Purifoy enters spring practice as No. 1 receiver
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 10:07 p.m.
One position change, even though only temporary, reveals what might be Florida's No. 1 offensive priority this spring.
Starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, one of the Gators' best and most explosive athletes, is opening spring practice today at wide receiver, where he is listed as a starter on the depth chart.
That says one thing: the Gators are looking to upgrade their passing game, especially down the field.
“Just be more efficient throwing the football,” UF coach Will Muschamp said Tuesday. “That's something, as we hit spring, we're going to be working on a little bit more as far as throwing the football is concerned.
“We've got to be more efficient throwing it, and that's going to be a big part of it in spring.”
In 2012, the Gators averaged only 146.3 yards passing a game, and sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel had three consecutive games where he threw for less than 100 yards.
The lack of production can be attributed to a combination of things: questionable decision-making at times by Driskel; shaky pass protection by the offensive front; and the lack of a dynamic wide receiver and the failure by the receivers to get open consistently.
The Gators tried to get Purifoy involved in the passing game late last season, but only in a limited role. He ended up catching only one pass for five yards.
The coaches are planning to expand Purifoy's role in the offense this spring. He'll spend the first seven practice days exclusively at wide receiver, where offensive coordinator Brent Pease will try to develop a package of plays to take advantage of his explosive speed and excellent ball skills.
“We know he's a defensive guy, but you have a talent like him that he can step on the field and give us something offensively,” Pease said. “We want to make the defense scheme against you a little bit, but more of just understanding the foundation of what we're trying to do and use his talents.
“The time he's been here, he understands the defensive schemes, so we're going to give him seven days to get comfortable with what we do.”
Muschamp said he felt playing Purifoy at wide receiver for the first half of the spring would be beneficial for both the offense and the defense.
“He's a guy that hasn't been full time at that position, so it would be good for him to go through the first seven days,” Muschamp said. “It also gives us an opportunity on defense for Brian Poole and Jeremy Brown to get as many turns and reps as they can (at cornerback).
“It helps us on both sides of the ball as we move forward. You can't always just put Loucheiz in and throw a screen or run a reverse with him every time he's in the game.
“We need to expand his package if we're going to continue to move forward with that. He will still remain a corner on our football team, but he's going to do the first seven days (at wide receiver).”
Purifoy is only one player involved in the spring project to make the passing game more productive. Driskel, the wide receivers and tight ends and the offensive line also have critical roles, especially Driskel, who is heading into his second year as the starter.
“We've got to be a better throwing team, and that starts with (Driskel),” Pease said. “A lot of that when we went back in the offseason, this kid is invested a lot now and up to this point of getting back and watching film. A lot of it is based around understanding the protections a lot better and when he has to get rid of the ball and where he has to see the reads.
“Just seeing the field better as a quarterback and seeing what the coverages are doing and trying to get the ball to the guys. And schemes defensively, how they're trying to attack him and confuse him.”
Unlike last spring (and through most of camp in August), Driskel will not be sharing reps with Jacoby Brissett, who has transferred to North Carolina State. Driskel will get all the reps with the No.1 offense and the starting receivers.
“That's going to help a ton,” Pease said.
Muschamp said he expects Driskel to elevate his play in his second year in Pease's offense.
“I think in year two, you're looking at execution being much cleaner in what we're doing offensively, and obviously, Jeff in his second year,” Muschamp said. “Jeff has really attacked the offseason, from a mental standpoint, as far as film is concerned and studying what he can do to be a better quarterback.
“Part of the maturation process in becoming a better player is understanding what you've got to do to be successful.
“The game continues to slow down for him. He's going to get all the turns and all the reps with the same people, which I think obviously will help us in some throwing-game situations.”
Muschamp said some of the wide receivers also are ready to make a move in their second year in the offense, including Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Solomon Patton and Latroy Pittman.
“Quinton Dunbar took a step forward last year,” Muschamp said. “He made tremendous strides as a receiver and as a dependable guy that can do some good things for us.
“Andre's a guy that has had a good offseason to this point. We're looking forward to seeing him show some consistency over a period of time. That's obviously the challenge there.”
It's all part of the No. 1 overall challenge this spring: improve the passing game.