mullen relied on his tight ends to be additional blockers, a role in which they performed admirably – Florida ranked fourth in the SEC in rushing yards per game.
In addition to Lewis, the Gators also lost their second-leading receiver at the tight end position in Moral Stephens. Lewis, with 128 yards receiving last year, and Stephens, with 106, ranked 17th and 20th, respectively, in receiving yards at their position in the conference. Stephens was responsible for three of the four touchdowns UF tight ends reeled in last year. The other was caught by Kyle Pitts.
Although he only caught three passes last year, Pitts is a player who should excite Gators fans. The sophomore was ranked as the No. 5 tight end recruit in the country by 247sports before enrolling at UF, and for good reason: he has great speed and is listed at 6-foot-6, 239 pounds.
Pitts’ versatility makes him a huge weapon for Florida. His size means he can be a formidable blocker. His speed – which was on full display last year against Idaho when he caught a slant and outran the Vandals’ defenders for a 52-yard score – gives him the potential to be a threat in the secondary. He has the characteristics to be a tight end/wide receiver hybrid.
Lucas Krull is the tight end who will get the majority of playing time along with Pitts. Krull, a redshirt junior, caught six passes for 75 yards in the seven games he played as a tight end last year. His main asset is his size – the Kansas native is listed at 6-foot- 6, 257 pounds, which makes him a potential mismatch for defenders.
Another tight end to watch is freshman Keon Zipperer. A member of Mullen’s renowned “Lakeland trio” of recruits, the four-star was ranked as the No. 2 tight end recruit in the country by 247sports this year.
Zipperer (6-foot-2, 232 pounds) is not as big as Pitts or Krull, but he was highly regarded for a reason: his athleticism. Zipperer is a powerful player, and he can make plays as a pass catcher and can be an effective blocker. Though it’s unlikely because of his age, he has the potential to make an impact this year because of UF’s inexperience at the tight end position.
Kemore Gamble and Dante Lang – both returning players – are the two other tight ends Florida fans should expect to see on Saturdays. Gamble (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) and Lang (6-foot-5, 252 pounds) are both more traditional tight ends. Don’t expect them to catch a lot of passes, but look for them to be important pieces on Florida’s line.
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected].