Florida Gators spring preview: wide receivers/tight ends

Last Friday, we broke down the Gators’ QB position to kick off our spring practice preview. But what about the guys who will be catching their passes?

Our position by position spring practice preview continues with the wide receivers and tight ends:

Synopsis: Florida has struggled to get production out of its passing game for the last six years, partly because of a lack of an effective quarterback, but also because of a lack of playmakers at the other end. And even though Antonio Callaway’s breakout 2015 season turned some heads, the Gators will need more than just one proven pass catcher to have a functioning aerial attack. The question is, who will it be?

What to watch for: Florida’s gotten some extremely underappreciated production out of tight ends in recent years, between Trey Burton, Jordan Reed and Jake McGee. Tight ends have actually been this offense’s one saving grace since 2010, and now the Gators are blessed to have two really good ones in C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby. I loved how Jim McElwain used multiple tight end sets last year with McGee, Lewis and Goolsby, and I’m excited to see how he utilizes Lewis and Goolsby this year. Both have the skill sets of wide receivers with the added ability to block. That could potentially be a dangerous mismatch. The Gators are going to need help to take the pressure off of Callaway, and this could be the best way to do it.

Dark horse: Take your pick of the two early enrollees, Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain. Tyrie Cleveland may have been the headline grabber at the wide receiver position, but one or both of those EE’s could see immediate playing time. Both have natural ball skills and speed to burn, and sometimes it’s easier to get production out of young, hungry guys rather than older, “experienced” guys who’ve shown promise but never really taken off as planned.

Projected starters: WR1: Antonio Callaway, WR2: Ahmad Fulwood, Slot WR: Brandon Powell, TE: DeAndre Goolsby, Flex WR: Tyrie Cleveland. Florida landed an absolute baller in Cleveland, and by baller, I mean a kid with tremendous ball skills to go along with quick feet and sure hands. I wouldn’t by any means be surprised if Hammond, Swain, or Dre Massey eventually overtook Fulwood, but I’m convinced McElwain is going to give him one more shot to shine. Also worth noting: C’yontai Lewis will almost certainly see playing time in dual tight end sets, and Powell proved against Mississippi that he can do damage in the short passing game.

Summary: There’s no doubt that Callaway gives Florida a true deep threat. But my fear is that Callaway is going to be so heavily keyed in this year that he won’t be able to do much unless other guys step up and demonstrate that they can beat defenses, too. The tight end tandem of Goolsby and Lewis will certainly help, but some of it’s got to come from the wide receivers- and probably the young ones. Because so much of the offense’s success will rely on guys who have played little or zero college football, pencil the wide receivers/tight ends position in as a question mark for the 2016 season.