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August 13, 2009

Receiving corps still biggest question mark

At Florida's Media Day, senior Brandon Spikes said Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and himself always talked about leaving as a group when it came time to make the jump to the NFL.

But Tebow and Spikes decided to come back for their senior seasons while Harvin made the leap to the next level, leaving Florida with a gigantic hole to fill at wide receiver.

Add to that the loss of starter Louis Murphy and almost 50 percent of the Gators receiving yards from a year ago are no longer on the team.

Who steps forward to fill that that void is the biggest question mark facing UF heading into the 2009 football season.

The Gators received a measure of good news last week when senior Riley Cooper let it be known that he would play his senior season before joining the Texas Rangers for baseball at the conclusion of the football season.

Florida will rely heavily on Cooper as well as senior David Nelson, sophomore Deonte Thompson and freshman Andre Debose to prove that the wide receiver position is not going to hold back a team that is the consensus No. 1 heading into the season.

"There's a lot of people doubting us," Thompson said. "A lot of people out there are saying Florida's only weakness is the receivers. We got to go out there with a chip on our shoulders. We got to prove them wrong."

The duo of Thompson, the self-proclaimed fastest player on the team, and Cooper gives the Gators the ability to stretch the field vertically, while Nelson provides a sure-handed possession option for Tebow underneath.

The wide receiver-running back hybrid position vacated by Harvin could be filled by a number of players including running backs Jeffrey Demps and Brandon James, but Debose, who Meyer dubbed "the next Percy Harvin," most closely resembles Harvin from a speed, agility and elusiveness standpoint.

"The next Percy, I don't want to hear that," Debose said. "I know (Harvin) was a great player, but I want to kind of build my own way in Gainesville."

Debose said he feels more comfortable taking a hand off and hitting a hole than running a route and making a catch, but his big play ability means new offensive coordinator Steve Addazio will find a way to get him the ball anyway he can.

Senior Carl Moore and freshmen T.J. Lawrence, Frankie Hammond Jr. and Omarius Hines add some depth at the position and could see some playing time when Florida goes to four and five receiver sets.

Florida's best returning pass catching option may just be the player who will lineup outside the tackles. Junior tight end Aaron Hernandez emerged as one of Tebow's favorite targets a season ago and was on the receiving end of many of his passes over the spring.

Hernandez recorded 34 catches for 381 yards and five touchdowns last year after he was thrust into the starting lineup when Cornelius Ingram went down for the season with an ACL tear.

"(Hernandez) is a dynamic guy that can catch the ball like any wide receiver. He can make the tough catches," Addazio said.

The cupboard isn't bare for the receiving core, but Harvin was often called upon the most when the game was on the line and someone is going to have to step-up to assume that role within the offense this season.

The opportunity is available, who seizes it is still in question.

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