Gators’ camp preview: Pass catchers

After Demarcus Robinson had the best season for a Florida receiver over the last five seasons, the junior is ready to take the next step this fall.

There are a lot of questions about the Florida offense this fall. Quarterback play and offensive line experience have many national experts projecting an underwhelming season for the Gators' offense.

There is no question about the go-to receiver for Florida.

Demarcus Robinson broke out in a big way during 2014 despite shaky quarterback play, finishing the year with 53 catches for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch on the season and gave the Gators a threat to get behind the defense that could also make plays after the catch.

There’s still room for Robinson to grow and improve. His route running got sloppy at times during his sophomore year and there were other times when he struggled with drops. If those areas get cleaned up this season, Robinson’s numbers should take a step forward and he could be on his way to the NFL Draft when the year ends.

The Gators didn’t have much behind Robinson last season. He had 810 yards, and Quinton Dunbar had the second most with 353 yards. The returning player with the most receiving yards last year is Ahmad Fulwood with 199.

Heading into fall camp, the hot name to be the team’s second receiver is Brandon Powell. The sophomore accompanied Jim McElwain to SEC Media Days, the only representative of the Florida offense and only one of two total sophomores at the entire event. Those honors usually don’t go to a play with 70 rushing yards and 147 receiving yards in the previous year.

Powell has moved exclusively to slot receiver and looked like a natural in the open portions of spring practice before a foot injury ended his spring. He was a natural running routes, and his quickness makes him difficult to cover. McElwain also mentioned the possibility of motioning Powell into the offensive backfield and using him at running back to confuse defenses.

With Robinson starting outside and Powell in the slot, the Gators could use one more receiver to step up this fall and fill out a starting unit.

The breakout year for Ahmad Fulwood has been expected during the last two seasons but didn’t happen. He showed signs of hope in the Birmingham Bowl when he caught a quick pass at the line of scrimmage and ran 86 yards past the East Carolina defense for a touchdown. Fulwood’s game is still likely as a receiver that can make plays down the field because of his 6-4 frame, but that hasn’t translated from open practice sessions to the games yet.

The freshman with the most buzz this offseason is receiver Antonio Callaway. Powell singled him out as SEC Media Days and called him “one of those south Florida athletes” that can make plays. His senior year lasted seven games because of a knee injury, but he had 818 yards and seven touchdowns while healthy. With his knee fully recovered this fall, Callaway can get on the field early in his career. The Gators need playmaking from the position, and if the freshman is one of their better options, he’ll be on the field plenty this fall.

The rest of the receiver depth chart is filled with players that could have benefitted from the coaching change. The Florida offense is now being spearheaded by the proven offensive mind of Jim McElwain, and players could get opportunities during fall camp that they didn’t have last season.

Junior Chris Thompson could be one who benefits from it. The Gainesville High School product has blazing speed but only a total of 30 receiving yards during the last two years. He also handled kickoff return duties in the Birmingham Bowl when Andre Debose elected not to play.

The previous staff was high on C.J. Worton last year, but injuries kept him from making a big impact as a true freshman. When he got healthy, Will Muschamp even mentioned the possibility of him starting against LSU, but that didn’t happen and Worton soon disappeared from playing time. Valdez Showers has moved to multiple positions in his time at Florida, but the speed has always been easy to see. The new coaching staff could find new ways to utilize that speed in the open field.

Latroy Pittman handled most of the slot receiver duties, but he made just 15 catches for 164 yards on the year. Alvin Bailey heads into his redshirt sophomore season without a career catch but could help at receiver or on special teams. Ryan Sousa redshirted last year after an illustrious high school career. He’s an advanced route runner and could emerge as a possession receiver for Florida later in his career.

Florida also has senior Raphael Andrades at receiver, but he only has two catches for five yards over the last three seasons. Joining Callaway in the freshman class is Kalif Jackson, who has a 6-4, 212-pound frame that could be a red zone target in the future.

Tight end has more depth than in recent years. The return of Jake McGee for his sixth season in college football gives them a true playmaker at the position, and tight ends have often been an important feature of offenses run by McElwain and Doug Nussmeier in the past. He looked like a difference maker in open practices last fall before a broken leg ended his season just one quarter into it.

DeAndre Goolsby makes the most sense as the second tight end behind McGee. He's the only one with any playing experience behind McGee, even if Goolsby didn't make a catch last year. When McGee got hurt, the coaches turned to Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook instead of giving the true freshman a chance in games. Now a sophomore, Goolsby can be an impact player in the passing game.

C'yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens both redshirted last season. Lewis made some impressive catches in traffic during open portions of spring practice and could be counted on to do that in the fall. Stephens showed strength at the line of scrimmage and could be an important blocker for a young offensive line. True freshman Camrin Knight will have to turn heads early to make an impact this fall.

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