Former Gators see no quick solution for wide receiver slump


Florida receiver Quinton Dunbar drops a pass while being covered by Georgia cornerback Branden Smith last year in Jacksonville. Dunbar was UF's top wide receiver last season with 36 catches for 383 yards and four touchdowns.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 8:17 p.m.

While college football players spend their summer months training on fields and in weight rooms, the offseason is also a time for creative sports information departments to generate buzz around their programs.

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Florida receiver Quinton Dunbar drops a pass while being covered by Georgia cornerback Branden Smith last year in Jacksonville. Dunbar was UF's top wide receiver last season with 36 catches for 383 yards and four touchdowns.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer

Among the early Heisman Trophy campaigns and marketing ploys rolled out in recent weeks, Southern California released a video in late June promoting its growing legacy of high-flying wide receivers.

With one-handed touchdown grabs and acrobatic catches as the backdrop, highlights of former Trojan greats Lynn Swann, Keyshawn Johnson and Marqise Lee play over a minute-and-a-half clip titled: “USC Football — Wide Receiver U.”

However, there was a time last decade when former Florida receivers like Chris Doering and Travis McGriff felt their own school once laid claim to being college football's leading producer of wideout talent.

“When you look at the players and the numbers, (Florida) kind of is that ‘Wide Receiver U,'” McGriff said. “We've had so many good players around here in the 90s and into the early 2000s, you just had 1,000-yard receiver after 1,000-yard receiver.”

McGriff, who owns an SEC single-season record with 1,357 yards in 1998, is one of 17 former Gator wide receivers selected in the NFL draft since 1996 — the most of any college football program in that span.

Following Riley Cooper's fifth-round selection in the 2010 draft, Florida has gone three straight years without a wideout's name being called. The longest previous undrafted stretch came nearly 30 years ago from 1982 to 1984.

“Once those guys were gone, I really felt like there was a talent gap,” McGriff said. “Without being overly hard on them, I just don't think we've had the kind of guys that we're used to having around here.”

Over the last three seasons, UF wide receivers have cracked 100 yards in a single game three times and have led the Gators in total season receptions just once. Last year, wideouts accounted for 37.9 percent of the team's 1,902 receiving yards.

Doering, who in 1995 was the first receiver to top 1,000 yards in a season for former UF coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense, sees an overlapping trust issue at the center of Florida's struggles in the passing game.

“The biggest thing you've got to have is trust in a guy,” Doering said. “The trust is developed in practice every day. That's why coach Spurrier always used to talk about how he loved guys that played the way that they practiced, and they really demonstrated on the practice field what they were capable of doing. I think that's what has kind of been missing here is really the confidence in a guy to be able to throw him in there in a game and feel comfortable to play the way they've been coached.”

While McGriff and Doering were both coached at their position by Dwayne Dixon, who held the title of receivers coach for 11 years at Florida until 2004, the Gators have had four different coaches at the post in the last four years.

Last season alone, three UF assistants overall held the mantle of receivers coach with the resignation of Aubrey Hill hours before the Gators' first preseason practice on Aug. 3, 2012.

“Most coaches' philosophies are slightly different when it comes to technique, body position in and out of breaks and just the little nuances of how you do things,” McGriff said. “It would be a little bit of an aggravation every year to readjust and have a new guy.”

Heading into this season, Florida is still searching for reliable downfield threats to emerge from a group of upperclassmen featuring Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose. The team also added five wide receiver signees with its 2013 recruiting class.

While early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, a consensus top-10 receiver prospect, drew praise in the spring from UF's coaching staff, Doering believes it's going to take more than one strong freshman class to fix the Gators' issues at the position.

“It's a sad state of affairs when you're talking about players being that home-run threat that have never even played a down of college football yet,” Doering said. “Having to bring in a kid as a true freshman to be your stretch guy, I think it's a pretty poor commentary on where you are right now.”

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