Photo: Keon Zipperer; Credit: Alex Shepherd
With spring football squarely in the rearview mirror, and not much going on in the realm of college sports, AllGators has decided to take a jab at going over various position groups for the Florida Gators and the three pressing questions for each room.
We've already covered the quarterback, running back and wide receiver rooms and will continue on the offensive side of the ball, posing three questions in need of answers by the time the season gets underway at tight end.
Yes, the position struggled immensely with injuries during spring camp, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the Gators tight ends moving forward.
How will an increase in 12-personnel change UF's offense?
As has been noted since new head coach Billy Napier arrived in Gainesville, the Gators are expected to transition from a near-exclusive 11-personnel offense to a balanced scheme between 11 and 12-personnel, meaning the Gators will often have two tight ends on the field at the same time.
This should be obvious, but the addition of a second tight end to the offense will force the subtraction of a wide receiver in these sets, something Florida fans haven't been used to recently as former head coach Dan Mullen almost exclusively ran his offense with three receivers on the field at a time.
In theory, 12-personnel schemes give offenses flexibility in the run and pass game. Tight ends are required to be solid blockers when playing in-line, and given the evolution of the position, they can also present mismatches as pass-catchers due to their size and athleticism.
The tight ends will line up in several different spots and each contributor's physical skill-set will give the Gators some flexibility in determining roles.
Who will be Florida's top two tight ends?
In terms of pure experience, senior Keon Zipperer and redshirt senior Dante Zanders are the leading candidates to start at the tight end positions for Florida in 2021. Zipperer, although he has yet to start a game for UF, returns as the most productive of any player at his position on the team in 2022.
Zanders, who transitioned from defensive end to tight end during the spring due to injuries at the latter position, originally enrolled at Florida to play tight end and spent two years at the position. He may have some rust to continue shaking off but appeared comfortable at the spot in the spring game, leading the Gators in receiving yards with 56.
That being said, we could see Nick Elksnis pushing for a starting role or at least a drastic increase in usage once fall camp and the season roll around. He's Florida's biggest and longest tight end with impressive athleticism to pair, suggesting he can make an impact in both the run and pass game. Elksnis was a standout as a true freshman in spring and fall practices last season but ultimately earned a redshirt year.
Is the tight end room too crowded?
This might sound like a weird question given UF's significant depth issues at the position throughout the spring. But, if the room is at full health come fall camp and both Zanders and converted walk-on linebacker Noah Keeter stick at tight end as expected — perhaps Griffin McDowell, as well — the Gators could have as many as nine players at the spot entering the 2022 season.
Count 'em up: Zipperer, Zanders, Keeter, McDowell, Elksnis, Jonathan Odom, and incoming freshmen Tony Livingston, Hayden Hansen and Arlis Boardingham.
Is that too many? Probably, which could at least lead to McDowell sticking at defensive tackle and narrowing the room down to eight contributors.
And even then, eight players at one position — seven of which being on scholarship with Keeter being a candidate to earn one of his own — makes the room quite dense.
However, it is worth noting that Zipperer (a rising senior) and Zanders (a rising redshirt senior) are nearing the end of their college eligibility, meaning the room could be down to six members come the 2023 season when Napier and Co. should have roster numbers by position firmly established.
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