Major upgrade needed from Florida receivers
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:53 p.m.
I am the ultimate spring cynic, one of those people who sees spring game and spring scrimmages as necessary for coaches, a glimpse into the future for the fans and as meaningless as that “Have a nice day” you get from flight attendants.
Quick, who had the big game for the Orange in the 2008 game? Exactly. Only one thing can happen at spring games and that's an injury (witness Ronald Powell last year).
I'm not trying to come off as a curmudgeon, just someone who views these games with a liter of salt.
On Saturday, when Florida played it's annual spring game that was not a game because of injuries, I paid special attention to one position. It was not the quarterback. It was his receivers.
I know the trendy thing is to look for a jump forward in quarterback Jeff Driskel. Florida's downfield passing game was just this side of a Pop Warner team. For the Gators to progress as an offense, Driskel needs to play better.
I don't disagree. He doesn't need to take a Joakim Noah leap, but he needs to play better and think better.
But it's more important that we see a major upgrade in Florida's receivers.
It's been awhile since Florida had one of those guys who could climb air to go get the ball like Reidel Anthony used to do. When is the last time we saw a Gator receiver make a SportsCenter-worthy catch?
“We made progression,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “And we've recruited the position well.”
There is no doubt there is a lot of talent at the position, but is there ball-skill talent? There's more to being a wide receiver than being able to run.
“I think for a lot of these guys, being in the second year of the offense is going to help,” Muschamp said.
Don't forget, a guy like Andre Debose is on his fifth receiver coach at UF and that can't help. And last year, as we all know, Florida went conservative on offense.
But here's an example of why the passing game was so bad last year — the first play of the Sugar Bowl.
They went over the first play dozens of times in practice. And then when they lined up, Jordan Reed was on the wrong side of the field. Driskel had to move him over, then expected him to go in motion to give away the Louisville defense. He didn't. All of this is running through Driskel's head as he takes the snap and throws behind Debose, and it's a pick-six and the game totally changes.
So it's more than making great catches. It's being responsible and it's practicing hard every day. It's knowing the offense and the other team's defense.
“The receivers have learned a lot,” Driskel said. “They did get a lot better. They've shown they could (make tough catches) throughout the spring. But we were limited today.”
There were injuries at wide receiver and on the offensive line that turned the spring game into a routine practice. Florida had an offensive agenda and that did not include throwing the ball down the field.
Of course, when your offense hasn't been rated higher than 103rd the last two years, it may be worth a try.
The receiver highlight to me Saturday came when Demarcus Robinson made a diving catch of a deep fade pass from Tyler Murphy during the first part of the drills, the kind of catch that drew cheers from the fans who attended the event. He may be that guy.
“I think the guy, athletically, is what we want,” Muschamp said, “and Quinton (Dunbar) continues to make plays for us. I know talking to Jaylen (Watkins), Loucheiz (Purifoy) and Marcus (Roberson), who are cover corners, they feel like he runs extremely well. We have to continue to develop the position. We're not exactly where I want to be, but I know we've improved and I'm looking forward to seeing those guys continue through the summer."
The talk all spring has been that this will be an improved offense, one that will do a better job of spreading the field and hitting vertical passes. Nothing we saw Saturday indicated that to be the case, but Saturday is not when it is important.
There are a lot of Saturdays to come when it will be.
“I know it's getting better,” Muschamp said.
It couldn't get much worse. And yet, Florida won 11 games last season without a scary vertical passing game. All I'm saying is I think it's necessary in 2013. And it's necessary for the receivers on this team to take the offense to a higher level.
Driskel can't do it without them.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.