The upside: Like Florida coach Jim McElwain said at the recent SEC Media Days, the speed is back at wide receiver at Florida. The Gators have some fast, athletic wide receivers who can stretch the field and make plays, led by Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell, Tyrie Cleveland and others.
Unlike the past two seasons, when opposing secondaries have tried to take Callaway out of games with double coverage, not fearing UF’s other options in the passing game, the Gators have the numbers (and skill) now to spread the ball around and burn secondaries if they try to focus on one target.
Cleveland showed his home-run ability with the 98-yard TD reception in the win at LSU. He really started to emerge in the second half of last season and followed it up with a strong spring.
Powell, working out of the slot, has been one of UF’s most consistent offensive producers over the past two seasons, and the Gators expect to see more of the same from him in 2017.
Powell will be in an intense competition for playing time in preseason camp with former junior college transfer Dre Massey. One of the fastest players on the team, Massey was expected to have a big impact last season but went down with a torn ACL in the opener and was lost for the year. He could end up seeing some time as a wildcat quarterback, a role the coaches created for him last summer.
The coaches also have confidence in the playmaking ability of the young backups. Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond played as true freshmen last season and Hammond is coming off an excellent spring. Redshirt freshman Rick Wells was coming on strong last fall before injuring his knee.
With speed and depth, the UF wide receivers are considered a team strength for the first time in almost a decade.
The Gators also have some proven playmakers at tight end in DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis, along with a promising newcomer in true freshman Kemore Gamble.
UF’S PROBABLE DEPTH CHART
The downside: Consistency — in terms of route running and catching the football — is an issue that needs to be resolved if the Gators hope to meet their high expectations in the passing game. UF had far too many missed assignments and drops last season, a problem that contributed to the inconsistent quarterback play and the overall struggles on offense. This is a group of receivers and tight ends that has a chance to go make plays for their quarterback. Now, they have to go out and do it.
Young guy to watch: Kemore Gamble. The true freshman is an early enrollee who made a great first impression on the coaches in the spring with his speed and skills as a pass-catching tight end. He also has shown a toughness and willingness as a blocker, something that has been lacking at tight end. Gamble figures to get into the playing rotation in 2017 at a position that is one of the focal points of the passing game.
Don’t be surprised if: Callaway emerges as an elite wide receiver and possible first-round NFL draft pick. His off-the-field issues are now behind him and a more focused Callaway appears to have benefited from spending his first full offseason in school and with his teammates.
He’s hit it hard in the strength and conditioning program and appears quicker and faster. With more speed and potential playmakers around him, Callaway should have more opportunities to make plays — something he has shown he can do throughout his career.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
Ranking the SEC receivers
3. South Carolina
4. Ole Miss
7. Texas A&M
10. Mississippi State