Thursday, February 14, 2013
Receiving help is on the way for Gators
By Edward Aschoff
It's all about numbers for Will Muschamp when it comes to recruiting.
He isn't counting stars or ESPN 300 members he's trying to sign. For Florida's second-year coach, he's always building, and for every position, there's a certain number he wants to reach in order to combat injury and attrition.
“That’s why I have certain numbers,” Muschamp told ESPN.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s not always perfect, but I want to have that at every position and we’re really close to that on the offensive side of the ball.”
Where Muschamp really hopes he struck gold in 2013 was at wide receiver, where glaring holes at that position made the number five so important.
The Gators may need to count on their freshman receivers, such as Demarcus Robinson, to step up in the passing game.
Muschamp hauled in five receivers in his recent class and with the way the passing game struggled in 2012 -- and the shape Florida’s receiving corps is in -- they might all have to play immediately.
“I want them all to contribute. I want them all to start,” Muschamp said. “But they’re going to determine that, not me.”
Muschamp thinks all five give him a good base to work with.
Muschamp doesn’t like to single players out, especially true freshmen, but the star of the group is early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, who was an ESPN 150 member and ranked as the No. 8 receiver nationally in the 2013 class. He’s a dynamic athlete who can stretch the field and is dangerous in space. Being on campus now doesn’t mean he’ll start, Muschamp said, but it will give him a leg up during the installation process in a more relaxed learning environment that is spring practice.
Robinson brings that play-making ability that the Gators desperately need at receiver. Quinton Dunbar led Florida receivers with just 36 catches in 2012. Frankie Hammond Jr. was next for receivers with 22 catches. They were the only receivers with touchdowns and neither reached 400 yards.
As the Gators look to put more emphasis on the passing game this spring, Robinson is expected to be a crucial element in Florida’s offense.
His help arrives this summer, starting with ESPN 150 athlete Alvin Bailey, who played Wildcat quarterback in high school. He resembles a bigger Chris Rainey and is what Muschamp calls “just a play-making guy.”
ESPN 150 member Ahmad Fulwood stretches the field vertically, while ESPN 300 WR Marqui Hawkins is a bigger, more physical receiver who could be moved all around the offense. And Gainesville native Chris Thompson can really run and “take the top off of coverage,” Muschamp said.
“All five guys have been multisport athletes and can do a lot of things, have a big competitive edge, and can hopefully continue to progress forward in a positive way here at Florida at receiver,” Muschamp said.
It’s tough for true freshman receivers to make immediate, positive impacts, but it’s been done. Look at Percy Harvin, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Malcolm Mitchell in recent years. Do any of these players have that same ability? It’s unknown, but they’ll have to do something this fall for a Florida team that was last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game) and lost its best pass -atcher in tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns).
Dunbar is the lone returning receiver with double-digit catches from last fall, so it’s obvious quarterback Jeff Driskel needs a lot of help. Muschamp wants to continue to be a physical, tough offense, and he certainly has the rushing pieces for that, but he understands his team has to throw it more and throw it more efficiently.
The plan is to concentrate more on the passing game this spring and take what he calls a “different approach” to throwing the ball, and that will only improve when these youngsters start working. It’s a lot to ask of freshmen, but without their help, Florida’s offense could be even more one-dimensional this fall.
“Against some of the defenses we’re going to face on our schedule, now, there are going to come some days when you’re going to have to do some different things as opposed to just lining up and running the power and the counter,” Muschamp said. “We understand that we’re going to have to be more multiple on offense.”