Notebook: UF wide receiver group back at full strength
With the three players back in who had opted out, experience and depth have returned to Florida’s wide receiver group.
The Gators' three most experienced and proven receivers — Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney and Jacob Copeland — are back on the practice field after missing the first week of preseason camp contemplating a decision on whether or not to opt out this season.
“Yeah, it's good to have those guys out there, all our guys,” UF coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday. “I support all the decisions the guys make, obviously. They've got a lot going on, lot of little different personal deals and we're here to support them and help them as best we can. Good to have some of those guys out to create some depth."
While the three were missing, Penn State transfer and former five-star recruit Justin Shorter took over the leadership role .
"The great thing, you have a veteran guy like Justin Shorter doing an unbelievable job,” Mullen said. “He was there kind of leading the way. It was great for him, great adjustment for him being an older, veteran guy getting in there while those guys were gone and really showed what he can do."
The Gators are hoping Shorter will be eligible to play this season, but there’s been no decision from the NCAA on whether he’ll be granted a special waiver.
“Nope, still waiting to hear,” Mullen said.
Young WRs rising
With Grimes, Toney and Copeland missing last week, it meant more reps for all the young wide receivers, and two apparently took advantage of their opportunities — redshirt freshmen Trent Whittemore and Ja’Markis Weston.
“Trent, one of the things he does well, he’s got fabulous hands, very smart, we can play him,” Mullen said. “He knows all three different receiver positions, gives you a lot of flexibility out there on the field and you can be able to move him around.
“Ja'markis, I've seen just an unbelievable improvement from him from this time last year. Last year, he was really this big, athletic guy. Now you watch him, you watch him route running, top end, his ability catching the ball. He's catching the ball so much better.
“That gets you really excited about those young guys. Now, going from these guys that show little flashes and say that they could be great players to seeing them actually do it every day within the system is pretty exciting."
Elam putting in work
All that Kaiir Elam accomplished as a true freshman cornerback last season apparently has not gone to his head or given him pause to relax. He’s been working harder than ever in preseason camp, Mullen said.
“He’s done a great job, shown a lot of maturity,” he said. “He got to play a bunch as a freshman, more as the year went along. A lot of guys that do that get into kind of a sophomore slump. They say, ‘Hey, didn’t you see me play as a freshman last year. I was freshman All-Whatever.’
“A lot of guys struggle with that. But I love his maturity and his growth of not being satisfied. He is one of the hardest-working guys out there. He comes and works hard every day to make himself better. He is a real student of the game. He’s a much better player now than he was last year.”
Not only was Lamical Perine the Gators’ best running threat the past two seasons, he also was a potent weapon catching passes coming out of the backfield. Perine is gone, but the role of the running backs has not changed. They’ll be catching lots of balls in Mullen’s offense.
“A lot of (the other backs) got the reps out of doing it last year," Mullen said. “Maybe not as much in a game because Perine was our featured guy. But they’ve been doing it for a while. We’re going to continue to utilize those guys in the pass game.
“Malik Davis does a really good job of it as a route runner and putting him in space. Dameon Pierce obviously has some experience of doing it, getting a lot of reps at it, knowing where to be on different routes. So I think he’s done a really good job of knowing that stuff, too.”