Spring preview: Pass catchers

Previous seasons have been focused on waiting for a playmaking receiver to emerge, but that’s no longer the issue.

The Gators know who their leader at receiver is. Demarcus Robinson broke out last season, totaling 53 catches for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. He was Florida’s best player with the ball in his hands, making big gains out of plays that look destined to fail in the beginning.

Robinson put himself on the map with a 216-yard, two-touchdown game against Kentucky in the conference opener. He proved capable of getting open down the field while also catching passes near the line of scrimmage and making defenders miss.

Even with the big year, there’s still a long way for Robinson to go. He’s nowhere near a finished product at receiver and still needs to improve his route running. There were times last season where he gave up on his route and hurt the play. With head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier specializing in the passing game, Robinson could see another improvement going into his junior year. This spring is the first step in making that happen under the new staff.

There are a lot of players in the pass catchers that needed a fresh start, and the new staff will provide that. Ahmad Fulwood might be the one that needed it the most. After looking like a difference maker downfield in open practices last fall, Fulwood had just 11 catches for 113 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season.

The catches didn’t go up much in the Birmingham Bowl, but Fulwood showed the kind of impact he can make. After having a big fall camp making plays down the field, he caught a pass at the line of scrimmage against East Carolina and outran the defense 86 yards for a touchdown. He is too talented to have a limited role in the Florida offense, and a big spring can cement him in McElwain and Nussmeier’s plans for the offense.

Three scholarship seniors head into the spring aiming for their last chance to make an impact. Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers head into their final springs with a new coaching staff and one last chance to earn a significant role in the offense. Andrades has just two catches for five yards in his career, but Pittman and Showers have been more involved.

Pittman had career highs with 15 catches and 164 yards in 2014, starting nine games as the slot receiver. He’s a physical player that isn’t afraid to block and has been an important contributor in that area. Showers has moved around from safety to running back to slot receiver in his career, so it’ll be interesting to see where the new staff puts him this spring.

Chris Thompson made his biggest impact as a kick returner in the Birmingham Bowl after Andre Debose left the team. With four catches for 30 yards in his first two seasons on campus, Thompson needs to get stronger to be on the field with the offense more. He has blinding speed and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, so he’ll be a new toy for McElwain and Nussmeier to work with this spring.

C.J. Worton was expected to be a bigger contributor as a freshman in 2014. He broke his hand after the first game of the year, and when he was cleared to return against LSU, Will Muschamp mentioned him as a potential starter in the slot. He ended the year with just two catches for 12 yards, but Worton should be more involved this spring.

Fans have wanted Alvin Bailey to get a chance since he got to campus, and he’s another that could benefit from a new coaching staff. The 5-11, 188-pounder has speed but needs to become a more complete receiver this spring.

Ryan Sousa redshirted last season but will be ready to go for the fall, and early enrollee Kalif Jackson brings a 6-4, 201-pound frame that could be a weapon in the red zone.

The tight end position will be full of opportunity for Florida this spring.

Jake McGee returning for a sixth year of college football will help the position, but he won’t go through any live action this spring as he continues to recover from a broken leg. McGee will be important for Florida in the fall when he’s healthy, especially because he gives another year for the young tight ends to mature and improve.

With Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook serving as the only tight ends to play last season and both now graduated, the Gators have to find some young players that can contribute at the position.

Florida will have four other tight ends that need the reps with McGee out this spring. DeAndre Goolsby is the only one with playing experience, but he didn’t catch a pass and only played in seven games in 2014. However, Goolsby showed in open practices that he can be a threat in the passing game and should be more of a factor with a year of college under his belt.

C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens both took redshirts last year but should be able to contribute this year. At 6-4, 229 pounds, Lewis looked like a natural catching passes in open practices last year but needed a year to get his body ready to play. Stephens is the heaviest tight end on the roster at 249 pounds.

Early enrollee Daniel Imatorbhebhe will hope to prove to the new staff that he can make an impact as a true freshman.

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