Florida Gators: Raphael Andrades
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins August camp on Friday. Here’s a primer to get you ready:
Three questions the Gators must answer in camp
Can the receivers contribute? It must sound like a broken record, but the development of the receivers is the key to the season. They haven’t been very good for the past three seasons, and that really hurt the Gators in 2012 because of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s inexperience. H-back/wildcat QB Trey Burton, with 69 career catches, will line up at receiver. That will help, but he’s not a downfield threat or someone that scares a secondary. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar and sophomores Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman must become consistent with their routes, adjustments and blitz reads. At least two of the five freshmen -- including early enrollee Demarcus Robinson -- have to become significant parts of the rotation, too. New receivers coach Joker Phillips, who has 18 years of experience and two former pupils in the NFL (Randall Cobb and Steve Johnson), should make a difference. But remember, a chef is only as good as his ingredients.
Can the linebackers hold up their end? The Gators are loaded in the secondary and with pass rushers, and the defensive line should be fine. The question mark on defense is at linebacker, especially with starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games. There’s little doubt that Morrison is going to be a big-time player, but there are questions at every other spot. Buck/strongside linebacker Ronald Powell is coming back from a torn ACL and the top two candidates at weakside linebacker (Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor) have been role players throughout their careers. Taylor will likely start in the middle while Morrison is out. That’s a steep drop-off from Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and the Gators need to find playmakers. Don’t be surprised if freshman Daniel McMillian takes over as the starter on the weak side by the middle of the season.
Will either kicker turn out to be reliable? It’s unfair to expect Austin Hardin or Brad Phillips to have the same kind of impact as Caleb Sturgis. He was the best kicker in school history and was accurate from long range. But it isn’t unreasonable to ask either of those guys to be consistent in the 40-yard range, and neither was during spring practice. It’s a battle that will continue throughout camp -- and possibly into the season. Sturgis consistently bailed out the offense in 2012, and the Gators won’t have that luxury if the offense struggles again (see receivers above).
Three position battles to watch
Tight end: Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor are competing for playing time. The group struggled during the spring and Burton has a slim lead. Thompson was more of a blocker in high school, but his size makes him an intriguing option in the middle of the field and the red zone. He’s a better blocker than any of the other tight ends and could win the job if he can show some consistency and prove he’s a reliable receiver. Westbrook is more of a blocker and Taylor is a flex tight end with potential, but the coaching staff isn’t happy with his toughness. There’s not a lot of experience here -- they’ve combined for four catches for 17 yards in their careers -- and it’s unlikely any can be the weapon in the passing game that Jordan Reed was the past two seasons (73 catches, 866 yards, 5 TDs).
Safety: If the season started today, cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs would be the starters. That’s not a bad thing because both are solid players who understand the defense and won’t give up big plays. But what is a concern is that none of the other safeties showed enough consistency in the spring to earn one of the spots. Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers have four weeks to prove they can get the job done.
Three players you might not have thought to watch in camp, but really should
Bryan Cox: A redshirt freshman defensive end, he showed flashes of potential in the spring and made a few plays during the final scrimmage. He’s playing behind Jonathan Bullard, so he gets overlooked, but he’s got good size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and athleticism and could be a breakout player on defense.
Gideon Ajagbe: Hunter Joyer was the only fullback on the roster until the staff moved Ajagbe and redshirt freshman safety Rhaheim Ledbetter there in the spring because the staff was worried about overworking Joyer during the season. Ajagbe adjusted well and should give Joyer some valuable rest and therefore reduce his risk of injury.
Chris Wilkes: It was obvious that the staff wasn’t happy with backup quarterbacks Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg, which was one of the reasons UF added Wilkes. He was an Ole Miss signee in 2008 but instead chose to sign a baseball contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes enrolled in May and missed spring practice and hasn’t played football in five years, but he’s a former pro athlete and should at least push Mornhinweg and Murphy a bit.
No. 86 Raphael Andrades
Sophomore wide receiver
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Florida signed 23 players in 2012 and several made an immediate impact: offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr., and linebacker Antonio Morrison were Freshmen All-SEC. Others, however, didn’t get a single snap of playing time.
Here’s how we see the rest of the class shaping up:
Top of the class
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One of the main reasons Florida's passing offense has struggled since 2009 is the lack of production -- or a playmaker -- at receiver.
If the Gators' 2013 passing offense is going to be better than the unit that ranked 114th nationally last season, the receivers must be significantly better. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, redshirt senior Andre Debose, and senior Trey Burton are the most experienced receivers and should be UF's go-to playmakers, but each have limitations.
Dunbar has 50 career catches, but he hasn't developed into the downfield threat the Gators have needed. Debose (29 career catches) has been that at times, but his career has been marred by inconsistency and work-ethic issues. Burton (69 career catches) has so many roles that it's hard for him to excel at one, and he's more of a short-yardage, possession receiver.
Sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades each caught two passes last season and were used more as blockers than receivers.
That means UF will be depending on two or more of the five signees to make a substantial impact. Demarcus Robinson is the most likely, as he enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. But either Ahmad Fulwood, Alvin Bailey, Marqui Hawkins or Chris Thompson will have to produce, too.
But even having only one of those freshmen become a reliable and productive part of the offense might be asking too much. It's hard for true freshman receivers to make an impact -- as the past 23 years have shown.
Florida hasn't had much luck with freshman receivers, especially when it comes to being anything more than someone who gets mop-up work.
The Gators have signed 61 receivers from 1990-2012, but only 20 played as true freshmen -- and only 19 caught passes. Of those 19, only four caught more than seven passes: Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin. Anthony, Hilliard and Harvin all became first-round NFL draft picks and Caldwell was a third-round pick.
Here's more proof that it takes an especially gifted player to make an impact as a freshman: Twelve the 16 receivers who played as true freshmen from 1990-2009 went on to become draft picks.
Is there an incoming receiver who can make an impact in 2013? There's no way to know right now until September, but based on the last two-plus decades, it's unlikely.
2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (2nd Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1
QB Jeff Driskel, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RB/WR Trey Burton, DE/DT Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, S Jaylen Watkins, P Kyle Christy
RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards)
Passing: Jeff Driskel* (1,646 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Reed (559 yards)
Tackles: Josh Evans (83)
Sacks: Dominique Easley* (4.0)
Interceptions: Matt Elam (4)
1. Back in business: Sophomore Matt Jones running back had a fantastic spring and the coaching staff is convinced he’ll be a more than capable replacement for Gillislee. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Jones is a perfect fit for Will Muschamp’s power-run offense. He’s a straight-ahead, downhill runner, who runs through contact and gets tough yards. The offense will be built around him, especially with the questions surrounding the passing game. Redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of former UF standout running back Fred Taylor, give the Gators solid depth at the position.
2. Lined up: UF’s offensive line made strides in 2012 and it will be even better in 2013. The addition of transfers -- Max Garcia (Maryland) and Tyler Moore (Nebraska) -- gives the Gators a pair of former starters to add to an already solid base with Harrison and Halapio. Plus, sophomore D.J. Humphries is an immediate upgrade from Xavier Nixon at left tackle. Garcia will start at left guard and pair with Humphries to give Driskel better blind-side protection than he had a year ago.
3. The middle is settled: With the loss of Bostic and Jenkins, the Gators needed a middle linebacker. The staff moved sophomore Antonio Morrison from weakside linebacker, and Morrison showed pretty quickly he was up to the task. He’s not the biggest middle linebacker the Gators have had (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), but he is certainly one of the most physical. Morrison hits like he weighs 260 pounds -- just ask 245-pound former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, whom Morrison leveled last season. Morrison proved he could handle making the defensive calls and he should easily step into the role Bostic held for the past two seasons.
1. Receiver issues ... again: The Gators have problems at wide receiver and must get better at the position or the offense will again struggle. That’s been the case since the 2009 season ended. The latest attempted solution is former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips. He has 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 school history in career receptions or career receiving yardage. Can Phillips get consistent production out of Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman, Burton or Solomon Patton? Can he turn one of the five freshmen -- notably Demarcus Robinson or Ahmad Fulwood -- into the big-time playmaker the Gators have lacked since Riley Cooper? Zach Azzani, Aubrey Hill and Bush Hamdan have tried and failed.
2. Safety dance: There’s some concern about the Gators’ safeties because some of the younger and less experienced players haven’t developed as the staff had hoped. Cody Riggs and Watkins, who started at corner early last season, will begin August practices as UF’s two starting safeties. They have both played there during their UF careers and there are no concerns about those two players, but there are some about Valdez Showers, Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. Realistically, the Gators are better off with Riggs and Watkins starting because that gives UF the chance to get its top four defensive backs on the field at the same time instead of working Watkins, Riggs, Roberson, Purifoy and Brian Poole in a rotation at cornerback. Still, those other three need to earn more trust from the coaching staff.
3. Just for kicks: Kickers Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips struggled throughout the spring. Neither is as reliable or as good from long range as Caleb Sturgis was, but it’s the first part that’s more important. The offense, especially if the receivers don’t get any better, will continue to have a hard time consistently moving the ball. Sturgis was able to bail the Gators out because they needed only to get to the 35-yard line to be in range for a makeable field goal. That mark may have to be the 20 in 2013. Unless Hardin or Phillips makes a major leap this summer, expect the Gators to go with the kicker who practices the best each week.
What's new: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Will Muschamp then promoted D.J. Durkin from linebackers/special teams coach to defensive coordinator. Brad Lawing was hired away from South Carolina to help coach Florida's defensive line and was given the title of assistant head coach. Interim wide receivers coach Bush Hamdan was replaced by former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips.
On the mend: Redshirt junior offensive lineman Chaz Green will miss all of spring after undergoing ankle surgery following Florida's bowl game. Redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell will also miss the spring while he continues to rehab his ACL injury that he suffered last spring. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman is out for the spring, as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he had before the bowl game. Freshman linebacker Matt Rolin is also out, recovering from ACL surgery. Senior offensive lineman Jon Halapio (knee scope), senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (broken arm), redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) and punter Kyle Christy (shoulder) will all be limited this spring.
On the move: Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will start the first seven practices at the "Z" receiver spot. Redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. Sophomore Antonio Morrison moved from Will to Mike linebacker, while redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor has moved from Mike to Will. Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter moved from safety to fullback. Redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe also moved from linebacker to fullback. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs has moved from cornerback to safety, where he's listed as a starter.
Question marks: Heading into the spring, the biggest questions remain on offense, where the Gators were incredibly inconsistent last year. Workhorse running back Mike Gillislee is gone, and while the Gators should feature a stable of running backs this fall, throwing the ball has to improve or this offense will go in reverse. Quarterback Jeff Driskel says he's more confident and offensive coordinator Brent Pease expects to open things up more in the passing game, but the Gators also have to get better protection up front and develop some more reliable receivers and replace top target, tight end Jordan Reed. Florida's defense has a lot of experienced youngsters, but it won't be easy to replace the production that guys like Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and Jon Bostic had last year. Florida is also looking for someone to replace kicker Caleb Sturgis. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips will compete for that spot.
New faces: Rolin, running back Kelvin Taylor, linebackers Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian, defensive lineman Joey Ivie, and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson all enrolled early as true freshmen. Florida also welcomed Nebraska offensive lineman transfer Tyler Moore (sophomore) and junior college transfer Darius Cummings (DT). Offensive lineman Max Garica also transferred from Maryland and sat out last season.
Key battle: Florida has to find a reliable receiving target at either tight end or receiver. The athletic Kent Taylor figures to be the favorite at tight end, but he'll have to compete with Colin Thompson, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. At receiver, it's a free-for-all, and there isn't a ton of experience. Purifoy will certainly get his shot, but vets Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose have to make significant strides. So does rising sophomore Latroy Pittman, who fell off last year after a successful spring. Sophomore Raphael Andrades will be back and forth between football and baseball, while Patton will be limited. Keep an eye on Robinson, who was the top receiver in the Gators' 2013 class and is a downfield threat and someone who can be elusive through the middle of the field.
Breaking out: Florida needs to replace Gillislee, and sophomore Matt Jones has already had a solid offseason, according to coaches. He progressed as last season went on and has both speed and strength to work with. The plan is for him to be a 20-plus-carry player this fall. Morrison's role now expands, and after having a very solid freshman year, even more is expected from him now that he's at the Mike. If he improves his coverage ability, he could be a big-time player for the Gators. Also, keep an eye on junior safety Jabari Gorman. He covers a lot of ground and isn't afraid to play in the box.
Don't forget about: Ball and Riggs have dealt with injuries in the past, but as they get healthy, Florida's coaches are excited about what they could do in 2013. Ball will play some Buck and provides Florida with another solid third-down pass-rusher and should help the Gators put more pressure on opposing backfields this fall. Riggs played in just two games last year before fracturing his foot, but he's a very physical defensive back. With his speed, moving to safety should provide him a chance to make more plays in Florida's secondary. He was also the starter at safety when Elam went to nickel last year.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe this spring will provide Florida with some answers at wide receiver.
The past three certainly haven't.
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Signing five receivers was a pretty clear message.
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Two-deep: This is without question the Gators’ weakest position. The group has been below average for three seasons. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, who has 50 career catches, and redshirt senior Andre Debose, a career underachiever with 29 career catches, are the two most experienced players and would likely be the starters if the season started today. Debose is supremely talented but has been hampered by work ethic, attitude and consistency issues throughout his career. Senior Solomon Patton (eight career catches) and sophomore Latroy Pittman (two catches in 2012) would be the backups.
Next up: Sophomore Raphael Andrades, who caught two passes last season, and freshman early enrollee Demarcus Robinson will have every chance to move up the depth chart in the spring. Next to Debose, Robinson is the most talented receiver on the roster.
Terell Floyd interception
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1. Get the running game going: Senior RB Mike Gillislee is the first Florida player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The offense feeds off of his success, and he’s coming off perhaps his best performance of the season: 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State and the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. Louisville’s rush defense is allowing 151.1 yards per game and has really struggled in the second half of the season. The Cardinals held Rutgers to 54 yards rushing, but four of their previous five opponents rushed for at least 197 yards. Louisville gave up 255 yards to Temple and 278 yards to Syracuse in back-to-back games.
2. A wide receiver needs to step up: Florida’s passing offense has been anemic this season, partly because of protection problems and a young quarterback, but mainly because the wide receivers have been ineffective for the third season in a row. TE Jordan Reed is the No. 1 option (team-high 44 catches) and no wide receiver has caught more than 31 passes. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said freshmen WRs Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, who have combined for just four catches, have improved during the bowl practices in Gainesville. The coaching staff is hoping they can do something similar to what CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last December. He was impressive during the bowl practices, played well in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, and became a starter and key part of this year’s defense. There is no other position on the team that needs someone to emerge more than receiver.
3. Be disciplined in the pass rush: Louisville quarterback QB Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t have big rushing numbers (43 yards, one touchdown) but he’s a mobile threat who is pretty good at avoiding pressure and scrambling out of trouble. However, the Gators have had good success against mobile quarterbacks this season. They’ve limited South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, and they also shut down eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the second half. The key will be a disciplined pass rush to keep Bridgewater in the pocket. That’s still rolling the dice a bit, though, because he’s eighth nationally in passing efficiency rating (161.62)
Here are five storylines for the game:
2. Get Mike Gillislee going: The Gators’ senior running back is the first UF player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The offense feeds off of his success, and he’s coming off perhaps his best performance of the season: 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State and the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. Louisville’s rush defense is allowing 151.1 yards per game. The Cardinals held Rutgers to 54 yards rushing, but four of their previous five opponents rushed for at least 197 yards. Louisville gave up 255 yards to Temple and 278 yards to Syracuse in back-to-back games.
3. Win the turnover battle: Turnovers are one of the main reasons the Gators went from 7-6 last season to 11-1 in 2012. UF was minus-12 last season and is plus-14 this season. UF forced only 14 turnovers in 2011 but has forced 26 this season, including 19 interceptions. The only game in which the Gators had a negative turnover margin was the only game they lost. They were minus-3 against Georgia. Louisville has done a very good job of not turning the ball over (five fumbles, seven interceptions) and never turned the ball over more than twice in any game. Both quarterbacks have done a good job of protecting the ball, too. Bridgewater has thrown seven interceptions, while UF’s Jeff Driskel has thrown just three.
4. Keep emotions in check: There are numerous Gators players who were on the team in Louisville coach Charlie Strong’s last season as Florida's defensive coordinator (2009). He was one a very popular coach and someone the players could talk to about anything. Even the offensive players gravitated toward Strong. They don’t keep in regular contact with Strong, but there are still some fond feelings about their time with him. In addition to the seniors, there are several other players who also could be playing their final game with the Gators: S Matt Elam, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Dominique Easley and TE Jordan Reed. How will they handle themselves? Sometimes players in that situation play tentatively or too conservatively, because they’re afraid of getting hurt.
5. Get something from a young player on offense: Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said WRs Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, who have combined for just four catches, have improved during the bowl practices in Gainesville. The coaching staff is hoping they can do something similar to what CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last December. He was impressive during the bowl practices, played well in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and became a starter and key part of this year’s defense. There is no other position on the team that needs someone to emerge more than receiver. If Pittman or Andrades can come up with a couple plays, that will be a boost for the offense against Louisville -- and also deliver some momentum for the offense heading into the offseason.
WR Frankie Hammond
20 catches, 273 yards, 3 TDs
Role in 2012: UF coach Will Muschamp said Hammond was the Gators’ most consistent receiver in the spring and fall practice. He was supposed to be the No. 1 target but instead ended up the second option behind Quinton Dunbar.
The good: Hammond delivered two big plays that proved to be critical to a pair of victories. He caught a short pass, broke a tackle, and went 50 yards for a touchdown and 10-point lead against Bowling Green. He also had a 75-yard catch and run for a TD against Tennessee. Hammond may not have been very productive on the field but he was a good example for freshmen Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades in terms of work ethic, practice habits, and mental preparation.
The bad: Hammond had trouble with dropped passes. He also was caught in the size-speed trap: He wasn’t quite fast enough to be a downfield threat, but he’s not quite big enough (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) to be an over-the-middle target, either. Like most of UF’s receivers, he struggled to get separation at times, too. Hammond’s career totals (61 catches, 787 yards, 6 TDs) are less than what some of UF’s former receivers compiled in a season.
Crystal ball: Hammond has one last chance to leave his mark on the program, but it comes against a Louisville defense that is giving up 194 yards per game passing. He won’t get drafted but could end up in an NFL training camp. Hammond has a better future in track and field, where he competes in the high jump. He placed second in the SEC indoor championships and ninth in the NCAA indoor championships this past February and March.
WR Quinton Dunbar
31 catches, 306 yards, 4 TDs
The good: After struggling early in the season, Dunbar became UF’s most consistent receiver. He led the team in touchdown catches, although none were longer than 19 yards, and averaged 9.9 yards per catch. Dunbar developed a better on-field rapport with Driskel as the season progressed and caught 16 passes in the final five games. He caught TD passes in two of the final three games, and his 14-yarder in the fourth quarter against FSU sealed the Gators’ victory.
The bad: Being the best of the receivers isn’t much of an accomplishment because the unit has been sub-par for three seasons. Dunbar also never became the big-time playmaker the Gators needed. His longest catch of the season was 23 yards, never caught more than four passes in a game, and averaged just 25.5 receiving yards per game. The SEC leader (Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton) averaged 111.2. Dunbar had some trouble with drops, too, and struggled to get separation from defensive backs.
Crystal ball: Dunbar returns in 2013 as the Gators’ most experienced wide receiver (45 catches, 522 yards, 6 TDs) and that should guarantee him a starting spot in the spring. However, he won’t hold onto it if he doesn’t continue to develop and show the ability to stretch the field. Latroy Pittman, Raphael Andrades and the five players currently committed will be given every chance to get on the field. The position has to improve.
He’ll find out pretty quickly that he’s got plenty of work ahead of him in trying to fix a position that has been a disappointment over the past three seasons.
Gators receivers combined to catch 118 passes in 2010, but Deonte Thompson led the group with only 38 catches for 570 yards and one touchdown. They combined for 69 catches last season and Thompson again led the group -- but this time had just 21 catches for 264 yards and one touchdown. UF’s receiver have combined for 58 catches this season, led by Quinton Dunbar’s 31 catches for 306 yards and four TDs.
The biggest element missing from the position, aside from the ability to consistently separate and get open, is the lack of a downfield threat. Frankie Hammond had TD catches of 55 and 75 yards, but those came after he caught a short pass and broke a tackle. No other receiver has a reception of longer than 23 yards.