This is the sixth in a series breaking down the 2018 Florida football team. For a look back on the series, click to http://www.gatorsports.com/home-page/florida-position-breakdown/
A preview of the Florida receivers/tight ends entering head coach Dan Mullen’s first season:
What looked like a solid group now has a chance to be special with the addition of the two transfers — Trevon Grimes (Ohio State) and Van Jefferson (Ole Miss).
When the two were ruled eligible by the NCAA the day before the start of camp, the receivers went from respectable to possibly among the elite groups in the SEC.
Grimes and Jefferson were the two best receivers on the field in the spring, and their addition definitely changes the dynamic (and potential) of the passing game.
Jefferson is a proven playmaker in the SEC, having caught 91 passes for 999 yards and four touchdowns combined in the past two seasons at Ole Miss.
Grimes, a five-star prospect coming out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas a year ago, saw only limited playing time for the Buckeyes as a true freshman last fall coming off ACL surgery in October of his senior year of high school. He has made great strides in the seven months he’s been on campus and has emerged as UF’s best deep threat.
Add Grimes and Jefferson to an already solid group that includes Tyrie Cleveland, Kadarius Toney, Freddie Swain, Dre Massey and Josh Hammond, and the Gators are looking stronger than they have in years at wide receiver.
The tight end is featured in Dan Mullen’s offense, but heading into the season, the Gators don’t have anyone who has put up any kind of numbers in the passing game.
C’yontai Lewis, the No. 1 tight end, is a senior who has only 29 career receptions, and just seven last season. He’s got some pass-catching skills, but he’s yet to be in the position of being a go-to guy and he’s had an issue with drops in the past.
The four players behind him — Moral Stephens, R.J. Raymond, Kemore Gamble and true freshmen Kyle Pitts and Dante Lang — have combined for only seven receptions, all by Stephens, a former wide receiver.
Mullen expects a lot of production out of the tight end position, but there are no proven producers there heading into the season, although there is some promising young talent to work with.
Young guy to watch
Being a true sophomore, it’s a little bit of a reach to call slot receiver Kadarius Toney a young guy. But it’s not much of a reach to say Toney has a chance to emerge as one of the SEC’s most explosive playmakers at receiver.
He showed flashes last season before injuring his shoulder. He’s improved his route running and continues to work on his hands.
He’s the quickest player on the team (and it’s not even close) and his ability to change direction at full speed makes him a nightmare for safeties coming out of the slot.
The Gators are very strong in the secondary, but even they’ve had a hard time coping with Toney in preseason camp because of his electric quickness and cutting ability.
Don’t be surprised if. …
Tyrie Cleveland becomes a more complete receiver and has a season where he catches passes all over the field instead of being basically a deep target.
In terms of running routes and getting open, Cleveland has learned a lot from wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales and Ole Miss transfer wide receiver Van Jefferson, the most polished receiver on the team and the son of longtime NFL receiver Shawn Jefferson.
Cleveland, along with Jefferson and Trevon Grimes, will continue to be a deep threat, but he’s also going to be a receiver capable of working the flats and the middle of the field. Having better receivers around him create an opportunity for him to emerge as a complete receiver.
“I think the one thing about our offense, it’s multiple. We tell our players the minute they get here, you learn your formations. Once you learn your formations, then you enter pass concepts. We’ve got the ability built in with our formations. If you’re an outside receiver on one set, you can be an inside receiver on the next set. The ability to move guys around is something we can do within our offense based on what a defense is giving us. But it’s nice when you’ve got guys that understand the entire game. That’s what we’re trying to do. Small steps with everybody out there. Teach them small steps. If they can understand what everybody is doing, what everybody has and their responsibilities, then guys are more valuable to us. We can move guys around.” — Billy Gonzales
Probable UF depth chart
Ranking the SEC receivers
Next week: Final in the series, a breakdown of the special teams.