A passing offense that ranked dead last in the SEC in 2012 lost three of its top four receivers to graduation. Needless to say, the receiver position was in obvious need of an offseason upgrade.
Florida was able to get quantity as well as quality in the last recruiting class, signing a talented group of five receivers that arrived on campus with fans buzzing and expecting an immediate impact on the offense.
Through 10 games in 2013 that impact is 19 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown.
Not exactly what most people expected from the class, especially after Demarcus Robinson wowed the team, coaches and fans this spring. Robinson started the year off well but has fallen off due to inconsistent play in practice and on the field.
But were the expectations too high? Mike DiRocco of ESPN wrote earlier this year that Florida had signed 61 receivers from 1990-2012. Only 20 of those players saw action as freshmen with 19 of them catching passes. Only four receivers (Percy Harvin, Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Andre Caldwell) caught more than seven passes as freshmen and all of those players went on to be drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.
It takes a very talented and special type of player to be able to come on and make an instant impact at the University of Florida. Based on his production this season, Ahmad Fulwood joins that list of receivers who have caught more than seven passes in their first season but that doesn’t mean he is the only receiver who will have a productive career in orange and blue.
Patience is a virtue that many fans don’t possess. The term “fan” is short for fanatic — but when it comes to freshmen wide receivers, patience is a virtue that we all need to practice.
Fulwood was the big catch early on in the recruiting cycle. He committed to Florida early and never wavered in that commitment. However, when Robinson enrolled early at Florida and started to impress during spring camp, a lot of people forgot about Fulwood.
The 6-5 receiver took some time to acclimate to the college game but has come on recently and is the only receiver who has caught a touchdown — a fantastic, albeit lucky one.
Fulwood leads the freshmen receivers with 11 grabs, fourth on the team behind the big three of Trey Burton, Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar.
Fulwood has shown good blocking ability and is a sound route-runner.
Ahmad has come on and put himself in the rotation and done a good job,” Pease said. “What I see from him he’s finally catching up to the speed of the game and gotten more consistent catching.”
The buzz around Demarcus Robinson before the season reached an all-time high when the talented playmaker made an amazing catch during an open practice in front of fans this spring. Florida hasn’t had a wide receiver with the talent and measurables that Robinson possesses since the days when future NFL receivers Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper and David Nelson lined up wide in Gainesville.
Robinson came on quick, playing in the first two games before being suspended for the Tennessee game. He’s played in seven games to date hauling in six passes for 43 yards.
While this isn’t the impact that most fans expected for Robinson coming into the season, Pease preached patience when talking about the young receiver from Georgia. It takes time for freshmen to acclimate to the college game and especially to SEC caliber defenses.
It seems like Robinson might have hit a freshman wall at some point this season but give him time. He has all the talent to be one of the best receivers in school history. When he learns to take the right approach to the practice field, weight room, film room and the stadium on Saturday he will become the player that fans expect him to be.
Demarcus is inconsistent,” Pease said. “It’s just a situation where he’s got to continue to improve and get comfortable and understand what he’s being taught fundamentally.”
The Gainesville product was seen as more of a project than a legitimate threat to make an impact as a freshman. Thompson is a speedster and was a two-sport star at Gainesville High School where he competed on the track team as well as a wide receiver.
Thompson is the only freshman receiver other than Fulwood or Robinson to record a catch — two receptions for 13 yards — this year.
Thompson played strictly on special teams for the first three games this season before sitting out the next five contests. He came back against Vanderbilt, recording both of his two catches against the Commodores.
I think Chris Thompson, you know, he’s not on the field as much but what he’s doing in practice and how he’s playing the game now is good,” Pease said. “He’s improved, and it’s hard to kind of replace Solo in there at times, but happy with what Chris is doing. He’s catching the ball well. He’s running well, playing fast and you can see some explosiveness.”
Marqui Hawkins and Alvin Bailey
The two freshmen receivers have not played this season and will redshirt.
Hawkins impressed early on this season but was set back with an ankle injury. He’s a big, physical receiver who should develop and be viewed as a potential weapon as a redshirt freshman or sophomore.
Alvin Bailey was set back due to his raw route-running skills. Bailey played quarterback in high school and needs to work on running crisp routes and doing the little things that receivers need to do like blocking.
Bailey is a quick, shifty player who should be able to contribute on special teams next season and he may get a look running in the wildcat package due to his experience with the ball in his hands at the high school level.
A little bit tough to say on Marquis and Alvin because I don’t deal with them as much unless it’s just on fundamental period because they’re down running scout team, but on their consistency and speed of the game has got to improve because obviously they’re going to be in a situation to be competing and playing here sooner than they realize.”