FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
As the Florida Gators players prepare for the fall, we look back over the spring practices and Orange and Blue Game with former players as each recaps what he saw from his respective positional unit and what he expects from them this fall in our annual F-Club series.
It’s no secret that Dan Mullen likes to heavily involve his tight ends in the passing game. Thanks in part to Mullen’s play-calling in 2007, Cornelius Ingram was named Second Team All-SEC and was a candidate for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. He also called plays for Aaron Hernandez for two seasons and helped recruit quarterback turned tight end Jordan Reed.
In 2018, Mullen didn’t have the personnel at the position to involve them in the passing game as much as he likes. The starter, C’yontai Lewis, was a better blocker than receiver, and the backups were limited as well.
That could change this year. Kemore Gamble and Lucas Krull are more experienced and are more familiar with Mullen’s system. Freshman Keon Zipperer was the No. 2-ranked tight end in the country according to the 247Sports Composite.
While he didn’t play for Mullen, Ben Troupe was arguably one of the most complete tight ends in program history. He made 20 starts and hauled in 64 catches for 958 yards and seven scores. He was a finalist for the Mackey Award in 2004, and he was also named a First Team All-American by The Sporting News that season. He was supremely athletic and known for making tough catches in traffic.
Troupe was drafted in the second round by the Tennessee Titans and played five seasons in the NFL. He currently co-hosts a sports-talk radio show in Georgia.
Troupe now contributes to Southern Pigskin and Pigskin Radio took some time to chat with Inside the Gators about UF’s crop of tight ends, how important the tight ends will be as run-blockers this season, what he thinks the ceiling is for the offense and more.
What is your overall assessment of the Gators’ tight ends heading into the season?
“I’m excited, man. I’ve been excited in the past, but I think now with [Lucas] Krull and having a guy like Kyle Pitts, in which I was able to see the spring game and see how they was using him. I think it’s only going to make the passing game more dynamic, and they’re going to be more than just blocking and being an extension of the run game.”
Do you think Mullen has the personnel in place at the position this year to open up a little more of his playbook?
“Absolutely. I think what’s been lacking in our offense is the fact that you have tight ends that can create mismatches and go out there and kind of put pressure on the defense. Even though Feleipe Franks had a good last month of the season, I think it adds another dynamic to his game because he could go out there and have like a safety-valve who not just can run those intermediate routes but still catch passes between the numbers and down the seams.”
What kind of pass-catching production are you expecting from the group? What do you think that’s going to look like on the stat sheet?
“I think it’s going to be by committee. I know Kyle Pitts is probably going to get the lion’s share of the touches out there, but I think you’ve got two different kinds of tight ends. I don’t think one of them does one thing that much better than the next, but I think, at the end of the year, you’re talking about 40-60 catches as a group and hopefully like double-digit touchdowns. I think that’s kind of what I see at the end of the year.”
How do you think they’ll hold up as blockers, and how important is that going to be given the uncertain status of the offensive line?
“I think that’s going to be crucial. I mean, C’yontai Lewis wasn’t the biggest tight end you ever seen, but he held his own out there every Saturday throughout his tenure at Florida. I think Kyle Pitts obviously has a pass-catching skillset, but he’s going to have to do the dirty work as well. You can’t be a one-trick pony because that makes you very, very predictable when he comes on the field. He’s got to be a guy that’s not just be a backside blocker; he’s got to be a frontline blocker, too. That’s only going to make his game come together all the way.”
What have you seen from Kemore Gamble?
“I see a guy that can do both. I see a guy that can definitely run routes but a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier that can definitely be an extension of the run game. I think he’s kind of like what Kyle Pitts hopes to become. He’s already a two-way tight end, a guy that can run-block as well as pass-catch as well as hopefully pick up the blitz. So, I think that Gamble is definitely going to be a guy that’s going to help Kyle Pitts and Krull come to the forefront.”
Krull is a guy that looks the part, but he hadn’t played football in a couple of years before last season. Do you think he’s ready to be featured more this season?
“I think he’s ready to be featured more. I think he’s going to have to prove it though. It’s one of those things where I’ve seen him on special teams a lot. I’ve seen him being a guy that’s looking to get some snaps on Saturday, but he’s going to have to fight for those snaps. He’s going to have to make sure Coach Dan Mullen knows that he can be that wide tight end in a two tight-end set. He’s not going to be the move tight end. He’s not going to be the guy going in motion or anything like that, but we’re talking about a guy that can play every down if needed and go out there and be focal enough in the passing game that he can warrant some type of attention from the defense. I think he’s going to have to earn it, but I definitely think he has the talent to do it.”
I know he hasn’t played yet, but how do you see Keon Zipperer fitting in?
“I think he’s a guy that definitely has talent. I think he’s a guy that’s going to have to be coached hard. A lot of times, when you haven’t worked yourself in the offense, if you’re coming in with a lot of fanfare, he’s going to have to be coached and trained hard that way you can work out a lot of kinks with him. If he can take coaching and if he understands that they are only there to make sure he’s better, I think he could definitely be another guy at the tight end position that’s very, very deep right now.”
I know he’s primarily playing wide receiver now, but how big of a mismatch could a guy like Kyle Pitts be? He’s the size of a tight end but runs like a receiver.
“He’s going to be ridiculous. I think Kyle Pitts, I don’t think he knows how good he can be. I think he’s the type of guy where he’s a coach’s dream because he can do it all. I do like the fact that they’re going to put him on the single-receiver side when they trying to get mismatch problems. Create mismatches with him, maybe with a cornerback if he’s going to be smaller, a safety that’s not going to be as fast or a linebacker that can’t run with him. I think he’s going to be an added piece. You’ve got so many guys at that receiver position. Kyle is like another freshman. He’s a big-time weapon. I like the fact that they always use him in the screen game and things of that nature. So, he’s going to be a guy they can come up with a lot of different plays for and a lot of different packages for him. Kyle should be a big-time player.”
With all of the good wide receivers they have, how much is that going to open up the middle of the field for the tight ends?
“It’s going to be huge. It’s been a long time since Florida’s had this many receivers. Tre’ Grimes, Grimes might be as big a freak, at least by his [height], as Kyle Pitts. You’ve got [Josh] Hammond, you’ve got [Kadarius] Toney, you’ve got [Tyrie] Cleveland, you’ve got [Freddie] Swain. You’ve got so many guys that’s going to create so much attention from each secondary that Kyle Pitts and Krull and all those guys should be able to benefit from not just, like I said, running those intermediate routes, but they should be able to go out there and have a lot of one-on-ones. I got a chance to talk with C’yontai Lewis and those group of guys when he was there. Because the passing game wasn’t what it is now, I don’t think they really got a chance to utilize their talent. I don’t think Kyle Pitts and those guys are going to be able to say that because they going to have a lot of opportunities to go out there and create a lot of plays.”
What about Dan Mullen’s offense makes things easier for the tight ends to produce?
“The position that he puts you in. The one thing Dan Mullen does well, he’s not one of those guys that tries to focus on making your weaknesses strengths. He makes your strengths even better. Take what you do well and just use that. ‘I’m not here to try to develop what you don’t do well and try to make that an asset. I’m going to take what you already do well to make it a greater asset.’ Look at Feleipe, it’s not that Feleipe Franks has turned into this different player when Dan Mullen got there. Dan Mullen said, ‘Look, be a willing runner, take what the defense gives you. If you’ve got the big play, go with the big play. If you’ve got one-on-ones, take the one-on-ones, but, listen, make the easy play, let your playmakers go out there and make plays after the catch, after the run.’ And, I think the same thing with the tight ends. Go out there, make the easy catch, show that you can be a proven commodity on an offense that hasn’t had those type of tight ends in years, and see what happens.”
What do you think the offense’s ceiling is this season?
“Year two, Dan Mullen, so much confidence. I just came from SEC Media Days, got a chance to talk to Feleipe, got a chance to talk to [Lamical] Perine. I think they could be as good as they want to be. I think their offensive line going to have to come together sooner rather than later. That’s going to be the only part that’s going to decide how good they can be, but, if that offensive line can gel, find a way to keep Feleipe Franks upright, he’s already created a nice rapport with that offense. You saw what Perine did last year. You have Malik Davis, you have Dameon Pierce. Them guys can be as good as they want to be.”
What do you think of Mullen as a head coach after one season?
“Oh man, 10-3. I think he’s the guy. I think he’s the guy that understands he ain’t going to make no excuses. He going to go out there and expect to win every game he was in. Some of the games he won last year probably wouldn’t have been won in previous years. I mean, you had to come back at home to beat South Carolina, you had to come back at home against LSU, you had to come back on the road against Vanderbilt. And, to have the big game they had at Mississippi State last year, it’s huge. Obviously, you don’t want to lose the way they lost to Mizzou, you don’t want to lose to Kentucky and, obviously, Georgia is the beast of the East right now. You going to have to find a way to be a lot more competitive in Jacksonville. But, 10-3, I think you’ll take it with a Peach Bowl appearance and a win. You’ll take it in year one.”
What do you think of Larry Scott as the tight ends coach?
“I think he’s good. I think he’s going to have to – you know, he’s a players’ coach – but I think he’s going to have to pull it out of those guys. It’s been a long time since the tight end position has been a focal point at Florida. It’s been a long time since Florida’s had playmakers at the tight end position. While he has a plethora of talent, he’s going to have to make sure that he’s very, very demanding on those guys. Kind of put in their head that, look, while we got great receivers, we’ve got to make sure that we go out there and be a focal point, not just in the passing game but the running game to the point where defenses going to take them serious. ‘Cause at this point, if you’re playing against Florida right now, you don’t take the tight end position seriously.”
Looking at the whole team, what do you think are some of the biggest keys to the season?
“Got to be able to continue to generate our pass-rush on defense, got to be able to keep Feleipe upright. And, at the end of the day, man, you’ve got to play with confidence. The SEC East is very, very competitive. I think they had a winning record last year against the SEC West. You’ve got to find a way to put pressure on those guys from Athens because they stockpiling five-star recruits, and Kirby Smart ain’t going nowhere. And, you’ve got to be able to play teams like Missouri better. You can’t go 10-3 and say, ‘OK, we lost to Kentucky the first time in 40 years.’ But, we got embarrassed by Mizzou, not just this year but last year. Got to find a way, if you’re trying to do what you’re trying to do in the SEC East and the SEC as a whole, you’ve got to win games you’re supposed to win and not get embarrassed by teams who are probably going to be scrapping and fighting just to make a bowl game.”
What are your expectations for the season? Can they challenge Georgia?
“I think they can challenge Georgia, but challenging them’s one thing, beating them is another thing. No one’s going to remember the one-score, you know, going into the third quarter being down by a score. They going to see the end result. The thing about Jake Fromm with that offense and Andrew Thomas with that offensive line which might be the best offensive line in the country, you going to have to be able to go out there and generate points. The thing about Georgia, they’re going to have an incredible secondary, but they’re going to have a defensive line that’s going to be young and inexperienced. You going to have to find a way to exploit that. On defense, with Todd Grantham, don’t take a step back. I think he’s going to have the best secondary in the country as a whole, two [lockdown] cornerbacks, two rock-solid safeties with Trey Dean going to the slot. Find a way to put pressure on them. Make it a four-quarter game, and who knows what happens?”
Stay tuned to Inside the Gators for the remaining F-Club series as we talk to more former players about their respective units heading into fall camp.
Inside the Gators F-Club Positional Breakdown series isn't associated with the official University of Florida F-Club