McElwain on freshman early enrollee Gamble: 'He’ll be a factor'

Landon Watnick, Beat Writer
Inside the Gators
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Alex Shepherd/Inside the Gators

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Of Florida’s five early enrollees who arrived on campus for the 2017 spring semester, one of the names who has generated some buzz during practices has been tight end Kemore Gamble.

A few weeks ago, Florida head coach Jim McElwain called Gamble “a guy that people are going to know who he is.” On Monday during his press conference, McElwain continued with praise for the 6-foot-3, 241-pound tight end out of Miami (Fla.) Southridge High School, saying that “he’ll be a factor.”

“As of right now, he’ll be playing,” McElwain said. “He’s just got to continue the communication piece, especially in the blocking stuff we need to do. But here’s the thing I like about him, is he’s willing. When the guy has got courage, he doesn’t back down. He’s got as good of hand-eye coordination, great ball skills as probably anybody on our team.”

Last season, Florida utilized primarily two tight ends, DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis. Moral Stephens appeared in 10 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2016 but mostly in a special teams role, while Camrin Knight, who made the move to linebacker this offseason, appeared in just four.

Goolsby impressed as a pass-catching tight end last season as a junior but memorably struggled in the blocking department at times, especially on passing downs. A finger injury played a part in Goolsby logging just 9 yards on four catches during a five-game stretch in the middle of the season, but a seven-catch, 91-yard outing against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game helped Goolsby to a 342-yard, three-touchdown season on 38 catches in 2016.

Meanwhile, Lewis has also shown flashes of his potential but has also been ultimately inconsistent through three seasons. He’s made strides as a run-blocker but struggled frequently with drops last season. Although Lewis opened some eyes with his performances against Georgia and South Carolina, he didn’t log more than 40 receiving yards in a single game as a redshirt sophomore, as he finished 2016 with 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 18 catches.

This offseason, Gamble entered the equation – and the addition of the 2017 four-star tight end has made for an interesting position battle that’ll be worth following throughout the remainder of the offseason.

Gamble’s ball skills and athleticism have been on full display during the spring, even for the media during the Gators’ open portions at the starts of practices. Working mainly with the 2’s so far this offseason, often times in two-tight end sets along with Stephens, Gamble has proven to be a playmaker logging a number of impressive catches.

“Excited and happy as heck to have him here with us,” tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Greg Nord said. “He’s come in as a guy that really should be in high school still. He’s starting to take grasp of the offense. He goes out and does something a little bit better each day to show that he certainly belongs here and I think he’s going to be a big part of the offense and will be a great player here at the University of Florida.”

Florida assistant coaches have also taken notice to Gamble’s toughness and physicality.

“Kemore is a very special pass-catcher,” wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon said. “He's tough. He gets in there and he puts his face on people. He's not afraid to block, but one of the things that's shown up early on is this guy has tremendous ball skills. He's unbelievable and I believe he was a wide receiver early on when he started off. You can see those things show up when you watch practice."

At this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gamble challenge Goolsby and/or Lewis for playing time this upcoming season, as he should currently or eventually be ahead of Stephens in the pecking order based on how things have been trending recently.

Regardless of how the battle pans out in fall camp, Florida is much deeper at tight end heading into the 2017 season now with Gamble in the fold.

“He has a lot of talent,” Nord said. “He has a good feel for how to handle his body in a tight situation and he knows how to get in and out of cuts. He knows how to read the defense and adjust to the different coverages. Then he’s a pretty good competitor. He doesn’t know everything yet, but he hasn’t let that stop him as far as getting on the field and competing.”

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