GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In order for the Florida Gators to rebound from last year's disaster of a season, the offense has to get better.
It's hard to say if a more obvious sentence has been written.
But while most of the offensive talk has centered around quarterback Jeff Driskel and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the key might rest with the guys lining up outside, not under center.
Driskel is incredibly important to this team's success, but Florida's receivers want the responsibility of carrying this offense. They want Driskel to rest easy while they play hard. Roper's spread approach centers around creating space for receivers, and those players believe they hold the power when it comes to making Florida's offense go in 2014.
“There's no added pressure, it's just on us,” senior receiver Quinton Dunbar said of the receiving corps. “If we make plays, we win games and that's how we want it. We wouldn't have it any other way.”
That might be big talk for a unit that hasn't had anyone catch more than 44 passes or register even 600 yards in a single season since 2009. But this group is oozing confidence. Dunbar might be the leading returning receiver with 40 catches and 548 yards from a year ago, but you'd think the core players of this unit all had 1,000-yard pedigrees with the swagger they project.
"I feel like we can be great. We can be the best in the SEC," fifth-year senior Andre Debose said. “With the offense we have I feel like the coach puts us in a lot of good situations to make plays. I feel like with this offense we'll flourish.”
Yes, this is coming from players who were a part of a disastrous 4-8 Florida team that ranked at the bottom of the SEC in every major offensive category a year ago and was 107th nationally with 170.9 passing yards per game.
The confidence might sound a little premature, but Florida's receivers not only trust their ability, they trust their new OC and his offense. Roper's plan to use more three- and four-receiver sets has players excited.
Last year served as a big black eye in Florida's history books, but players are moving on. The present appears loose and happy, and the players see something special at receiver, even if skeptics loom.
"Since I've been here this is probably the most talented receiving group we've had,” Dunbar said. “I feel like everybody is going to trust each other this year to get better. I feel like we've got depth, and a lot of people can make plays."
One major advantage Florida's receivers believe they possess is an uptempo scheme. The Gators would like to run at least 80 plays a game as fast as possible.
So far, the receivers love it. Sophomore Ahmad Fulwood, whose 17 catches from last year are the second most coming back, said the receivers rejoiced when they heard they were running a no-huddle offense. They might not have the statistics to intimidate opponents, but Fulwood believes they have the speed and endurance to consistently frustrate them because he sees it in practice against a defense that could be one of the SEC's best.
“We've gotten used to putting the defense on their heels now,” Fulwood said. “They used to have the advantage last year, but now this year when we're in practice we give them a run for their money. With the tempo we run at and the tempo they're trying to run at, we cause some stressful times for them.”
Added fellow sophomore Demarcus Robinson: “When we're going fast and the defense doesn't have any time to sub anyone in but we do, that's when we really get them.”
The question still lurking is if Florida has the capable weapons to keep defenses spinning. Dunbar has the experience, but is looking for the big-play gear. Debose has impressive athleticism and speed, but has always struggled with putting things together in games, and he is returning from an ACL injury.
Fulwood's size (6-foot-4, 204 pounds) and speed create matchup problems for defenders on the outside, while Robinson arrived with the title of “instant playmaker,” but caught just five passes last season and dealt with a multiple suspensions.
Even with all the talk, there are still plenty of questions surrounding this group. Those questions really won't be answered until the season arrives, but for now, Florida's receivers are creating some believers.
“These guys are staying open constantly and it's really hard to cover them because you have to have your eyes on the quarterback, you have to have your eyes on them ... and you can lose them at times," sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “These guys are really shifty, really talented and really fast.
“I'm really eager to see what it's going to look like against another team because I think a lot of people are going to have a hard time with this offense.”