UF wideouts receive high praise


Published: Monday, April 28, 2014 at 1:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 28, 2014 at 1:01 p.m.

Several factors have contributed to Florida's football team being inept offensively during Will Muschamp's tenure.

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Chris Thompson scores a touchdown during the first half of the Orange and Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on April 12. The game ended in a 23-all tie.

Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun

Poor offensive line play, injuries at quarterback and having to change coordinators are among them.

Those issues have all affected the passing game, which has been the biggest problem for UF.

The Gators ranked worse than 100th nationally in passing offense the past two years, and they haven't produced a season average of more than 200 passing yards per game since Tim Tebow was in Gainesville.

Muschamp, however, thinks one position could help change that.

“We're as deep as we've been at wideout with guys who can make some plays on the ball,” he said.

Florida is without two of its top three leading receivers from 2013 in seniors Trey Burton and Solomon Patton. In their absence, several players made their way from the bench to the field during the spring.

“With the loss of Trey and Solo, guys like me who didn't get much playing time last year are getting a shot,” sophomore Ahmad Fulwood said. “It's helped our offense and the receiver group improve a lot.”

The unit of mostly underclassmen is led by redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar. He finished just behind Patton last year with 40 catches for 548 yards but didn't score a touchdown.

“This is his fifth year,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “He's been consistent and made big plays. I think he's really going to emerge this season and break through.”

Driskel also expects big things from Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson, whom he called “a home-run threat on every play.” Another young wideout, Chris Thompson, impressed in several open practices and scored in the spring game.

The three sophomores are working at the outside receiver spots to fill Patton's void and back up Dunbar.

“We're very important to the offense because we're providing depth,” Thompson said. “If somebody goes down, we have to be able to step up and play. It's also going to keep our receivers fresh and allow us to make plays the whole game.”

In the slot, Burton has been replaced by juniors Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers, a former safety who is now a full-time receiver after playing running back last season and catching 18 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Pittman has become the first-team slot receiver and looks to thrive in Kurt Roper's spread offense.

“There's more bubble screens and short routes where you can get the ball in your hands quick and make plays in space. That's real fun to do,” Pittman said.

“It's not a big change for me, and I'm a big-body guy. So going across the middle and taking those shots from safeties or linebackers isn't much of a concern for me at all. I kind of love that physicality.”

Together, the six aforementioned receivers totaled 20 receptions for 206 yards in the Orange & Blue Debut. Sixth-year senior Andre Debose, who missed last season with a torn ACL, also returns to action this fall.

“A lot guys made good plays for me this spring,” Driskel said. “As a quarterback, you can never have too many weapons.”

“We're going to have to continue our timing and trust with each other over the summer. You can't go back into fall camp without being in rhythm. We're looking forward to it.”

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