Kerry Dixon is in his third year as the receiver coach at Florida and has been here every step of the away for Antonio Callaway. He would have liked to have had him last spring to work on things, but some off-the-field issues arose and Callaway missed his time for learning.
Dixon wouldn’t trade anyone out there for his star junior.
“I can’t say enough about Antonio,” Dixon said. “He’s special. It’s his first Spring. You know you can just see the development and the understanding of the offense and his route-running is starting to turn over. It’s been phenomenal.”
As much as Callaway is a primo play maker when he catches the ball, there are things before the catch that he can work on a bit and that is what Dixon and company are focused on.
"One of the things that he's struggled with early on was going up for the ball and making plays,” Dixon said of his All-SEC performer. “He struggled judging the ball as it was in the air as far as his hops. He's done a great job of taking even that little aspect of his game to another level. You can see it on film. When we get down there and do some red area things, he has done a great job of going up and getting the football."
We all have seen what Callaway can do as the most electric player the Gators have had on offense in quite some time.
"His quickness and his speed and his ability to make plays downfield,” Dixon said of Callaway’s strengths. “He's one of the best in the country in my opinion. Everything that he does, the way he works and the way that he cares."
Another area he has focused on his running precise routes. This is the kind of thing Spring ball can really help with. The repetitions you get from doing it in spring ball in front of the coaching staff cannot be duplicated at any other time of the calendar year.
"One of those things is understanding zone and how to read coverages,” Dixon said when referencing his improved route running. “One of the things that he's done is take the time in meetings, asking questions and getting better with that aspect. It's helping him become a better route runner."
With limited numbers, the group is doing well…
Sophomore Freddie Swain and redshirt freshman Rick Wells are both out for the spring with injuries. Junior Dre Massey is limited to non-contact as well. The numbers aren’t great at practice, but Dixon says the group as a whole is doing fine. Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland and Joshua Hammond with senior Brandon Powell are the other guys in the group that are helping make it a good spring so far.
“They’re doing a good job,” Dixon said. “You know it’s a lot of competition going on. Tyrie and Josh have really stepped up. And you can see our speed starting to show up which is good. They have a more understanding of the offense. So those guys are playing well.”
The Spring is an invaluable part for the young guys.
“If you look at it, Tyrie this is his first real camp of any sort because he didn’t go through Fall camp,” Dixon said. “And you can kind of see at the beginning, you know he was awesome but then once the install got to going he kind of tapered off a little bit, but now he’s starting to come back. Josh was here in the Spring and went through Fall camp, and I think that helped him tremendously as far as even playing during the season. Because I feel very comfortable with him, I can play him at any one of the receiver spots. And he continues to go he’ll be very special for us.”
Dixon feels great that Cleveland, Swain, and Hammond got on the field a year ago and believes they will reap the rewards of that experience.
“I think experience is the best teacher, and Josh, Tyrie and Freddie getting a chance to play in the game, you can see that their knowledge of the game is showing up on the field. And they’re playing extremely fast, which is good for us.”
Missing Swain for the spring is discouraging, but Swain in particular is pretty crisp route runner and quick learner. He will be back in the Fall.
“It hurts us because depth and because he’s a phenomenal player,” Dixon said of his star sophomore. “He’s one of those guys with uncanny ball skills. He’s a great route runner. He knows how to use his quickness at the line of scrimmage, so it’s going to be great to get him back. I know I’m missing him right now.”
More of the little things that add up to big things…
Dixon says there are a few attributes that his group is really good with and then there are some that need to be worked on. Again, this is what spring is all about. Not only defining the areas of concern, but defining the areas they can accentuate in the Fall.
"We have strong hands,” he said about the group. “Our strength and conditioning program does a great job as far as building strength with the hands. There's some things they do in the offseason, but after practice every day when we're not scrimmaging, they'll catch JUGGS after practice. We'll do some rebounding drills. Even some guys like Tyrie like to catch bricks after practice, so it's something that we really focus on and it's something we know we have to get better at. One of the things we definitely have to continue to do is make contested catches. I always tell them to make the extraordinary ordinary. Once they do that, we can help out those young QBs."
"It's our job to help (the quarterbacks) out on the outside. We have experience. Those guys have played in games, so when the ball is in the air, it's our job to make the play and make them look good. That's what we have to do. We have to run fast, get open, and make plays."
The lone senior is a tremendous leader…
One thing we can never fault senior receiver Brandon Powell for is effort. Think back to the 4th and 14 against Tennessee that Callaway turned into a 64-yard touchdown strike. Powell was the spring board for the play when he took out three Vols defenders as they tried to trap Callaway. We have seen Powell make big plays catching the ball too, but his effort without the ball is something each and every guy on the team can learn from.
Dixon loves his senior leader.
“I’m really impressed with the leadership of NO. 4,” Dixon said. “Brandon has been doing a great job out there. You know he breaks it down every day. (He’s) just that leadership that we need.”
Powell is more of a lead by example kind of guy instead of being the voice out there on the field.
"Brandon is not really outspoken,” Dixon said. “One of the things he does is that he leads with what he does in practice. He works his butt off. And he's the only one at one practice we had when it was scorching hot going back to the Fall. He came out the most dominating player. He just practiced hard. We gave an example of him practicing hard. He isn't a guy that talks a lot but just goes out there and does it. You can see the guys in the room really respect him for it."
Huge expectations for Massey…
While Dre Massey is still non-contact this Spring, you can still see the blazing speed he plays with, even though he is still recovering from an ACL tear. Massey is a very versatile player that we could see at running back, quarterback, receiver, and as a kick returner this Fall.
“You really see no change in speed, it’s tough to tell he went through an ACL except a couple times when you see the big brace,” Dixon said. “But it’s going to be very important to get him back. He adds another element, you know we can do a ton of things with him out of the backfield and slide him outside, so he’s one of those guys that I’m extremely excited to get back. I know he’s going to be special.”
The Fall will tell the tale as far as what he can really do, but Dixon expects big things.
“It’s too early to tell,” he said of the exact nature of Massey’s future role. “With what I’ve seen, he’s going to have a huge role.”