- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tight end Jordan Reed's departure for the NFL means fixing Florida's passing offense -- which ranked 114th nationally this season -- in 2013 just got a lot tougher.
Not only do the Gators no longer have their top pass catcher (45 catches for 559 yards), they're scrounging for experienced options in the passing game. The Gators have only two receivers or tight ends on the roster who has caught more than eight passes in their career. WR Solomon Patton, who will be a senior next season, has eight career receptions in 31 games, and WR Andre Debose has 26 catches in 31 games. WR Quinton Dunbar, who will be a redshirt senior in 2013, has 50 catches for 599 yards and six touchdowns in 26 games. RB/FB Trey Burton has 69 career catches for 531 yards, but he's certainly not someone who can stretch the field. Most of his receptions have been short passes or passes out of the backfield. He's not fast or elusive enough to line up at receiver.
The tight end spot is now a huge question mark. The Gators have four tight ends on the roster: Kent Taylor (sophomore in 2013), Colin Thompson (redshirt freshman), Clay Burton (junior) and Tevin Westbrook (junior). They have a combined four catches for 17 yards and one touchdown. Taylor has shown some promise as a pass catcher, but Clay Burton and Westbrook are mainly blockers. Clay Burton dropped an easy touchdown pass and dropped another pass on a fake field goal. Thompson, who redshirted this season because of a foot injury, is more of a blocking tight end as well. Florida has no tight end commitments in its class of 2013 as of yet.
At receiver, the Gators' top option right now is Dunbar, who had a solid season but struggled with his consistency. He's going to have to improve significantly to be a No. 1 receiver in the SEC. Patton, who missed the last five games with a broken arm, was used sparingly in the passing game. His job was to run the jet sweep, and he did well in that role, gaining 140 yards on 14 carries. Debose has been in and out of the doghouse because of attitude, work ethic, and consistency issues, so to count on getting anything from him would be unwise.
If nobody in the group emerges, the Gators may have to rely on four freshmen commits: Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny), Marqui Hawkins (Columbus, Ga./Carver), Chris Thompson (Gainesville, Fla./Gainesville) and Alvin Bailey (Seffner, Fla./Armwood).
There is some optimism, though, because of the hire of receivers coach Joker Phillips, who went 13-24 as Kentucky's head coach from 2010 to '12. He has coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-09), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002). The former Kentucky receiver (1981-84) also served as the recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator for several seasons before replacing Rich Brooks as the Wildcats' head coach in 2010.
NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with during his tenure at Kentucky. He also coached Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derek Abney, all of whom rank in the top five in school history in career receptions or career receiving yardage.
There's a lot of work ahead for Phillips and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
3dSam Khan Jr.