New offensive players emerging in practice

The bowl practice always gives new players a chance to shine with more chances. After a 12-game season where the veterans and starters have seen a majority of the practice reps, the bowl practices allow younger, less utilized players to see more time on the field. That has helped some young players stand out during the first week of practice. It could help some get involved in the Sugar Bowl.

The position that has emerged the most has been the wide receivers. They heard all throughout the season how the Gators had no difference makers in the passing game, and Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease has seen the group take it to heart with something to prove in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville.

"They understand they want to get better," Pease said. "And they understand, and they are feeling more comfortable with the things we're doing. Things take time to improve. It's not just an overnight deal. They've done a good job and sometimes the season gets long. Maybe they've gotten their legs back a little bit.

"They are hitting back on some fundamentals. Like Quinton Dunbar, he had a great day at practice today, so I mean you can see that he's had a really good practice. He made some great plays (Tuesday) at practice."

When the Gators got back to practice to prepare for the Sugar Bowl, the timing between the quarterback and wide receivers wasn't good. Pease used that as a teaching tool for how hard the group has to work during next season to maintain that rhythm. Now that the unit has gotten more time together, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel can see a difference in the receivers he's throwing to on the practice field.

"Our receivers have improved the most over our bowl practice," Driskel said. "They've run clean routes, they've made plays and they've made tough catches. We've gotten a lot better, especially at the receiver position."

The hype during spring practice focused on freshman Latroy Pittman. The North Marion High School graduate made plays in the passing game and showed off his playmaking ability with a long catch in the spring game.

When the season came around, Pittman was nowhere to be found. He ended the year with two catches for six yards while battling an ankle injury during the second half of the season. The freshman got some time off when the team took a week away from practice following the Florida State win, and he has caught the eye of players so far in bowl practice.

"Definitely Pittman," Driskel said when asked which young player was standing out. "Pittman has had great bowl practices. I expect him to make some plays in the bowl game."

Pease also singled out wide receiver Raph Andrades, offensive guard Jessamen Dunker, running back Mark Herndon, running back Matt Jones and tight end Colin Thompson as inexperienced players that are improving through bowl practice.

There's always an eye on the future at this point in the season. The priority is winning the Sugar Bowl and going into the offseason with momentum, but the practice time is important for young players that will play a big role next season.

"I think that as coaches we always have a big vision of what we really want to accomplish," Pease said. "You kind of see that vision for the young kids that we're trying to develop also."

That includes getting Loucheiz Purifoy involved. His role on defense and special teams was known going into the season, but as the year rolled on and the Gators searched for more playmakers, Purifoy started to get more snaps on offense. He had an eight-yard reverse against Florida State in the red zone, and the coaches will try to get him more involved against Louisville.

"Any time he's touching the ball, he's special," Pease said. "You saw it in the game against Florida State. He did a good job there. You can't always just put him in there to touch it. He's going to have to do some things where he's not always in there just to touch the ball. We can get him the ball in space. That's kind of the key."

As the search for playmakers continues through bowl practice, Pease added a name to the mix on Tuesday that hasn't been used in a while. It's receiver Andre Debose. He didn't have the right mentality or effort to help the offense early in the season, but the coaches are happy with how he has played in returning to the field.

"He's had really good practices," Pease said. "I think he's healthy, he's working hard and his attitude's right. He's done some good, and we're trying to get him involved in some things. He's kind of refocused and hopefully he's a guy that continues doing what he's doing, and you'll see him out there doing some things.

"Refocused means he's going out there with a good attitude and putting energy into practice and he understands that if the play's not for him, he's going to work hard at blocking it. If it's for me, this is how I'm going to get it executed because it's not about him. It's about him and the 10 other guys out there."

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