WRs need to catch up
Florida's receiving corps has been a sore spot for too long
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Even before receivers coach Aubrey Hill resigned Thursday night, just hours before Florida was scheduled to hit the practice field for the first time, the Gators' wide receivers already were under heavy pressure to finally become a consistent, productive unit in 2012.
Just as they were under pressure in 2010 and 2011.
It's a troubling trend for a program that had at least one receiver earn first- or second-team All-SEC honors in all but one season from 1990-2009.
"Different playbook, different opportunities," said redshirt senior Frankie Hammond, whose 41 career catches is the most among the receivers. "Last year we had a new playbook. We went with it and you see the outcome. Since we have a new playbook, it's new opportunities. We just have to go out there and perform."
The Gators had the same playbook in 2010 as they did the five previous seasons under coach Urban Meyer, but the receivers struggled despite playing with a quarterback (John Brantley) who was supposedly a better passer than Tim Tebow. Deonte Thompson's 38 catches were the most of any receiver that season.
It was even worse last season. Brantley was in and out of the lineup with injuries, and the offense was anemic under freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. The receivers were little help to the two young quarterbacks, and Thompson ended up leading the group in catches again -- with just 21.
To be fair, the group was relatively young and inexperienced. Thompson was a redshirt senior, but Hammond (redshirt junior) entered the season with just 26 catches in 22 career games. The six other receivers entered the season with 58 combined catches in 72 games.
Six receivers return from last season's team -- one (Omarius Hines) has been moved to running back -- so the group at least has an additional year of experience. But it's the addition of a couple of youngsters that has the group convinced it'll be more productive this season.
Latroy Pittman was among the players who enrolled in January, and the 6-foot, 195-pound athlete from nearby Citra, Fla. (North Marion) was the star of spring practice. He's not the fastest (4.64 40-yard dash) or biggest receiver, but he impressed the coaches with his toughness, work ethic and ability to block. Most importantly, he was able to separate from defensive backs and get open -- something the rest of the receivers had trouble doing the past two seasons.
"That definitely gives guys like us a reality check," Hammond said. "The best guy's going to play. If he comes in and he's been here six months and making plays and doing it, you have to put him on the field. That keeps us on our toes. We can't slip up because he's right there behind us.
Raphael Andrades (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) enrolled with the rest of the freshmen in July and reports out of offseason workouts were that he looked smooth, ran good routes and showed good hands. He's not exceptionally big (6-0, 190) or fast (4.7 40-yard dash), either.
"Can't speak too early, but just running routes and everything he looked pretty polished," Hammond said. "We've still got two weeks of camp and the worst is yet to come. We'll see, but so far he's done a heck of a job and we're trying to coach him up and get him into the playbook."
Optimism aside, the fact that Pittman -- and possibly Andrades -- can come in six months early and climb the depth chart is a glaring example of how poorly the position has performed.
"As a freshman at Florida he shouldn't be getting that opportunity, quite frankly, if we are doing our job," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "So, you know, it is what it is. We'll be fine."
Muschamp has that confidence even with the loss of Hill because of offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who joined the staff in January after six seasons at Boise State. He was the Broncos' offensive coordinator in 2011 but coached the receivers for the five previous seasons. He worked with Titus Young and Austin Pettis, who were second- and third-round picks, respectively, in the 2011 NFL draft.
Pease brought Bush Hamdan with him from Boise State to serve as an offensive graduate assistant. Because of Hamdan's familiarity with Pease's offense -- he was a backup quarterback at Boise State from 2005-08 -- Muschamp tabbed him to replace Hill. Plus, Pease worked extensively with the receivers in the spring and will continue to do so.
"He was doing it anyways. He's very involved," Muschamp said. "When you're the coordinator, you wear a lot of hats. So, it's not like it's a new responsibility being thrown on top of him. He's very comfortable with what we were doing anyways.
"They spent an awful lot of time together anyways as far as watching film and being on the same page."
The Gators are hoping that results in a more productive group of receivers.
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