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April 16, 2014

Spring Recap: The Pass Catchers


SPRING BALL: O&B Debut: Breakdown II | O&B Debut: Breakdown I | Take 5 | Spring Practice Central

With spring camp over, Inside the Gators is taking an all-encompassing look at the Gators after 15 practices by breaking down each position. Today, we take an in-depth look at the wide receivers and tight ends.

OVERVIEW: It's not just a spring talking point. This is the most loaded Florida has been at wide receiver in years, easily the most loaded it has been since the "Will Muschamp Era" began in 2011. The Gators have nine wide receivers on scholarship, seven - if you include Andre Debose - that Muschamp and Kurt Roper believe they can trust to hold significant roles going into the fall.

Of those seven, five we're at least four-star prospects and members of the Rivals250 coming out of high school. Substantial talent has been compiled at the position and it is now time for that gathering to turn into production.

Florida's six active wide receivers who got regular repetitions showed the kind of balance the Gators have at the position. Quinton Dunbar is a reliable target who spent the spring finding ways to work one of the best cornerbacks in the Southeastern Conference in Vernon Hargreaves III. Ahmad Fulwood is incredibly similar to Dunbar, except with better upside. Demarcus Robinson is the best athlete on Florida's offense and showed the ability to be a big-play type throughout spring.

There are multiple options in the slot and a slew of targets for Jeff Driskel. In addition, Florida has essentially gotten rid of the traditional tight end position with the implementation of Roper's offense. Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook are still plenty involved in the offense but in a much different capacity as part of the hybrid "B" position that has merged fullbacks, tight ends and larger running backs.

Driskel called the tight ends a pleasant surprise of the spring. They're hardly a finished product, but it wouldn't take much to improve upon 2013 at the position.

THE STANDOUT: Florida's new offense is all about getting the ball in space to receivers and letting them do the rest. No one showed a better ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands throughout spring than Robinson. His 31-yard touchdown catch and run in the spring game was just a sampling of the kind of plays he made all spring. Robinson did not leave spring as a starting lineup guy but that has more to do with the reliability of Dunbar and Fulwood than anything else. The twice-suspended sophomore still has to prove he has grown up.

THE SURPRISE: Latroy Pittman seemed lost in more way than one less than a year ago. He was a non-factor at his position and his season started with a multi-game suspension. When a new offensive coordinator comes into play, there is usually at least one player who gets a much-welcomed fresh start. That has been Pittman under Roper. The junior has found a role working at slot receiver and appears to be the starter at the position coming out of spring. He has the combination of moves and toughness over the middle to be a fit.

DISAPPOINTING: There was certainly progress at tight end, but the Gators left spring still searching for someone who can truly embrace the "B" position and create a unique matchup advantage. Freshman DeAndre Goolsby has the ceiling to do that at some point during his UF career, but it is highly unlikely he will be ready for such a role in 2014. Burton and Westbrook have come along but there's only so much room for them to grow from failed defensive ends to capable pass-catchers. The interesting dynamic will be whether or not Matt Jones can fit into the role once he returns this summer and in fall camp.

Quinton Dunbar


He's a popular option underneath but needs to prove he can be more of a threat beyond 15 yards. Dunbar needs to be able to turn consistent catches into bigger plays.

Ahmad Fulwood


A slightly more explosive version of Dunbar, Fulwood might be the most well-rounded wide receiver Florida has. Don't be shocked if he leads the team in catches this fall.

Latroy Pittman


It has been fun to watch the Marion County product salvage his career this spring and find a role that fits his physical style. Now it's a matter of Pittman transferring his progress over to the field when games matter.

Demarcus Robinson


Fundamentally, he is not Florida's best wide receiver, but no one is more dangerous with the ball in his hands and that's why Robinson should have a breakout season. If he irons out his route running and off-field issues, he's a star.

Valdez Showers


Pittman's success was Showers' downfall as the player who entered spring as the likely favorite at slot receiver but left as a reserve. He's a weapon in space, but Showers is not refined enough as a receiver to take advantage of his skill set.

Chris Thompson


A pleasant surprise out of Gainesville High School, Thompson's spring success probably won't result in a ton of playing time in the fall, but if he has even a small role catching passes as a sophomore, it's a success.

Alvin Bailey


The slot role in Roper's offense seemed perfect for Bailey until he did little to nothing during spring to force his way into playing time conversations. Barring a big summer, he's in for another fall of watching.

Raphael Andrades


A minor injury kept him from getting in much of a rhythm throughout spring, but Andrades still had a couple nice catches. He just does not seem to be a planned factor in the new offense.

Andre Debose


A wild card in the plans of everything, Debose only worked out briefly in spring and did so in a non-contact jersey. He could be an asset in space or he could be held back to his regular role of returning kicks.

Clay Burton


Give Burton credit for making noticeable strides as a pass-catcher during the off-season. His ability may not match his desire for improvements but Burton did emerge as a first-team guy.

Tevin Westbrook


Similar to Burton, he has a noticeable wall in terms of how far he can come along as an offensive weapon. His snaps will probably be fairly few come fall, but Westbrook has done what he can with what he has.
DeAndre Goolsby


The potential is certainly there but to this point it is mostly untouched. Goolsby caught the eye a couple times this spring for big plays but I'd be hesitant to predict any kind of serious role for him as a freshman.


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