Losing Cornelius Ingram was a big blow to the Gators not just because of his on-field play, but also his leadership as a fifth-year senior. His tale of setbacks, triumph, and now disappointment in injury will be a story told by Gators for many years. Unfortunately the theme will be “what might have been.”
Ingram will still be a captain this year, and Meyer plans on having him be a leader in the locker room. The sad truth is that he won’t be a leader on the field, so I think it’s worth taking a look at the guy who will be taking up his mantle as starting tight end, Aaron Hernandez.
According to those who think they know, Hernandez was either the No. 1 (Scout) or No. 2 (Rivals) tight end in the 2007 prospect pool. Florida lists him at 6-3, 255 which puts him on the short side for NFL tight ends. However, he’s still at Florida for another two to three years, so that’s hardly a concern now.
He came to Florida from a long way away–Bristol, Connecticut. Predictably, UF’s biggest rival in gaining his services was UConn (the school he initially committed to), but Hernandez fell in love with the Florida program. He used his official visit in the fall of 2006 to get his family to warm up to the idea as much as anything, and the overwhelming experience of game day in the Swamp swung his mother’s vote to “yes” for him going to Gainesville.
He played wide receiver and apparently some defense too in high school, but his build had everyone projecting him to be a tight end in college. They called him a physical “freak” with great hands and impressive quickness for his size.
The most amazing thing in his UF profile about his high school career is that he once caught nine passes for 376 yards in one game, the seventh highest receiving total in high school history. That is an average of 41.78 yards per catch, if you’re counting along at home.
Last season, he saw a lot of work blocking on special teams and some spot duty on offense as he proved himself to the coaches. He caught Tim Tebow’s annual jump pass in the Kentucky game and saw an increased role in the games against FAU and Michigan.
I have put together a brief highlight video showing what he can do:
As you can see on the shovel pass play, Hernandez will be used as an H-back as well as a tight end. I would also expect to see him line up in the slot as Ingram used to, because like his injured elder he is too fast for linebackers to cover but too big for cornerbacks to tackle alone.
The promise he showed last season was great enough that Urban Meyer started drawing up offensive sets with two tight ends for the first time in his career. The coaches have said they’ll still use those sets with Hernandez and fifth-year senior Tate Casey, since Casey, though not as fast, is just as sure-handed of a receiver. Casey is also the best blocker of the three tight ends.
In all of the discussion of Tebow’s chances to repeat as Heisman winner to the upgraded running back unit to the needed improvement on defense, Hernandez has often been overlooked this offseason. However, I expect him to be a key part of the offense and a constant threat for being the receiver of fake punts.
His turn to be the man has come earlier than anyone expected, but I see no reason to think he won’t step up and be one of the Gators’ best and most reliable offensive cogs in 2008.