Notebook: Receivers showing improvement

Lost in the red zone struggles and turnovers during the Miami game was the improvement of the Florida wide receivers. Solomon Patton led the group with six catches for 118 yards and a touchdown while Quinton Dunbar chipped in with 98 yards. Driskel threw the ball a career-high 33 times, showing that the Gators have confidence in their receivers this fall.

That was rarely the case during the 2012 season. The passing game was run through tight end Jordan Reed, and with his early departure for the NFL, the Gators have been forced to find new ways to throw the ball. The resurgence of the receiver position has gone a long way to help that.

Under first-year wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, the passing game showed improvement against Miami. Florida hit big plays with a 32-yard catch by Quinton Dunbar and a 46-yard catch by Solomon Patton, one that forced him to make a tough, over the shoulder catch down the field.

"You look at the guys that were here last year and they've really improved and done a great job," Brent Pease said. "Solomon had some big catches in the Miami game. Quinton had a good game and he had a big catch early in the game, and he's done a lot of things that are really, really good.

"The young kids are still coming on and when the time's right, they'll be there. It's a matter of knowing your execution and being consistent in your job. No one wants them to come along faster than I do. They've improved our team and given us more opportunity to do things throwing the ball, particularly down the field."

Patton caught just one pass for 17 yards in 2012. He was used on end-arounds and reverses mostly last season, but after cleaning up his route running in the offseason, he showed the offensive coaches that he was capable of being a downfield receiver.

Even at 5-9, 177 pounds, Patton has the speed to get open down the field. He's still a threat with the ball in his hands on offense and as the team's kickoff returner, but his improved route running forced the Florida coaches to get him more involved.

"He understands the scheme now," Pease said. "He can definitely run. He's got great speed. He's just getting a feel on how to beat defenses and really his confidence with the quarterback is that they understand where he's going to be. He's in the right place, right time.

"He understands how to beat man-to-man coverage. He's become very consistent and reliable."

The Gators are still waiting for the freshmen receivers to make an impact. Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson were expected to make a big impact, and that still might come, but the two have combined for just one catch for five yards in the first two games.

Robinson was targeted twice in each of the first two games. One of the passes in the first game was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and two balls were thrown behind him on drag routes.

"I don't know if there's anything specific," Pease said about reasons Robinson hasn't been as involved. "He's been in situations where he's targeted and sometimes coverage takes it away. Sometimes he's been there and we haven't got the ball to him. It's just a matter of getting into the flow.

"I know it's been tough to see, but he's come on in practice. He works hard. He's a very likable kid that I think, it's going to pop here soon."

LOOKING AT THE TENNESSE DEFENSE: The Volunteers were gashed for 687 total yards with 471 through the air and 216 on the ground against Oregon last week. Pease said the coaches have watched the film plenty of times and found some similar things they can use.

Florida doesn't have the personnel to run the up-tempo style that Oregon uses, but the Ducks were able to exploit some areas of the Tennessee defense that the Gators will try to use on Saturday.

"You like it because I think there's some things you can draw from it," Pease said. "In the same sense, what we told our kids, you gotta throw that out because this is the SEC, they're coming here to play us and it's a rivalry game. They've got to understand that the passion between the two teams and probably some hatred between the two teams and the competition level of what you're going to get from them -- you're gonna get their best shot.

The Volunteers have veterans on the defensive side of the ball that have been around in the Southeastern Conference. Nose tackle Daniel McCullers, standing at 6-8, 351 pounds, will be tough to move in the running game with seniors Jacques Smith coming off the edge. The linebackers are led by playmaker A.J. Johnson. "They've got some experience," Pease said. "They'll be ready to play, and I think they'll understand their scheme better. You've got to be prepared to play. We found out that if you're not consistent enough, there's so many plays that you look back on that if it turns one way or the other, if you have them over to do again, that's really the game-changing situation. They've got guys that can make plays."

TIGHT END PLAY: Without Jordan Reed, the nature of the tight end position at Florida has changed. The Gators are now using the position as an extra blocker. They don't have a clear option that can get open down the field, so the coaches have changed how the position is used.

"They are a little bit more of on the-line blocking guys for us right now," Pease said. "You've got to work to get yourself open. Jordan was pretty special because he could run, he almost had receiver-type skills in a tight end position body. We haven't grown to that spot. Those guys just aren't that type of guy right now, so we've probably adjusted with what we're doing with our scheme around them."

Kent Taylor seemed to be the perfect fit as a receiving tight end, but the sophomore still isn't ready to help.

"He's young, getting better and when he's right, he'll be right," Pease said.


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