Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Signing five WRs speaks volumes at UF
By Michael DiRocco
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp left little doubt about what he believes is his team’s biggest problem heading into the 2013 season.
Signing five receivers was a pretty clear message.
Rated the No. 7 wide receiver prospect in the nation, early enrollee Demarcus Robinson will have a chance to get up to speed in the spring and perhaps contribute in the fall.
"When you say filling needs, you talk in terms of depth and talent, and those are the two things you’ve got to be able to address [at receiver]," Muschamp said Wednesday afternoon. "I think we’ve taken a step forward in both situations. We’ve improved our depth and I think we’ve improved our talent [with] some guys that can come in and compete."
Wide receiver was clearly the Gators’ weakest position in 2012 -- arguably for the two previous seasons, too. UF has had just one wide receiver catch more than 40 passes in a season since Percy Harvin in 2008 (Riley Cooper caught 51 a year later) and a wide receiver has led the Gators in receptions just once in the past four seasons.
Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar led UF receivers with 36 catches last season and his 50 career catches are the most among the Gators’ five returning scholarship receivers. UF’s passing attack ranked 114th nationally last season.
So the Gators obviously -- and desperately -- need help at receiver, which is why they signed the most in one class since also signing five in 2002.
Demarcus Robinson (Fort Valley, Ga./Peach County), Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny), Alvin Bailey (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), Marqui Hawkins (Columbus, Ga./Carver) and Chris Thompson (Gainesville, Fla./Gainesville) will be given plenty of chances to crack the lineup next season. Robinson is the only one of the four to enroll early so he’ll get a head start by participating in spring practice.
They’re a talented group that has something that has been missing from the position for a while: size. All are 5-foot-11 or taller and Fulwood is 6-4, which would make him the Gators’ biggest receiver. He is generally regarded as the other receiver who has the best chance of making an impact as a freshman.
"It’s always a matchup issue when you have bigger receivers that can run vertically down the field and he certainly can," Muschamp said. "He’s got tremendous ball skills down the field. [Fulwood is] a guy that’s got great ball skills and can really stretch the field and a bigger target, hard guy to cover down the field with smaller DBs. The lengthier DBs are really difficult to find that can match speed down the field."
Because of his experience, Dunbar will likely remain a starter, but the other positions are wide open. Sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades were used mainly as blockers last season and caught just two passes each. Redshirt senior Andre Debose is a career underachiever with 29 career catches.
The wildcard for all the receivers, but especially the freshmen, will be the impact of new receivers coach Joker Phillips. The new assistant, who went 13-24 as Kentucky’s head coach from 2010-12, has coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-2009) and four other BCS schools. NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with at Kentucky. He also coached Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons, Jr., and Derek Abney, all of whom rank in the top five in UK history in career receptions or career receiving yardage.
What kind of impact does Muschamp envision from the freshman receivers?
"We'll find out in August," he said. "Y'all know my philosophy: The closer you are to the ball, the harder it is to play as a freshman. It's just the game's a lot faster, a lot bigger. Wideout is obviously a place, corner, where you can play because your natural instincts take over and the game's a little slower on the perimeter as opposed to when it gets closer.
"All of those guys, and everybody we signed, will have an opportunity to contribute to our football team, and they'll determine how much. And the same thing I just told you, I tell them at every home. You're the one that will determine how much you play, not me."