Tight end a position of need

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The tight end was going to be a strength of Florida's offense in 2012.
Until A.C. Leonard met with coach Will Muschamp in late July and decided to transfer.

That leaves the Gators with exactly one tight end -- Jordan Reed -- who has caught a pass on the roster, and a lot of uncertainty after that.

Despite that, Muschamp is still confident the Gators won't have an issue at the position.

"We'll be fine," he said. "You always go into the season preparing yourself for what you have on campus. When you start relying on the unknown, that's not always a good thing."

The known is Reed, who caught 28 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns in his first season as a full-time tight end. He's got the size (6-foot-3, 239 pounds) and speed that makes him a matchup problem. The unknown are sophomores Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton and freshmen Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor, all of whom are getting significant practice reps, especially with Reed's recent minor knee injury that is supposed to keep him out of practice for three to four days.

Westbrook (6-5, 268), who played in three games as a defensive end and on special teams last season, was moved to tight end after spring practice. Burton (6-4, 242) enrolled in January 2011 as a defensive end and practiced there in the spring but moved to tight end in the fall because of injuries. He played in one game last season.

ESPN ranked Thompson and Taylor the No. 2 and 4 tight ends, respectively, in the nation last year. Thompson (6-4, 252) has been slowed by the broken foot he suffered last spring and is more of a blocking tight end.

"I'm not sure about Colin," Muschamp said. "We've been very careful with that. He's obviously dealing with the foot (injury), so he's still doing some walk-thru with us."

Taylor has a chance to make an impact at the position, although he could spend time at slot receiver this fall if that position continues to struggle. His biggest weakness is his frame (6-5, 225), and he's going to struggle a bit at the line of scrimmage until he gets stronger.

"Kent, athletically and in the throwing game, he's a really good athlete," Muschamp said. "He catches the ball well. We need to get better with some point-of-attack things, which we knew that coming in and he did, too. He's just got to get stronger and that takes some time to play on the line of scrimmage in this league. But he will play in the slot some and as we continue to move through camp he's a guy that needs to continue to progress and progress on special teams."

A wildcard at the position could be redshirt senior Omarius Hines, who has spent time at receiver and tight end in his career and was moved to running back in the spring. He has 41 career catches, but he's going to move between positions in the fall.

But the bottom line at the position is Reed must have a big season -- maybe something in the 40- to 50-catch range. He struggled a bit in the transition to being a full-time tight end -- he played a lot of wildcat quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2010 -- but should be more comfortable in 2012.