Before spring practice began, Gator Country took a look at the top eight position battles to keep an eye on during spring practice. Now that spring is over, we’ll take a look at how those position battles played out over the past couple weeks.
In part seven of the eight part series we take a look at the wide receivers.
Quite easily the biggest position of need on the offensive side of the football, the Gators entered spring practice without a consistent, reliable playmaker at the position.
Did the coaching staff find an answer to their biggest question mark on offense, or are we headed for another season with a revolving door at the position? Let’s find out.
Reports out of spring practice were that Dunbar was the most consistent, productive receiver of the bunch. Forgive me if I start to feel like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day but I feel like I’ve heard this somewhere before.
Dunbar has been singled out as the most consistent receiver the past two spring practices but hasn’t been able to translate his spring success into fall production.
This isn’t to say he isn’t capable of doing it, he just hasn’t been able to yet.
Heading into his redshirt junior season Dunbar is now, finally, playing under the same offensive coordinator and within the same playbook for a second season in a row. Being able to be comfortable in the offense should help Dunbar translate his offseason success into productive Saturday’s in the fall.
Dunbar came on towards the end of last season – he caught 21 of his 36 receptions in the last six games – and looked to really start developing a good rapport with Jeff Driskel. With Driskel’s favorite target, Jordan Reed, preparing for the NFL, Driskel will be looking for a new receiver and Dunbar looks to be the leading candidate to fill that position.
That word has followed Debose around Gainesville his entire career. Debose has lacked consistency on the field during games and with his effort in practice. The latter landed him in Will Muschamp’s doghouse toward the end of last season.
A redshirt senior, it is now or never for Debose.
Probably unfairly labeled “the next Percy Harvin” as a high school recruit, Debose just needs to play within himself; work hard and he can finish his career in Gainesville on a high note.
Patton was coming into his own last season before a fracture in his upper arm sidelined him for the season.
The 5’9” receiver only had one reception in the eight games he played last year but he was the Gators main option running jet sweeps, a play that Florida used heavily last season.
Patton seemingly found his niche in the offense and should return back into that role this season. As the offense enjoys having the same offensive coordinator for the first time in years, we could also see some wrinkles added to that running package.
Pittman came in as an early enrollee last season and quickly impressed the coaching staff with his physical play.
Pittman played in 11 games as a freshman but caught just two passes.
Even though his receiving numbers were not where you would want to see them, you can’t say enough about his blocking. Pittman’s blocking helped spring Mike Gillislee and Matt Jones on several occasions last year and he is Florida’s best blocker outside.
Like Pittman, Andrades was more productive as a blocker than a receiver last season.
Andrades split time between baseball and football this spring.
He will likely be used in a similar role as he was last season. His perimeter blocking will get him on the field but he may not see an increased role in the offense other than being used as a blocker.
There is no denying that Purifoy has the ability to play receiver at a high level. The question with Purifoy is going to be how he handles his new expanded role with the team. Purifoy is not only going to play offense and defense but he’s one of Florida’s better return men as well.
Playing receiver for about half of spring should have given Purifoy a better understanding of the offensive playbook, which will allow Brent Pease to use him in more situations this year on offense.
“I think he’s an explosive guy, catches the ball well has got good ball skills he’s got good vertical speed,” Muschamp said of Purifoy. “He plays the game fast. I don’t know what his time is in the 40[-yard dash], but when you get on the field he plays fast. You notice him on the field.”
Gator fans will see Purifoy on the field a lot this fall.
Despite playing on a sprained ankle, Robinson was the most impressive receiver during the Orange and Blue Debut.
Along with Dunbar, Robinson was one receiver that Muschamp continually singled out this spring.
Robinson is the kind of playmaker that the Gators haven’t had on campus in a long time. He showed off his athleticism by making a difficult catch over Loucheiz Purifoy in one-on-one drills and is a player who can stretch the field for Florida’s offense.
Not only is Robinson a deep threat but is also great after the catch. Robinson is as quick as he is fast and can make defenders miss in space.
He’s definitely a player to look forward to this fall.
Prior to Robinson’s commitment, Fulwood was the jewel of Florida’s wide receiver recruiting class.
While fans got excited about Robinson being an early enrollee, and rightfully so, don’t forget about the 6’4” Fulwood.
Fulwood is tremendously gifted athletically. He has an almost unbelievable blend of size/speed/strength and if nothing more, should give the Gators a serious redzone threat with his leaping ability.
Fulwood will join the team this summer and should make an instant impact as a freshman.
For all you Gator fans that love the wildcat package and were worried that it would end when Trey Burton graduates this year, fear not, Alvin Bailey is on his way to campus.
Bailey played quarterback at Armwood high school out of necessity, so he has experience taking snaps and playing with the ball in his hands.
Bailey is a dynamic threat both offensively and on special teams. While it may take a little time for Bailey to develop into a serious offensive weapon, he should be able to contribute on special teams – returning punts and kicks – early on in his career.
Hawkins is the sleeper in this deep group of wide receiver commits.
Hawkins film shows a quick burst off the line and the speed necessary to separate himself from defenders. He’s a physically impressive looking receiver who shouldn’t have a problem when cornerbacks try to jam him at the line.
While Robinson, Fulwood and Bailey took most of the headlines this recruiting cycle, don’t be surprised to see Hawkins find himself on the field early.
When you watch Thompson play the first thing you notice is his speed. He has an elite mix of speed, quickness and acceleration that separates him from most of the receivers in this recruiting class.
Thompson is a player that can turn a 5-yard comeback into a 50-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye.
He will need to work on his route running and hands when he gets on campus but he is a guy who can stretch the field and a prospect to keep an eye on in the future.
Despite my failed attempt at humor with a Groundhog Day joke, Dunbar is going to be the No. 1 receiver heading into the fall. Sure, we’ve heard how great he has been in the offseason and wondered what the coaches saw when he didn’t live up to expectations in the fall, but watching Dunbar and Driskel play together towards the end of 2012 has to leave Gators fans hopeful for 2013.
Going over the depth chart and looking at all the wide receivers on the team, it is going to be hard to come up with ways to keep Demarcus Robinson off of the field. He’s currently listed as the backup to Dunbar at the X receiver spot but the X and Z really mirror each other in Brent Pease’s offense. Expect Robinson to get a lot of playing time early and I would expect him to finish in the top-2 for receiving yards at the end of the season.
The most interesting player on the list has to be Purifoy. We still don’t know exactly what role he will play on offense this fall but he has the playmaking ability to be a game changer for the Gators.
The rest of the bunch will continue batting for reps but I would expect Solomon, Debose, Fulwood, Pittman, Bailey and Hawkins to earn most of the remaining reps this season.
Florida is deeper than they have been at receiver since Will Muschamp has taken over the team and with the addition of Joker Phillips as the wide receivers coach, 2013 could be the breakout year fans have been waiting to see from the passing game.