Written by Kevin Camps:
In two recruiting seasons Florida has seemingly turned over the receiver position. Prior to McElwain arriving, the Gators brought in a limited number of promising talented receivers and they have yet to manifest that potential on the field. There have been multiple All-Americans at receiver as well as tight end that have not panned out. There is always a plethora of reasons why certain players do not meet the potential and expectations coming out of high school. One could argue that for some of the recruits recently there wasn’t much expectation at all.
Coach McElwain noted during his post signing day press conference that the offensive side of the ball needed some ‘restructuring’. Outside of the quarterback makeover needed, the receiver position was next in line.
Florida has attempted about everything to get production at the WR position. Scheme changes, quarterback changes, position changes and all have failed for the most part. The best way to get production is to recruit better and coach them up.
The receiver position has an uncanny ability to fool us on the high school level as well as the college level. With offensive schemes and concepts becoming so ‘user friendly’ on every level, the evaluation of the position has become more difficult. Finding a player that can translate to a particular scheme may mean the staff passing a player, but there are guys that a good enough that will work in any style. At the end of the day, there is no excuse for the lack of production at the position that has a lot of talent available to a school with rich tradition.
In a year that saw quite a few top notch receivers come from within the state, the Gators landed two of the better ones in early enrollees Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain. Florida also took to out of state to get some help with elite receiver Tyrie Cleveland from Houston, Texas and explosive JUCO transfer Dre Massey. Also in this class is Jacksonville Raines product Rick Wells, who will also have an opportunity to contribute in the fall. Florida may have missed on some guys in state, which is disappointing but overall the wide receiver class turned out to be one of the best across the nation.
It may be asking too much for this group to match the production of last year’s freshman playmaker Antonio Callaway, but they will be expected to contribute in some form or fashion.
It is no secret the Gators needed help on the outside. Playing time will be available for the taking due to the lack of production of those on campus as well as the loss of Demarcus Robinson, whose career fizzled out after a promising sophomore season. Going into spring practice we know Callaway will be the number one target followed up by Brandon Powell. After that, Florida returns receivers Ahmad Fulwood, Alvin Bailey, Chris Thompson, C.J. Worton and others that have not played much. Between Fulwood, Bailey, Thompson and Worton they have combined for 53 receptions, 595 yards and 4 touchdowns in their career. Needless to say, opportunity is there.
The biggest celebration from the coaching staff on signing day came from the commitment of Tyrie Cleveland (6’3” 190 lbs.). Cleveland is expected to be the one to come in and play early. From Westfield High School the big play receiver has big time speed being clocked in the 40 at 4.38. The recruiting process was quite a ride for Cleveland having committed to Texas A&M in 2014 then flipping to the hometown Houston Cougars before finally choosing to don the orange and blue. Like most receivers coming out of high school there is still some polishing needed for them to become effective in the SEC.
“He was a guy that always had interest in the Gators” McElwain said.
That interest coupled with his familiarity with Florida having spent time in Jacksonville before moving to Texas as well as his relationship with fellow commit Rick Wells provided the Gators with an in road to landing his pledge.
Three of the group of five receivers signing with the Gators are already on campus, which is a big deal. It is time for them to get acclimated not only in school but to start learning the program and the offense as well as developing a relationship with the current quarterback group. Joshua Hammond (6’1” 179 lbs.), the younger brother of former Gator and current Kansas City Chief Frank Hammond. Freddie Swain (6’0” 177 lbs.) from Ocala, Florida North Marion High School and Dre Massey (5’9” 187 lbs.) of Greenville, S.C. all will get a jump start to becoming a part of the 2016 offensive group.
Among this group, there is a lot of versatility. Massey brings big play ability that can be used in multiple positions. He has a knack for the end zone considering his 11 touchdown performance in a 2013 game (http://usatodayhss.com/2013/massey-stars-as-mavs-outscore-bulldogs). Hammond and Swain bring solid fundamentals and good hands with the ability to play inside and out. Both will need to hit the weight room hard to become more effective receivers at this level of competition. The Gators will get their first look during spring practice and from there we can better gauge their contribution moving into the fall.
Florida had a successful haul at the receiver position that added production, competition and depth. There is still work to be done here at the position, because injuries, transfers and bust happen, but this is a positive step in the right direction.