While the offensive line is the most experienced and deepest spot on the Florida Gators spring roster the receiver position may have the most talent. Even with the loss of two talented starters, this group will be as good as any to be found in the Southeastern Conference. There is experience, speed and explosiveness, everything the Gators need to be an offensive force.
The loss of Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius, and backup Kenneth Tookes would be devastating to most programs but the Gators have probably recruited better than anyone at the position over the last few years. Combine the speed of the wide receivers with a very athletic tight end corps and the Gators may have the best roster of receivers top to bottom in the country.
Exhibit A is the only senior in the bunch, Andre Caldwell of Tampa. Bubba decided to stay for his senior season and make a better name for himself and the Gators stand to gain because of it. An broken leg cost Caldwell most of 2005 but he came back to have a strong junior campaign. He will replace Baker as Florida’s go-to guy. Caldwell is reportedly the fastest player on the team and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
The Gators only junior wide receiver is Louis Murphy of St. Petersburg. Murphy has some game experience and like Tookes, he’s a great blocking receiver. He has dependable hands and has a chance to earn valuable playing time this spring and into the fall. He may not possess some of the raw skills that some of the other receivers possess, but he was reliable enough to get in some big games and in key situations last season.
True sophomore receiver Percy Harvin of Landstown (VA) may be the most electric college football player returning for the 2007 season. Harvin had multiple big gains as a true freshman and netted 955 yards of offense as the staff utilized him as both a running back and receiver. He finished as the third leading rusher and fourth leading receiver on the team despite missing more than a third of the offensive plays during the season due to various injuries. Harvin will be a big time staple of the offense in 2007.
Sophomore Jarred Fayson of Tampa possesses many of the same skills as Harvin. Actually listed as a wide receiver/quarterback on the official spring roster, Fayson is a multiple threat player that can line up and run the ball from behind center and he’s got a strong, accurate arm. Fayson is a quick learner and will be inserted in multiple positions on the field this spring and fall. He is one that stands to gain a lot by the departures of last year’s seniors.
Sophomore Riley Cooper of Clearwater (FL) surprised many with his aggressive play as a true freshman last year. He is a big strong receiver that also has surprising speed to burn. Most of his action was on special teams in 2006 but as he showed in the Western Carolina game, he’s got the speed and skills to become a big time wide receiver at the college level.
Red-shirt sophomore David Nelson of Wichita Falls should have his own niche among the pure wide receivers as he is the tallest of the group. Nelson has great down field speed and solid hands, but has been working on his blocking skills in order to get on the field. This will be his second spring in the system and the former US army All-American looks to make an impact in this sophomore season of his.
Reports out of the weight room have Folkston (GA) red-shirt freshman Justin Williams becoming one of the strongest wide receivers and a team leader. A real challenger for the guys that played ahead of him last year, Williams is looking to make a name for himself this season as he finally gets to run in the offense instead of being on the scout team all the time.
Two true freshmen receivers enrolled early and will try and ge6t in the mix in their rookie years. Paul Wilson of Lakeland and Joe Haden of Ft. Washington (MD) bring winning credentials and athletic ability to the field this spring. Haden will also get a look at cornerback. Wilson should really surprise people with his ability and the fact he was probably underrated coming out of high school.
The tight end position at Florida is more of a hybrid receiver and the Gators return two experienced and talented players at the position as well as a high school all-American that is looking to play right away.
Is it already Tate Casey’s senior season? Yes it is, and Casey of Longview (TX) brings a ton of experience to the forefront in his final campaign. Casey is less of a downfield threat than the other two at the position but a huge threat in short yardage situations and in the end zone where he towers over most.
Not many players improved their stock over the course of the last third of the season as much as junior wide receiver/tight end Cornelius Ingram of nearby Hawthorne. Ingram came up huge in consecutive games against Florida State, Arkansas, and Ohio State. He is absolutely a defensive coach’s nightmare when they go man to man as linebackers are too slow and defensive backs to small to cover him. Look for him to make an ever bigger jump early on in 2007.
Aaron Hernandez of Bristol (CT) was the most coveted high school tight end in America as a senior in 2006. Hernandez enrolled early at Florida and brings his superior receiver skills and playing tenacity to the field. He is planning on playing in 2007 and he has the speed and hands to get on the field. His game is more like Ingram’s and he will be a mismatch against most defensive alignments.
The Gators aren’t really deep at the receiver positions, but the quality of the personnel is about as good as it has been and that says a lot at the University of Florida. In the fall, freshman dynamo Deonte Thompson of Belle Glade brings more world class speed to the position. One thing is for sure, the quarterbacks at Florida are going to have a lot of weapons to distribute the ball to in 2007.