POSITION ANALYSIS: Gators Have Fab 4 At WR

In an offseason where Coach Urban Meyer seemed to be everywhere at once, he made it abundantly clear to whomever would take the time to listen that he has four outstanding wide receivers that he trusts. He has four tested juniors at the position in Chad Jackson, Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell and Jemalle Cornelius and each of them has shown flashes of brilliance in their first two seasons on the field.

An offseason in which the Gators' version of the Fab Four has been among the team leaders when it comes to hard work on the practice field and in the weight room should pay off well for Florida's offense in the fall when the Gator wideouts could be the nation's best unit.

With breakneck speed at every spot and size to boot, this receiving corps can physically do it all. All four of the starters can jump, run, and dominate defenders. Based on what we've seen of the Meyer offense in the spring and back last year when the coach was running up big numbers at Utah, all four of these guys could turn in big numbers.

One of the most under-utilized players on the entire football roster in 2004 was Chad Jackson. Jackson may be the most electric receiver to play for the Gators since Stacey Simmons donned the orange and blue in the late 80's. Jackson had the knack for the flashy catch high in the air or the swift moves in traffic to get to daylight and a touchdown. He caught only four of his 29 passes in the first four games of the season before the previous staff started using him more. His 22.3 yards per catch ranks as a school record and it was third best nationally among receivers who had at least 25 catches.


Chad Jackson

The 6-1, 205-pound junior also had a big spring, making the play of the day almost a routine affair. He evolved into the starting H-back, a position that will utilize his skills in traffic. He has the strength to take the ball away from defenders and once he has the ball, he can bowl people over. Throw in serious deep speed and Chad Jackson is a major weapon waiting to be utilized properly.

Will the real Dallas Baker please stand up? Baker is the tallest of the returning Gator receivers and he has deceptive deep speed. There is no question he has the talent but from spring to fall in the last couple of years, he has been Jekyll and Hyde. For three consecutive springs, Baker has been so good coaches have predicted a breakout fall. But, even though he had some outstanding moments on the field last year, he never showed the consistency from one week to the next. Baker needs to become a model of consistency and if the offseason workouts are an example, it should happen. No longer a slacker in the offseason, Baker has become one of the team's hardest workers in the weight room, on the practice field and in the classroom where he has raised his GPA to above 3.0.


Dallas Baker on his way to a TD

"He did a great job this spring," said offensive coordinator Dan Mullen. "I hope we see a lot of it. The discipline aspect of things and the consistent play is what we demand. There are certain things that we look for and we aren't going to put up with. If he drops the ball, keeps jumping off-sides … if he is not performing, then he won't play. That is what we have done in the past, no matter what the potential they possess. I know I saw him today. He said he worked hard. I have talked to the quarterbacks and he is probably our best route runner. He is a fundamental wide receiver."

The 6-3, 204-pound Baker, nephew of Gator great wideout Wes Chandler, finished second on the team with five touchdown catches last year when he finished with 25 receptions.

Andre Caldwell made steady improvement with each game in 2004 to finish the season with 43 catches. He started all 12 games and finished fifth in the SEC in receiving yards per game. He has blazing speed, the kind that should make him a deep threat in every game in 2004. He's also a dependable blocker who has shown the ability to hammer defenders. Check last year's Tennessee film and watch Caldwell deliver a crushing blow to a Vol safety in the end zone.


"Bubba" Caldwell

The new offensive staff pushed the 6-1, 200-pound Caldwell early in spring practice with early results that were negative. There reached a point in the spring when Caldwell was almost a daily struggle, but with three or four practices left, he suddenly caught fire. By the Orange and Blue Game he was at the top of his game, looking like the receiver the Gators will need to stretch defenses downfield.

Jemalle Cornelius could be the real surprise on all-SEC teams this year. The heady junior may be the fastest Gator with the ball in his hands. He has the feet to play cornerback in the SEC, but can be an awesome threat on offense as seen by the bubble screen he reversed in the Georgia game last year.


Jemalle Cornelius grabs a TD!

During the spring, Cornelius was used regularly on reverses. He played a lot of H-back behind Chad Jackson and when tight end Tate Casey comes off the field, he will be the fourth wide receiver. The 5-11, 190-pounder is consistently among the best route runners on the team. He has the speed and ability to be a real weapon and the word that we continue to hear in the offseason is that the staff is looking for ways to get him more involved in the offense.

Casey is the team's only true tight end. He's grown from 218 pounds to a more solid 6-6, 242, which is Jeremy Shockey size. In the spread option offense, his position is rarely called upon to block so he will spend a lot of time challenging linebackers and safeties across the middle. He has shown the ability to get open. Last year, as a true freshman, he caught eight passes, four good for touchdowns.


Tate Casey

In the spring he showed that he is a reliable receiver who presents a mismatch for linebackers with his speed and for safeties because of his size.

With no other true tight ends, Casey's backup this season could be senior Kyle Morgan, who is a 6-2, 225-pound walkon who has proven in practice that he is a capable receiver. He had a nice spring going until he suffered an ankle injury. Morgan has a reputation for toughness so he could be a player who gets the call on routes across the middle.

Kenneth Tookes will be trying in August to make a move on the depth chart. The 6-2, 209-pounder has been a career backup but he has had moments in practice that show he has ability. He needs to put consistent practices together if he intends to earn some playing time.

Freshman Mike McIntosh returns after a red-shirt season. The 6-0, 191-pound possession receiver from Jacksonville made some great plays in the fall of 2004 on the scout team. However, in the spring he never showed that he is ready to step it up in the new offensive scheme. His place on the depth chart is complicated by the arrival of three outstanding freshmen.

Heralded freshmen Nyan Boateng, Louis Murphy, and David Nelson all make their public debuts at practice next week. The 6-2, 199-pound Boateng looks to be fully recovered from a serious foot injury that kept him from playing football his senior season in New York. When he's healthy, he is a great deep threat who has outstanding leaping ability.

The 6-3, 190-pound Murphy was a three-sport athlete in high school, a starter on a state championship basketball team and a sprinter on the track team. Murphy comes to Gainesville with a reputation as a receiver who will fight for the football.

Nelson could be the gem of the receiving class. The 6-6, 200-pounder made the Army All-America team. He is a long strider whose gait makes him deceptively fast. Known as a receiver who makes outstanding adjustments to get to the ball once it is in the air, he spent the summer working on his takeoff speed. It is reported that he is now among the fastest of all the incoming freshmen.


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