UF spring football preview: Wide receivers

The Florida Gators became relevant again in 2012 with a 11-2 record, but the team took on some losses as key juniors declared early for the NFL Draft. Along with the seniors who graduated, the number of player departures will change the make-up of the 2013 squad.

Gator Country takes a look at each position on the team heading into spring football and breaks down the strength and weaknesses at each spot.

For the third installment, GC examines the wide receiver position for the Gators.

GC Projected Depth Chart

Starter — Quinton Dunbar
Starter — Andre Debose

2nd String — Demarcus Robinson
2nd String — Solomon Patton/Latroy Pittman

Other wide receivers: Ralphael Andrades, Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fulwood, Marqui Hawkins, Chris Thompson

Analysis: It’s been a struggle for Florida coach Will Muschamp and the rest of his staff to get consistent production out of the wide receivers. Next season will be Muschamp’s third with the Gators, and it seems like he’s had enough. He’s currently bringing in five wide receivers in the 2013 recruiting class, which shows he’s desperate to find that playmaking wide receiver.

In 2012, Dunbar showed flashes of that ability and figures to be one of the starters heading into the spring. He’s proven to be an effective blocker and did well on making plays after the catch. His performance in 2012 wasn’t spectacular, but it should be more than enough to secure himself a starting spot next season.

Behind Dunbar, things get a little messier. Debose has always had the potential to be “that guy.” Coming in as a five-star recruit under Urban Meyer, Debose was pegged to be the next Percry Harvin. However, his attitude and work ethic have prevented him from taking over as Florida’s go-to wide receiver.

Earlier in the season, it seemed that the coaching staff had finally had enough, but a renewed attitude in Debose gave him another opportunity to show the coaching staff what he could do in the Sugar Bowl, where he returned a kickoff for a touchdown. If Debose can stay in the staff’s good graces, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to play.

Patton will be returning form a season-ending injury, but outside of reverses and a few screens, Patton’s impact on the offense may be minimal.

Pittman and Andrades saw some playing time during their freshman season, but this offseason will be crucial to how much of an impact they have in 2013. The jump from the first year to the second year is usually the biggest for college football players.

However, the anticipation of real change at the wide receiver position comes from the incoming freshmen, especially Robinson and Fulwood.

Robinson will get a head start since he early enrolled at the beginning of January. At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, Robinson gives the Gators a more physical target on the outside. He runs crisp routes and has fantastic hands. Robinson has all of the tools to be an impact wide receiver from day one.

Along with Robinson, Fulwood is expected to be a go-to-guy for Florida in the future, but he’ll have to wait until the summer to enroll. Fulwood provides more of a downfield threat and at 6-foot-4, he’s the biggest incoming wide receiver. Florida currently doesn’t have any consistent deep threat, so Fulwood could slide into that role easily.

The other three incoming freshmen in Bailey, Hawkins and Thompson won’t enroll until the summer, but Muschamp won’t be shy about finding what combination of wide receivers works best. These three will have chances to secure a spot in the rotation.

While Hawkins and Thompson figure to only contribute in the passing game, Bailey shows a lot of promise in the return game. He makes great cuts and has high top-end speed. His elusiveness makes him tough to tackle and an ideal candidate as a kickoff or punt returner. For a team that has been less than spectacular returns on special teams, Bailey could provide the explosiveness to return game.

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Drew is a senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. When not at school, Drew resides in Lakeland, Fla. Ever since working on his high school yearbook, Drew has had an interest in pursuing a journalism career after college. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of his school newspaper, The Samford Crimson, Drew has also been with Gator Country as an intern for one year. He enjoys the finer things in life like Tampa Bay Rays baseball and always making sure to make fun of the Atlanta Braves to Andrew Spivey’s face.