FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- We Chomp Chat Insider: Scrimmage Tidbits and injury news
- Parental Perspective: A Reese family reunion years in the making
Perhaps the Gators’ biggest victory this offseason was hiring Tim Brewster as the new tight ends coach.
Brewster brings more than 30 years of experience at the college and NFL levels to UF. He was the head coach at Minnesota from 2007-10. He’s regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country, and he coached Nick O’Leary to the John Mackey Award at Florida State in 2014. While with the San Diego Chargers, he developed Antonio Gates from an undrafted free agent in 2003 to a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2004.
Most recently, Brewster was in his second stint working for Mack Brown at North Carolina. The Tar Heels won the ACC Coastal last season and are enjoying one of the greatest recruiting stretches in school history. Still, the lure of Florida was too strong for him to resist.
For starters, Florida is the only program that finished in the top-10 in football last year that is also ranked as a top-10 public university by U.S. News & World Report. This makes recruiting players from one of the most talent-rich states as easy of a sell as possible.
More than anything, though, Brewster’s affinity for Dan Mullen made his decision to relocate an easy one.
“I’m thrilled to death to be here,” he said. “I think it all starts with my admiration for Dan Mullen. I was with him in 2012 at Mississippi State, and I just admire the guy. I admire how he coaches. I admire his work ethic. I admire his aptitude for the game of football. I haven’t been around a guy that truly, absolutely loves the game like Dan does. That’s what I’m about.
“I think he’s a special guy in our profession. I really do. He’s one of the few guys I think could call every offensive play, I think he could call every defensive play and certainly run the kicking game as well.”
Of course, this wasn’t the best offseason for a coaching transition thanks to the pandemic. All around the country, coaches are scrambling to get players that they barely know ready to play games in offensive and defensive systems that they’re still learning themselves.
Brewster has a jump start in that regard. He worked with Mullen, running backs coach Greg Knox, and co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy for a year at Mississippi State. His experience has allowed him to become accustomed to just about every offensive scheme, including Mullen’s.
Brewster has jumped around quite a bit over the last decade. He spent single seasons at Mississippi State, Texas A&M and North Carolina, with a five-year stint at Florida State in between. He plans to make Gainesville his home for the foreseeable future.
“I told [athletic director] Scott Stricklin that I’m going to stay as long as Dan will have me,” he said. “I’d like to stay at the University of Florida for a good stretch and win some national championships and truly be part of something special here.
“One thing you’re going to get with me is you’re going to get a hard day’s work. I’m going to give you every ounce of what I got every day, all day.”
Pitts primed for another big year
If Mullen is the trophy that Brewster came to Florida for, then Kyle Pitts is one heck of a consolation prize.
The junior emerged as one of the top tight ends in the country in 2019, hauling in a team-high 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns en route to being named First Team All-SEC. He combines a 6-foot-6, 239-pound frame with wide receiver-like speed to become an almost unstoppable force.
“He’s as good a route-runner, I mean, I’m talking about the ability to stick his foot in the ground and create immediate separation, his ability to take the top off of defenses, run option routes,” Brewster said. “He has a great feel for the game.”
Brewster is a demanding, detail-oriented coach who focuses heavily on blocking techniques with his players. While Pitts’ receiving skills get the most attention, Brewster said it’s Pitts’ toughness and dedication to improving that has him fired up to work with him.
“The thing about Kyle Pitts that I absolutely love is this guy’s a tough guy,” he said. “This guy is a hard-nosed, physical tough guy. He has embraced the mentality that I’m bringing to the room, truly trying to be a true three-down tight end, a guy that can block people on first and second down, a guy that can go make big third-down catches. There’s nothing this guy can’t do.”
Pitts has had a great fall so far, Brewster said. So good, in fact, that the coaches decided to hold him out of the team’s two scrimmages. He has little to prove, and there’s no need to risk injury.
Pitts, who is reserved and soft-spoken with the media, has emerged as a team leader this fall, Brewster said. He’s mentoring the other tight ends and meeting with them away from practice.
Put it all together – the receiving skills, the size, the toughness, the work ethic, the leadership – and Brewster expects big things out of him this year.
“Kyle’s got a goal of being the best tight end in the country this season, and, with his work ethic and the blessing that he has as an athlete and a player, he’s got a great opportunity to achieve that,” he said.
Depth emerging at tight end
While Pitts was one of the nation’s premier tight ends a season ago, the Gators got virtually zero production from their other tight ends. Lucas Krull was the top reserve, and he caught just three passes and struggled a bit as a run-blocker before transferring to Pittsburgh.
Mullen likes to utilize multiple tight end sets to stretch the field and create mismatches. Some of the better defenses on UF’s schedule might have a guy that can contain Pitts, but it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll be able to cover Pitts, another skilled tight end and two fast wide receivers at the same time.
“This offense is a dream come true for tight ends,” Brewster said.
The leading contender to be Pitts’ sidekick this season seems to be redshirt junior Kemore Gamble. He’s a bit on the shorter end at 6-foot-3, was buried on the depth chart last season and failed to catch a pass but apparently has taken advantage of his fresh start with a new position coach.
“I’ve been thrilled to death with Kemore Gamble,” Brewster said. “Kemore Gamble has come leaps and bounds.”
Gamble could be pushed by sophomore Keon Zipperer. The No. 2 tight end in the 2019 class, Zipperer is also a bit undersized at 6-foot-2 but has dynamic receiving skills.
“Zip is a hard-nosed, physical guy,” Brewster said. “He can line up in the backfield and go punch you in the mouth. He’s got good hands. I’m really pleased, and there will definitely be a role for a young guy like him.”
While he doesn’t figure to see significant action this season, freshman Jonathan Odom is a player to watch for the future. He was an unheralded three-star prospect but has good size at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and is the son of former NFL offensive lineman Jason Odom, so he figures to have an advanced feel for the game.
“He’s coming off of a surgery, but I’m going to tell you what, this young guy is going to be a heck of a player,” Brewster said.
Brewster has instructed Odom to take notice of every small thing that Pitts does and try to emulate him, as he believes that players often are better teachers than coaches.
All things considered, Brewster loves the group of tight ends that he gets to coach this year.
“I’m excited every day when I wake up, I go to the tight end room, I’m around great kids and really talented football players,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, I’m extremely demanding on these guys. I coach them extremely hard on the field. It’s all about the details in everything that we do, and these guys have all embraced that mentality, and it makes my job easy. I’d be hard-pressed to think that there’s a much better tight end room somewhere in the country than what I’ve got here at the University of Florida.”
Forgotten Davis looks to bounce back
As the Gators look to replace Lamical Perine in the backfield, Dameon Pierce and former five-star recruit Lorenzo Lingard have received the bulk of the attention from fans and media.
Despite being on pace to approach 1,000 rushing yards as a true freshman in an anemic offense in 2017, redshirt junior Malik Davis has become something of a forgotten man.
“Thinking about people forgetting me, it gives me chills,” Davis said. “It pumps me up.
“When people go down with injuries, people tend to forget that’s just sports; that’s how things go. So, I’m ready to refresh their memory.”
He missed the final four games of 2017 with a knee injury. He broke his foot in the third game of the 2018 season and missed the remainder of that season. He played in 12 games last year but looked like a shell of his former self, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry and struggling with ball security.
Davis is a smaller back who relies on his elite speed and elusiveness to break off big plays, so those two lower-body injuries took away some of his effectiveness.
“With my injuries and just the way I play and the type of moves I make, it was kind of hard for me to go out there and make those moves and make those plays,” he said. “Now that I’m 100 percent and comfortable and healthy, it’s easy for me to go out there and make those plays like I know I can.
“I think the main thing coming back from the injuries that I had is just being able to come back and being comfortable and trusting that you’re OK. Now that I got that a whole offseason with Coach [Nick] Savage – this is my first real offseason with Coach Savage being not injured – I definitely feel more comfortable and stronger.”
He’s splitting reps with Pierce and Lingard in practice in what figures to be a tight competition that may spill over into the season. The Gators like to play multiple running backs, so there should be a role for Davis if he continues to progress at a high rate.
Earlier this fall, Mullen said Davis’ route-running and receiving skills stood out to him, and Davis said that’s something he takes a lot of pride in.
“This offseason and even with last season, I always made sure I got extra work in, just working on your hands, just because the game is evolving,” Davis said. “You want to be a player that’s on the field a lot, you need to know how to catch, pass-pro and they know I can run the ball. So, you’ve got to be able to separate yourself.”
He may not have separated himself from Pierce or Lingard just yet, but, more importantly, he’s separated himself from whoever that guy was that wore No. 20 and played running back last season.
“Malik Davis to me looked like the Malik Davis that I saw when I got here before I became the head coach,” Mullen said after the team’s first scrimmage a little more than a week ago. “I haven’t seen that in a couple years, and I think, boy, he’s really back to where he wants to be.”