Passing game hangs in balance


Demarcus Robinson has emerged as a downfield threat for the Gators.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.

Florida’s passing game was pretty much one-dimensional last season. When the Gators needed to make a play, they usually went to the same guy, tight end Jordan Reed.

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Demarcus Robinson has emerged as a downfield threat for the Gators.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer

Defenses, of course, knew that.

Now that Reed is gone, Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been working on bringing more balance to the passing game by getting more receivers involved, including the running backs.

Pease seems pretty pleased with the new plan so far.

“It’s really more centered around the kids that are playing wide receiver now,” he said Wednesday. “Obviously, we took a big loss with Jordan because he was our leading pass reception guy last year. Things have to become more balanced out in throwing to the wide receivers.

“One of the things we focused on in the offseason with the quarterbacks and studying film was how many times the backs can be the guys that catch balls in the passing game. We should have, based on coverages and reads, gotten those guys the ball a lot more.

“Those guys are going to have to balance those things out. If we just have good distribution and the guys make plays, which they’ve done a great job in practice making big plays and tough catches and stretching the defense, you’re going to see more balance.”

One of the new playmakers in the passing game figures to be a kid who was playing high school ball a year ago — true freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, who has been one of the stars of camp. Another true freshman, Ahmad Fulwood, also should be a factor this season, Pease said.

The emergence of Robinson, Fulwood and others at wide receiver, including senior Solomon Patton, has allowed Loucheiz Purifoy to concentrate almost exclusively on cornerback in preseason practice.

Robinson, in particular, has shown the ability to make plays down the field, something that was missing in the passing game most of last season.

“The kid’s a phenomenal athlete,” Pease said. “He’s one of the guys that has to fill that role. I don’t think he’s the only guy because we’ve got probably three or four kids that can do that with Solomon, Quinton (Dunbar) is capable of doing that as well as Ahmad.”

At 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Robinson has the size, strength and speed to get off the line in man-to-man coverage and create separation, Pease said.

“He can get knocked off at times on a re-route, but he has the ability to explode to go get a ball,” Pease said. “So he's got a lot of range. And I always refer to a kid I had at Boise State, Austin Pettis, who plays for the Rams now. He had tremendous range in catching a ball. It wasn't just on his body, it could be outside the frame of his body.

“Demarcus has that, but he also probably has a lot more speed and athleticism to get that done. I'm not appointing him the greatest thing on Earth yet, because he's got to play a game, but I know he's worked at his skill and I think he's understanding what his opportunity and his job is on each play.”

Another potential target in the passing game is senior Trey Burton, the versatile athlete who can line up in several positions, including fullback and quarterback in the Wildcat formation. Burton’s focus in camp has been on playing slot receiver.

“Trey Burton is having a great camp,” Pease said. “I think we know what he can do. He’s a good athlete, he can play various roles. But just purely as a receiver, he’s gotten a lot better at understanding what his liabilities were. He’s running good routes, catching the ball, winning more one-on-one coverage.”

Burton has been nursing an injured wrist, but Pease said “he’s fine.”

With Burton, Robinson and others emerging in camp, Pease said he expects the passing game to be improved and more balanced than last season.

“I would expect it to be better,” Pease said. “The quarterback (Jeff Driskel) knowing better. I think we’ve cleaned up some of his opportunities not to get hit so much, the protection factor that he’ll have around him. That needs to be better.

“The fact is if you can catch the ball better, put the ball on a kid’s hands and he’s making more yards after the catch with it or bigger threats of hitting that ball over the top, then that’s all coming into place.

“It’s not going to be there totally yet; it’s not perfected. But I expect (the passing game) to be more of threat than it was at the end of last season.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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