Pass Catchers Young and Talented

Florida heads into the 2011 season with a ton of questions on offense. We've already talked about the backfield and now we are on to the receivers and tight ends with the Gators and just what they should bring to the table under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. In 2011, there is strength in the unit among the young guys and a tad of experience among the older players at the two positions.

To start, there will be a change at receiver. Quarterback John Brantley has lost his safety valve in Carl Moore. Moore proved to be a life saver for Florida quite a few times during the season, especially in long down and distance situations.

The good news is that every receiver and tight end that caught a pass a year ago except for Moore is back. If you are a cynic, you could say the bad news is that every receiver and tight end that caught a pass except Carl Moore is back.

All of this because of just how bad the offense, especially the passing game was a year ago. Things should change and drastically, but it is going to be a work in progress.

There are likely to be new starters at every position. Moore is gone from the slot, and the Gators are likely to have a tight end in the slot or none at all most of the time.

Juniors Frankie Hammond and Omarius Hines are slated to start ahead of returning starter and 2010 leading receiver Deonte Thompson who is the lone senior receiver on scholarship in 2011. Thompson had 570 receiving yards a year ago… and only one touchdown to show for it. Moore finished second in yards with 349 and then it was Hines (281) and Hammond (276) with less than half of Thompson's yards each.

Hines and Hammond are slated to get the start right now and both have showed play making ability in the past. Both have good size while Hines has elite size and strength and surprising agility for the position. Thompson will play a lot any way it shakes out, and he has a lot to prove in his senior year.

Behind them, sophomore Andre Debose has proved the most on the field, but has done most of his damage during returns in the kicking game. What he has shown is elite speed and vision to find seems in a defense that should make it hard to keep him off the field. Debose had 10 catches for 96 yards to his name in 2010.

Sophomore Robert Clark has shown the most to the new staff of all the remaining receivers. He caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown a year ago, but has proven himself as a very hard worker this past spring and in the eyes of Weis and the rest of the offensive staff.

Stephen Alli and Solomon Patton combined for seven passes and 44 yards a year ago. Alli is actually one of those athletic superstars just waiting to bust out, but he has to stay healthy and show that he can handle the tough play of the SEC. Allis is also the tallest (6-5) receiver and the creates somewhat of a niche for himself among the unit.

Patton is a water bug receiver with elite speed. He has return ability that could see him on the field as a return man, but he will be fighting Clark to get on the field as both are the same type of receiver.

One receiver that has the attention of everyone that has been paying attention to what is going on is redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar. Dunbar has been the guy since his arrival a year ago that has turned heads behind the scenes and most that watch practice come away saying that he is likely the best receiver on campus. With zero experience, he still has a lot to prove but should get his chance early in 2011.

The Gators added just one receiver in the 2010 class and that was 6-4, 200 pound JaJuan Story. Story has ideal size, speed, and physical ability for what the Charlie Weis offense is looking for and could see a limited role early in the season as he learns the offense. Not knowing what is going on is what will limit Story early on.

At tight end, the Gators return their top player as well. Sophomore Jordan Reed (6-4, 250) showed his ability to make plays last year, but did so more as a quarterback. This year he will stick at tight end and he has all the tools to be a great one. If Reed has a shortcoming it is his ability to block and that could limit his time on the field, but when they want a tight end that can get down the field and do something after he catches the ball, then Reed is the guy.

Backing up Reed will be true freshman A.C. Leonard. Leonard showed up on campus early from high school and was impressive in spring. He broke out of his tendency of slacking off and by the end of the spring. He was a player the staff felt like they could depend on. One area he really improved on was his blocking and that may very well get him on the field more often in 2011. Leonard has elite skills as a pass catching tight end already.

Sophomore Gerald Christian is still trying to find a home and with the lack of depth at tight end, he will probably end up back at the position in 2011. Christian has the athletic ability to be a good player at this level. He just has to be put in the right position. That search continues.

Of course the dynamic Trey Burton will also get some time at tight end. The sophomore was actually the second leading receiver on the team a year ago, but he won't be asked to catch many more two-yard passes in the new offense. Burton has nothing to prove with his skill ability as he has shown he can do it all with the ball in his hand.

What to Expect:

The athletic ability is there. The reliance on youth and the new offense means that it will take a while for the receiving unit to gel. I expect a decent season from the receivers and tight ends, but I expect it to be a slow and tedious process.

A big part of the growing up from the pass corps is the ability of the quarterback to get them the ball and the offensive line protecting the quarterback long enough to make plays. Both are areas of concern heading into 2011.

That said, the talent on hand means someone is going to bust out in 2011. Who that will be is the big unknown right now.

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