One of the best wide receivers in school history, Chris Doering has found it difficult watching Florida’s receivers struggle and stagger through unproductive season after unproductive season.
It’s been so frustrating that at times UF’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions has been tempted to step onto the practice field and show them how it’s done.
How to beat man coverage. How to get open. How to make tough catches and big plays. How to make a difference.
That’s the way the UF receivers used to do it, but now haven’t done it consistently for the past several years.
“There’s a group of us former players that talk and there’s some frustration in the recent past about the passing game,” said Doering, now an analyst for the ESPN/SEC Network. “Not only the way they’re running routes, but the play calls. You’ve got to give guys an opportunity. When you’re running against man coverage a lot, you know, crossing routes, slants, breaking routes. You’ve got to be able to do some of those things.
“I don’t think the play calls have always been the best for giving receivers opportunities to be successful. That’s what Coach Spurrier did really well, play design, play calling at the right time and then guys that have already been coached to know exactly what they’re supposed to do in those scenarios.”
Doering has been frustrated and discouraged by the passing game and the unproductive play of the Gator wide receivers. Now, with proven winner Dan Mullen and proven wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales taking over, Doering is hopeful for the first time in a while.
Hopeful and cautiously optimistic.
“Potential is the key word,” he said. “Potential is great, but if it’s not actually realized and there’s no utilization of the potential, then it’s just wasted.
“The passing game is not just about receivers. It’s the blocking up front, it’s the quarterback understanding what he’s seeing and being able to either get to the right play or make the right read. It’s just been a complete disconnect on that side of the ball at every position.”
Having spent some time with Mullen, Gonzales and the receivers during the spring, Doering said he feels there’s a chance there will be a reconnect in the passing game this season.
The Gators have some talented receivers, led by Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and transfers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes, and a coaching staff that gets it when it comes to the passing game and making it work.
“Being able to get everybody on the same page is going to be big,” Doering said. “I think you’ll see a lot more production. I’m going to be quietly optimistic about this group (of receivers). They may have a chance to be probably the third best group in the conference.
“You look at Ole Miss being No. 1 by far, and South Carolina has a chance to be second. But Florida could be right there with the third-best group.”
For the wide receivers to reach their potential, it starts where it always does — with coaching.
That’s the way it was back in Doering’s day (1993-95), when Steve Spurrier and Dwayne Dixon coached up some talented athletes who also included Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard and Jacquez Green and turned them into the most prolific wide receiver group in school history.
“The reason our group was so good was because Dwayne Dixon was a guy who had recently gotten done playing, so he’s out there running the routes, showing you how to do it,” Doering said. “And Coach Spurrier spent a lot of time with us talking about running things exactly the way he wanted you to.
“We spent so much time throwing routes on air that it was all about reps and timing and developing that rapport.
“That teaching maybe has not been there the way it should have been (the past several years).”
Doering points to the receivers’ lack of ability to beat man coverage and get open under Kerry Dixon and the former coaching staff.
He said it appears a lot of potential teaching moments were passed over on the practice field the last three seasons.
“It was really tough to watch as a former receiver, guys that aren’t able to get off man coverage,” Doering said. “If you can’t beat man coverage, it’s going to be a long day. Florida guys at the wide receiver position just couldn’t separate.
“You’ve seen how quickly they (the former staff) were just trying to get reps on tape (in practice). What Coach Spurrier was really big on was corrections on the field, spending time teaching on the field. That’s where the receivers could have benefitted more, having some of that immediate correction on the field and doing it correctly at the teaching session.
“Coach Spurrier would run the routes. We’d laugh at the way he’d run, but it was cool to see him out there. He was an active part of the throwing and catching game. When you have the head coach that has that much emphasis, it means a lot. I think Dan will be able to bring some of that, too.”
Doering also said the receivers will have a better chance to reach their potential under Gonzales, a veteran wide receivers coach who has had success wherever he’s been, including being part of two national championship teams at Florida under Urban Meyer.
Several of the receivers said this spring that Gonzales is the best wide receivers coach they’ve ever had.
Doering can see that.
“I’m really excited about Billy Gonzales, knowing what he does, knowing how he coaches,” Doering said. “I think it’s going to be a group that starts to live up to their potential a little more.
“The reason I was able to play for nine years in the NFL was because of the way Coach Dixon and Coach Spurrier taught the passing game, taught how to run routes. That’s something Coach Gonzales is going to bring to these guys.”
Gonzales will have some talent and potential to work with. Now, it’s a matter of turning potential into production, something that hasn’t happened in years.
“It’s a group that I think is maybe sneakily talented, but has not yet lived up to the potential that they have,” Doering said. “With Van Jefferson’s experience and Trevon Grimes’ size and ability and then with Tyrie maybe having a little bit different teaching, I think there’s a couple of different guys that we could see have big years.”