Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Spring question No. 2: Wide receivers
By Michael DiRocco
As part of our spring practice preview, each day this week GatorNation will address the five biggest questions facing the Gators. Today we'll look at the uncertain situation at receiver. On Wednesday, we'll examine the situation at safety.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe this spring will provide Florida with some answers at wide receiver.
The past three certainly haven't.
After Quinton Dunbar, who caught 36 passes last season, the rest of Florida's receiver corps for 2013 is anybody's guess.
For the fourth consecutive year, Florida enters spring practice searching for some consistency at a position that annually produced some of the top players in the Southeastern Conference. UF's receivers have been largely M.I.A. since Riley Cooper and David Nelson graduated following the 2009 season. Gators receivers combined to catch 116 passes that season, led by Cooper’s 51 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns, but no receiver has caught more than 38 passes in a season since.
It's for that reason that cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is going to spend most of his time in the spring working at receiver. The 6-foot-1, 189-pound junior has good speed and runs well with the ball as a kickoff returner but most importantly has flashed a trait that none of the other receivers have: the ability to make a play on the ball in a one-on-one situation.
UF's most experienced receiver is redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, who has 50 career receptions and led the Gators' wide receivers with 36 catches last season (tight end Jordan Reed had the overall team lead with 50). Dunbar will go into spring No. 1 on the depth chart because of that.
The rest of the unit is made up of underachievers, unproven guys and one early enrollee who might be under the most pressure of any freshman on the roster next season.
Redshirt senior Andre Debose (5-11, 189) is undoubtedly the most dynamic player on the roster with the ball in his hands. He has elite speed, is elusive in the open field, and is a big play waiting to happen. So why does he have only 29 career catches? Because of attitude and work-ethic issues.
Debose has frustrated two coaching staffs over four years in their attempts to make him a consistent player, and this is his last chance.
Senior Solomon Patton (5-9, 169) has just seven career catches and has found himself a role as the Gators' primary option on the jet sweep. His size doesn't help him, either, because UF coach Will Muschamp is revamping the position with bigger receivers.
Sophomores Latroy Pittman (5-11, 209) and Raphael Andrades (6-0, 191) are unknowns. Both caught only two passes last season and were used mainly as blockers. Pittman enrolled early last season and was the star of spring practice, but he disappeared in the fall as he struggled to absorb the offense.
The other scholarship receiver is early enrollee Demarcus Robinson (6-2, 195), a four-star recruit ESPN.com ranked the nation's No. 7 wide receiver. Robinson has the size, speed and play-making ability the Gators desperately need, but the unknown is how quickly he can pick up the offense and adjust to the press coverage the Gators use.
The wildcard in the receiver situation is new position coach Joker Phillips. Before becoming the head coach at Kentucky in 2010, Phillips coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-2009), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002). NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with during his tenure 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.
The Gators need him to have similar success in Gainesville -- quickly.