It’s been a long time since the Florida Gators have had a receiver that struck fear in the hearts of opposing defenses. In fact, Florida hasn’t had a player with more than 600 yards receiving in a single season since Riley Cooper (961 yards) and Aaron Hernandez (850 yards) both surpassed the mark in 2009. Conversely, new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s scheme produced four different 1,000-yard receivers in the same time period and never had a season where at least one player didn’t have a minimum of 600 receiving yards.
After just four practices this spring head coach Will Muschamp named six receivers that are standing out so far because of their production and consistency. There is the usual name: Quinton Dunbar; two more veterans in Valdez Showers and Latroy Pittman as well as a trio of sophomores: Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson.
Despite a lack of production last season, the receivers at Florida have looked better since the arrival of former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips. It’s an attention to detail that has separated Phillips from past receivers coaches at Florida and it’s something the receiver group has taken to.
“When I first came in he was recruiting me, he did a really good job, like telling me that it’s not all about the talent, it’s about the technique,” Fulwood said. “He’s a real big technique guy. He coaches me harder than I’ve ever been coached and I like that.”
Phillips isn’t the only coach on staff that values perfecting the little things. Roper has been preaching fundamentals, making sure the players pay attention to every little detail, including how to dress.
“Coach Roper is gonna be on you about the little things and it’s the details that matters,” Fulwood said. “When we do team meeting, offensive meetings, he’s all about technique and very, very little things. Like tucking in our shirts when we’re at practice. To the public it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal but it’s just the whole team, the whole offensive unit as one. It makes a big difference.”
Phillips will continue to coach them up but it’s Roper that will be calling the plays and putting players in the position to be successful. Florida is deep at receiver and they will need to be when playing in this new up-tempo offense. Through four practices you can already see the toll that the fast paced offense is taking on both the offense and the defense. Florida will benefit on both sides of the ball for going quickly in practice but with just 15-practices to install not just a few new offensive plays but an entirely new offensive philosophy. The big question is will the new offense too much for the players to handle?
Fulwood doesn’t see it creating an issue. “We have enough stuff right now to go play every team on our schedule and put up ‘W’s’ against them,” he said. “I honestly believe that, we’ve got a lot of stuff in. we’ve transferred it very well from learning it from him, going through some spring with it and now putting it on the field with these four practices.”
The fact that the receivers haven’t produced isn’t lost on the group. They’re not blind to it nor have they turned deaf ears to their critics. It’s a burden the group is ready to carry.
“We respond very well to it,” Fulwood said “On the field, we’re just doing a really good job of picking up what we’re learning right now and translating it from the film room to the practice field.”
That burden is met with a renewed sense of confidence that comes with Roper’s offense. The concepts are simple. Simple enough for the receivers to feel that they have a solid grasp of the system after just a few short months with the playbook and only a handful of practices.
“The speed and probably the simplicity of it,” Showers said. “Everybody knows their job, they know what to do. They know what’s going on, so all they have to do is go out there and make the play.”
Showers continued on saying that the offense last year forced the players to think a lot before the snap because there was a lot going on. With the new system it’s just a quick check to the sideline to get the play and go.
“When you don’t have to think, it makes everything easier,” he said. “It makes it easier to play in, makes it easier to make plays. So we can go out there and just be competitive.”
“The way that the offense is set up is for us to make plays and for us to be aggressive, so we’re going to take a lot of shots down the field.”
Spring practice has shown promise of the forward pass coming back to Gainesville, now that would be a sight for sore eyes.