This week, InsidetheGators.net examines the 2010 Florida Gators football team group by group. Today, we take an in-depth look at the receivers and tight ends.
Overview: In terms of athletic ability, this group probably has few peers. But ability does not guarantee game-day success. And on the field, Florida's receivers and tight ends have done very little individually or collectively.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez (68 catches, 850 yards), who led the Gators in receptions last year, is now in the NFL. So are Riley Cooper (51, 961) and David Nelson (25, 291), who ranked second and third.
That leaves Florida with a group that is talented, but green
Junior Deonte Thompson is the Gators' top returning pass catcher and arguably the best receiver on the squad. After a slow beginning to his Florida career, the much-heralded Thompson got better as the season progressed last year and finished with 24 receptions for 343 yards and four touchdowns. His hands, which have been an issue at times, dramatically improved this spring. With his blazing speed, if that trend continues Thompson has the potential to post some pretty lofty numbers in 2010. He seemed to be a favorite target of quarterback John Brantley during spring practice, and that bodes well for Thompson, who is due for a breakout season..
After Thompson, there are several major question marks.
Senior Carl Moore is the projected starter at one of the other receiver spots, but thus far he hasn't done much since arriving in Gainesville. Moore, who missed all of last season with a back injury, has the size, speed and hands to make a major impact. But his career has been marked by inconsistency.
The Gators are likely to fill their final starting receiver spot with junior Chris Rainey, a player who spent his first two seasons at running back. Because Florida has a logjam at tailback and a need at the position once occupied by current NFL star Percy Harvin, Rainey was moved to receiver in the spring. In truth, he wasn't all bad -- once he caught the ball. But coaches admitted Rainey, who is as dangerous as any Gator in the open field, needs to improve his route running.
Several other young receivers, notably Stephen Alli, Andre Debose , Frankie Hammond and Omarius Hines also had their moments in the spring. Hammond's status for the fall, however, is not known after he was arrested during the offseason. Of that group, Debose appears to have the most potential. He missed all of 2009 with a hamstring injury, but now looks ready to justify his five-star rating coming out of high school.
True freshman Chris Dunkley is another guy to track. A speedy playmaker, he might have a chance to earn early playing time.
At tight end, Florida is starting from scratch.
Jordan Reed, who probably would start if the season began today, was a quarterback last season. Gerald Christian, who also is in the mix, is a true freshman early enrollee. Redshirt freshman Desmond Parks missed most of the spring with an injury, but because this position is still up for grabs, could make up ground with a solid start in August. In short-yardage situations, Florida could turn to offensive tackle Matt Patchan or even defensive end Earl Okine.
Top Player: Deonte Thompson. Once he overcame a shaky start to spring practice, it quickly became obvious Thompson was Florida's best receiver. On deep patterns, he's almost impossible to stick with. And he's also difficult to stop in the open field. Most important, Thompson started to catch everything thrown his way. By the end of the spring, Thompson looked like a new player -- a confident player, a player who appears ready to be a star, to live up to the hype, to lead.
Rising Star: Andre Debose. Debose, even at what he called "90 percent," did some eye-popping things during the final week of spring practice. He not only has incredible top-end speed, but is shifty and has the ability to go up and make spectacular catches. Athletically speaking, Debose appears to be among the elite of the elite. The only real question is this: Can he stay healthy?
Needs to step up: Carl Moore. Moore came to Florida from junior college as a coveted five-star prospect. But in two years here, he has only 14 receptions. Moore was hot and cold this spring, but was at his best during the Orange & Blue Debut in April. That afternoon, he looked both comfortable and confident, something that seemed to have been lacking. Moore has big-time potential, but we're still waiting for a big-time performance. The opportunity for that is there. He simply needs to seize it.
Sudden impact: Andre Debose. Debose might not start, but he should see plenty of action because he's far too dangerous to keep on the sidelines. Lots of passes will be thrown his way, and it wouldn't be a shock if he got some carries, too.
Group Rating: 6. On potential, one could give this unit a 9 or higher. But the truth is, there are several unknowns right now. By season's end, this might be among the SEC's top units. The talent is certainly there. For now, though, most of Florida's receivers are unproven.