For the first time since Tim Tebow tossed touchdowns to Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper and David Nelson, the Florida Gators might finally have a competent receiving corps.
“We have major depth and major talent,” said senior Quinton Dunbar, a standout from Miami Booker T. Washington.
“Any guy can step in and make plays. We’re excited to get this thing going.”
Florida’s receivers, an unproductive unit and the butt of jokes across the college football landscape since 2009, are suddenly a team strength in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s no-huddle, spread offense.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel has a wide variety of weapons (size, speed and potential) at his disposal, as Florida is comfortable rotating as many as nine players as the position.
“The great thing, we’ve got a lot of competition, so it’s going to make those guys work harder,” coach Will Muschamp said.
“I think they have done a great job with Jeff and our quarterbacks this summer. I’m excited to see those guys go out and compete. I certainly feel like we have improved our ourselves at that position.”
In three seasons with Muschamp at the helm, the Gators have produced just four 100-yard receiving games. Last season, Duke’s offense — piloted by Roper — notched eight such games. Florida hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receivers since 2002 (Taylor Jacobs). Roper produced three in the past two seasons with the Blue Devils.
Development, on-and-off the field, has been the key issue at the position for Florida.
Multiple top recruits (Javares McRoy, Chris Dunkley, Ja’Juan Story) came and went, never playing a down for the Gators. Meanwhile, others — most notably Demarcus Robinson and Latroy Pittman — have struggled with maturity and coaching and spent as much time on the sidelines as on the field.
According to many, that’s changed.
Pittman, a junior, is expected to be a key contributor in the slot. Robinson, a ballyhooed sophomore who endured a suspension-marred freshman campaign after being tabbed UF’s savoir at the position last fall, has grown up.
The former four-star prospect collected just six receptions for 43 yards in 2013, but the 6-1, 205-pounder is considered the team’s most explosive playmaker.
“He’s really matured,” Muschamp said.
“I think Demarcus had very good spring. The game has slowed down for him. It’s not add water, instant player. Sometimes it takes guys a little more time to adapt to the college speed of the game.”
Sophomores Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson are expected to contribute, while the unit’s wild card is sixth-year senior Andre Debose, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The former five-star recruit was billed as Florida’s next Harvin, but the speedster has struggled with injuries and consistency during his lengthy stay in Gainesville.
Now, he’s thrilled to make his collegiate swan song a memorable one.
“I was recruited to play in a spread offense,” Debose said, earnestly.
“I’m finally in an offense I came to play in. All of us are going to flourish in this offense. With the ball in space, a lot of us can get the job done.”
Added starting left tackle D.J. Humphries: “Top to bottom, I couldn’t be a coach and decide, ‘This person is going to start and this person isn’t.’ I feel like top to bottom our receivers are world class. Seems like everybody that’s here was meant to play in a spread offense. That’s going to finally give us a real chance to utilize all our tools.”