Improved quarterback play, which happens to be McElwain’s specialty, will go a long way to create better play at receiver for Florida. Better coaching at the position will, too. Florida was forced into a difficult spot with the resignation of Joker Phillips in June, and Chris Leak was promoted from graduate assistant to wide receivers coach.
It’s not Leak’s fault, but it’s unlikely he was ready for the position. McElwain, who has spent time coaching receivers early in his coaching career, hasn’t announced who the new receivers coach will be, but stability is important after the Gators have had six different receiver coaches in the last six seasons.
But what will the new receivers coach inherit? There’s actually some talent left at the position despite the ugly passing numbers in recent years.
It all starts with Demarcus Robinson. He’s the most talented receiver on the roster and the most talented receiver to play for the Gators since at least 2009. His freakish athleticism is easy to see. Watch Robinson in the open practices, and he just does drills at a different speed than the rest of the players. He can cut at will and make players miss in the open field, and both were showcased during this season.
The talent isn’t a question, but Robinson is still raw at the position. At times last season, Robinson tried too hard to avoid contact and gave up too many yards by going backwards and trying to get into the open field. He also had too many lapses in concentration, not fighting for the ball and allowing an easy interception. It’s those sloppy things that need cleaning up and could set Robinson up for an All-SEC type season. He had 774 yards and seven touchdowns in the 2014 regular season but still has plenty of room to grow.
Ahmad Fulwood likely heads into the spring as the starter opposite of Robinson. Expectations were high for Fulwood going into his sophomore season, but the breakout didn’t happen. He ended his sophomore year with 11 catches for 113 yards. His 6-4 frame could be a red zone weapon McElwain and his staff choose to use in 2015.
A starter in the slot in 2014, Latroy Pittman has one year of eligibility left. He hasn’t lived up to the hype that grew when he had a great spring during his freshman year, but he’s a physical player that excels at perimeter blocking. He might not be the playmaker the Gators could use, but he is valuable to the offense with his blocking in the run game.
Chris Thompson came in with Fulwood and Robinson, and while he has been an important special teams player for the Gators, he hasn’t put it together with the offense yet. He’s still fast and can impact the game that way, but he didn’t earn the trust of the previous coaching staff to get on the field much. He had one catch for 12 yards last season but still has the talent to make an impact next year if he can improve during the offseason.
Valdez Showers has become a forgotten man, but he still has one more year of eligibility to make an impact. He has moved around during his career, starting at safety before moving to running back and eventually receiver. His speed is something the Gators don’t have much of, but Kurt Roper didn’t get him involved much during the 2014 season. Showers had just two catches for 31 yards in the regular season, with one coming on a 28-yard catch early at Alabama. Despite that play, his time diminished as the season went on.
C.J. Worton broke his hand early in the season and missed a couple games, but the coaches were high on his ability to make an impact. He made only two catches for 12 yards during the season and had some sloppy drops. He could help the Gators in the slot going forward.
Alvin Bailey heads into his redshirt sophomore year with a catch in his first two years in Gainesville. Freshman Ryan Sousa redshirted in 2014 but is a good route runner that could help in the future.
The tight end position will depend on what Jake McGee wants to do after breaking his leg in the season opener in 2014. He could apply to return for a sixth year or elect to move on to the next level and prepare for the NFL Draft. The Florida staff had high hopes for him in 2014, and McElwain’s staff would undoubtedly find ways to use him.
It’s even more important with the departures of Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. Neither of the two were close to game changers at tight end in their careers, but they are bodies that knew the offense and were in position.
Behind them, there are questions. Freshman DeAndre Goolsby played in seven games this season but didn’t record a catch. He’ll have an opportunity to make an impact next season and looks like the most prepared to do that behind McGee.
C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens both redshirted in 2014 but have the frames to make an impact as redshirt freshmen next season.