The Florida Gators offense and special team units were dealt a knockdown punch early Wednesday afternoon, when GatorCountry broke news that redshirt senior Andre Debose had suffered a torn ACL during practice tuesday evening.
The former five-star wide receiver and kick returner, had struggled over the past five years with consistency and injuries, but this year was shaping-up a bit differently for the former Seminole High School product. This offseason, Debose was receiving praise from head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease. Further, quarterback Jeff Driskel noted, “I think his attitude’s really changed. He’s having a better outlook on everything.” Even his fellow wide receiver Quinton Dunbar saw a change, “Andre Debose is having an outstanding camp. He’s playing really well. He’s stepping up to the challenge that the coaches gave him. He’s blocking. He’s catching. He’s showing that playmaking ability and he’s doing it on a consistent basis.”
Debose, who has amassed 29 career catches for 543 yards and four touchdowns, was listed as the second string “Z” receiver heading into fall camp. Debose would have seen the field often and could have even earned a starting position if he continued to make plays. Debose was also listed as the starting kick returner and earned a third team selection on the Preseason All-SEC team as a return man. Debose has the school record for yards per return (27.4) and touchdowns (4) and is one of the most prolific returnmen in college football.
Over the next few weeks, the Gators will hope to find replacements for Andre Debose. I will do my best to analyze who those players might be.
Entering fall camp, Debose was listed second on the depth chart for the “Z” receiver role behind sophomore Latroy Pittman. Last season, Pittman only had two total receptions for six yards – hardly record breaking. Pittman is known as a more physical wide receiver that can block much better than Debose could, which is a necessary staple in the Brent Pease offense and a good explanation of why Pittman was ranked higher on the depth chart.
However, assume that Debose would have been used in go-routes and long passing patterns like he has been used throughout his career, who could replace him?
Robinson, a freshman, has been hyped up as one of the best freshman wide receivers the Gators have had in years. He is tall, speedy, and has great hands. Robinson shined in spring, battling through a high ankle sprain, and has shined in the summer and fall, respectively. Robinson will see the field as the back-up to “X” wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, but could see the field quicker with the loss of Debose.
Patton is an interesting selection and would likely only be used to replace Debose in end-arounds and go-routes. Last season, Patton had one reception for 17 yards and 14 rushes for 140 yards, before being injured against Georgia. Patton brings more speed and agility than Robinson, although he is less physical. Patton looks to have a big return season, and the loss of Debose could allow him to step up immediately.
Hawkins, also a freshman, has done well acclimating to the college game, although he has struggled in some of the blocking schemes. Hawkins has great hands, runs clean crisp routes, and has a high vertical. Hawkins is a dark-horse candidate to replace Debose.
The loss of Andre Debose as a kick returner is a bigger loss for Florida, than at wide receiver. Although the Gators have a stable of available returnmen, none have been as successful. Last season, Debose averaged 28.33 yards per return and had one touchdown (a 100-yard return against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl).
Purifoy could be an exhausted man this upcoming season. The starting cornerback and starting special teams gunner, could also see some time at wide receiver and as the starting kick returner. Last season, Purifoy had seven total kick returns for 167 yards, or a 23.86-yard per return average. Purifoy did start along side Debose last year, and was listed as the second starting kick returner on the depth chart, but you almost wonder if the Gators might choose someone else because Purifoy’s plate is already pretty full.
Unlike the two previous seasons, Patton did not return any kicks in 2012. However, in 2011 Patton had 10 returns for 241 yards for a 24.10-yard per return average. In 2010, Patton returned seven kicks for 196 yards, or a 28.00-yard per return average. Patton could be the leading candidate to return kicks for the Gators as he has the previous experience, the speed and agility, and his height (5-foot-9) allows him to hide behind bigger blockers, a skill that is certainly a plus.
The final candidate to replace Debose as a returner is freshman Alvin Bailey. Bailey, a 5-foot-11, 182-pound speed demon from Seffner (Fla.) was considered one of the top high school returnmen in the country last season. Bailey has blazing speed, quick cuts and good field vision – the three most important skills of a top-notch returner. Bailey can be seen below returning kicks and you can see the amalgamation of those three skill sets.
Kick Return at 2:16 mark
Last season, the Gators adopted the mantra, ‘man down, man up’ and now it is time for them to apply it once again. The loss of Andre Debose could hurt the Gators next season, but they also have a list of options who must choose to ‘man up’ when their man is down.