The Florida Gators are just over two weeks before the Jim McElwain era will begin as Florida hosts New Mexico State on September 5. We’ve discussed at length the quarterback battle, running backs and the work McElwain has done on the offensive line, but what about receivers?
“I don’t know if sometimes the receivers so shocked the ball’s gotten to him or something, I don’t know, but then they react like they’ve never done it before,” McElwain said when asked how the receivers have progressed this fall camp.
That’s hardly the glowing report fans want to hear about a position that has only had one season where a player had more than 600 receiving yards in the last five years. In fact, other than Demarcus Robinson, the Gators didn’t have a receiver with more than 22 catches or 354 yards receiving in 2014.
The quick fix was to recruit talented freshman Antonio Callaway and to move speedster Brandon Powell over to the position full time, but the group as a whole is still lagging behind the rest of the offense. The routes and timing are getting better but the whole “catching the ball” thing that is all so important for the position seems to be a puzzle the players just can’t crack.
How is McElwain supposed to resurrect an offense that has been offensive to watch at worst and sleep inducing at best if he doesn’t have receivers who can catch the ball?
It’s simple; really, throw the ball to the other players.
If the receivers can’t get their act together McElwain has shown that he can affectively use the other skill position players on the roster to aid the passing game. In 2013 at Colorado State, McElwain’s offense completed 298 passes. 74 of those went to tight ends. To put that into perspective, the Gators had 199 total receptions from the entire team in the same year. The 1,039 yards that those receptions by tight ends covered were more than half of the yards that Florida’s offense threw for in that season as well.
Then you can add 35 receptions from McElwain’s running backs in 2013 and 310 more yards and you almost have Florida’s entire 2013 passing offense covered by Colorado State’s running backs and tight ends.
2013 is not just an outlier either. Starting with McElwain’s stop with the Alabama Crimson Tide as offensive coordinator, the coach has shown that he can and will get other players involved in the passing game. Only once in the past seven years have McElwain’s tight ends and running backs combined for less than 80 receptions (2014) and, on average, the two position groups haul in more than 88 passes a year.
This bodes well for Jake McGee and the tight ends, who much unlike the underwhelming receiver group, have actually been turning heads and impressing the coaching staff this camp.
“There’s some guys at that position and what that does is allows us some flexibility in some personnel groups,” McElwain said of the tight ends. “Maybe be able to get in some green and green X and explode to empty and now you got guys out there on people … that’s where we try to create some match-ups, so kind of putting in, we’re putting in a lot of formational things right now that maybe don’t look conventional and doing it because of the depth of that position.”
McGee is clearly the leader of the group. The oldest, most experienced player is also the most well rounded of the bunch but Florida has some playmakers at tight end behind McGee.
“I think they’re coming along great and I’m excited what they’re going to bring to the field in the fall,” McGee said of C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby. “They’re talented players and they’re two guys I’ve tried to help as much as I can to get them as good as they can be with whatever impact I can have with them.”
We can’t forget the running backs either. Junior Kelvin Taylor has had just seven receptions in his two years at Florida. McElwain had two running backs with more than 10 receptions last season alone. If you go back to 2009 at Alabama, McElwain’s running backs caught 63 passes. Taylor was a quick study, saw how much McElwain used the running backs in the passing game and he went to work. Taylor caught balls from both Will Grier and Treon Harris in the offseason and when a quarterback wasn’t available to throw to him he found a JUGS machine.
“This whole camp I would say I maybe dropped two balls the whole camp and I caught a whole lot of check downs this camp,” Taylor said. “So I feel it paid off a whole lot, and just me with the blocking scheme, that’s like night and day I know that very well, I know that great. But yeah I feel like it paid off a whole lot so I’m excited.”
McElwain is determined to turn the Florida Gators passing offense around, with or without the receivers.