- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOOVER, Ala. -- Outside of finding an offense that can run on its own two feet, Florida is searching for a receiver who can be more reliable and more consistent in 2014.
According to coach Will Muschamp, there are plenty of candidates, but when it comes to a couple guys who could really move the needle for the Gators' offense, Muschamp really likes what he's seen from fifth-year senior Andre Debose.
The arrival of Kurt Roper and his spread, up-tempo offense has rejuvenated Debose, Muschamp said. Nearly a year removed from a season-ending ACL injury, Debose appears to have found some fire in Roper's offense.
“I think this offense fits Andre well," Muschamp said Monday. "[He is] a guy who can play in the slot and do some things, play outside and get him in some matchup situations. Get him the ball quick and let him play in space.”
Talent has never been a question when it's come to Debose, but heart and work ethic have. He arrived at Florida in 2010 as ESPN's No. 30 overall high school prospect and received immediate comparisons to former Gators star Percy Harvin. Unfortunately for his team, Debose has hardly been Harvin.
We've seen flashes that say Debose could be special. He has unreal skill in the return game and enters the fall with four touchdowns on kickoff returns. That's a Florida record and is tied for the SEC record. But when it comes to actually playing receiver, Debose has been very hit or miss.
In 2011, Debose led Florida in receiving yards (432) and receiving touchdowns (four) before catching just three passes for 15 yards in 2012. Debose played in nine games that fall, so it wasn't due to a lack of chances.
What Debose has lacked is drive, and Muschamp hasn't been afraid to confront his receiver about it.
"You gotta practice," he said. "You actually have to go out there and compete and be competitive all the time and be consistent in your performance."
The light seemed to flicker for Debose last offseason, Muschamp said, until he went down with that devastating knee injury.
“I really felt like he had crossed that hurdle in training camp last year," Muschamp said. "He was having a great camp. I was extremely pleased with where he was and then, boom, he pops his ACL in non-contact making a plant.”
After a rough start to his rehab, Debose regained his motivation about a month in, Muschamp said. There was a fire burning inside him, and he returned to spring practice as a non-contact participant ahead of schedule. It was a sign that Debose is working to end his career on the right foot.
“[Team doctors] didn’t think there was any way he’d participate in non-contact in spring practice, and right now he’s been cleared for everything in the summer," Muschamp said. "Here’s a guy who’s really worked his tail off to put himself back into position to do some things.”
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