Truths, Lies, the NFL, and UF Receivers

In college recruiting there are sometimes things said to prospects that just aren't true. Most of the time they will have time to find out themselves what is the truth. Recently, some recruiters have been recruiting against the University of Florida instead of for their own schools. It is time to set the record straight on what the spread offense is about and how it prepares receivers for the NFL.

Recently, there have been reports of prospects being told about the spread offense and it's inability to produce NFL receivers. In an effort to not put a bullseye on the prospects that have been misled, we won't name them or quote them here, they are only repeating what grown men are telling them. Instead, we will shed some light on just how the professional level of football feels about the University of Florida and how the Gator coaches prepare receivers.

The National Football League puts a premium on skilled offensive players and has to pay those players a great deal of money to perform every Sunday in the NFL. It is imperative when they draft that they sign players with the physical ability to play the game, but also the mental capacity to play the position.

The NFL uses their own scouts and places a great deal of time and money to scout players at the college level. With all of the added money they are dishing out to these players, they need them to perform right away and at a high level.

Coaches all across the NFL have voiced their opinion about the University of Florida, the style of offense they use, and just how the Gators prepare their receivers to become pros. Contrary to some in the media and on other college coaching staffs, the Gator system seems to be turning out players that are absolutely ready to play when they are drafted in the NFL.

When asked about Gator receivers and their preparation for the league, Marvin Lewis, the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals had something to say about it that may surprise some.

Andre Caldwell
"Florida receivers come to the NFL prepared and ready to play," Lewis said when asked. "They are familiar with a philosophy that we are implementing. We ask our receivers to run precise routes, read and react, block on the edge, and play with toughness. The Florida receivers do just that. We drafted Andre Caldwell in 2008 because we felt he was so well prepared to contribute immediately, which he did for us last season."

Caldwell went in the third round to the Bengals in 2008 and would have gone much higher save for injuries in previous seasons that sidelined him for parts of his career. He started most of the last half of the season in 2008 and will be a main stay in the Bengal offense for 2009.

Florida head coach Urban Meyer has had to defend his spread offense in recruiting for many years. That hasn't stopped the most respected coach in the NFL from coming and learning some from Meyer's offense. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Meyer often meet to discuss the offense and the Super Bowl champion coach has taken to implementing some of the many ways the Gators use their playmakers.

"They have a spread offense," Belichick said when asked about Florida's version of offense and the receiver's role. "They read coverages. They run routes based on coverages or the technique of the defender. They have multiple formations and blitz adjustments and all those kinds of things that are common in the National Football League. I think kids that come out of that offense have a good understanding of passing concepts."

Chad Jackson
Belichick entrusted Meyer and the offense enough to draft Chad Jackson with the first pick of the second round in 2006. Jackson is still in the NFL but with the Denver Broncos.

The Minnesota Vikings most recently trusted a lot of the future of their franchise in selecting Percy Harvin in the first round of the NFL draft. Drafted number 22 overall, Harvin had to overcome injury issues, and some off the field things that were blown out of proportion. Still, the Vikings saw enough in him to realize that he was ready to come in and help their team right away and that because of the way he was taught at Florida, it should come easy to Harvin from the beginning.

Percy Harvin
Vikings quarterback coach Kevin Rogers clearly challenged the notion that the Gator receivers aren't ready for the NFL. He and his team showed their trust in what they saw out of the Gator system to make Harvin their 2009 first round pick.

"One of the things that impressed me the most about my evaluation of Florida receivers is that they run very disciplined routes," Rogers said. "They are similar to what we run in the NFL. The wide receivers at Florida are already well versed in an offense that most NFL teams are now using."

One of the main reasons the Gators are so successful at receiver is the coaching. It starts with Meyer, but wide receiver coach Billy Gonzales has to get his fair share of credit. Gonzales has been with Meyer as the wide receiver coach since Meyer started his head coaching career at Bowling Green in 2001.

Billy Gonzales
Since Gonzales started coaching the receivers at Florida in 2005, the Gators have had six receivers taken in the NFL draft. That is the highest number in the country and tied with only LSU and Ohio State. USC is fourth with three receivers taken in that same time span.

So why all the negative recruiting that NFL teams don't draft Gator receivers? It just isn't true.

Of note should be that Gonzales has already turned down jobs for two NFL teams to stay with the Gators. Two of Florida's fiercest rivals have also seen what Gonzales can do and he has turned down jobs with the University of Tennessee and LSU.

Former Tampa Bay and Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden has noticed what Gonzales and company have done for receivers. Mark him down as another NFL coach that would draft a Gator receiver on draft day if available.

"I've devoted a lot of time personally to study and evaluate the Florida offense," Gruden said. "You can see that the Florida receivers have an advanced knowledge of a pro-style passing game. They know how to identify blitzes, read coverages and run good routes. It is rare in college football to find receivers who have solid fundamental base in all of those areas and most are not prepared to practice and execute at the next level. The Florida receivers are."

With or without the spread offense in the NFL, the Gators are producing more talent at the receiver position than any school out there. However, teams like the Miami Dolphins are starting to see the spread in a new light and have already begun initializing huge packages in their offense to take advantage of skilled receivers much like the Gators do every Saturday. Dolphin receiver coach Karl Dorrell will likely keep an eye on Gator receivers whenever they are available in the draft.

"Florida receivers are very fundamental," Dorrell said. "They are NFL ready and have a great knowledge of offensive concepts that we utilize."

Being a national champion isn't enough sometimes to win over recruits. Sometimes the lies in the recruiting process mean that a team like Florida, a team that has done so much and produced talent at such a high level, has to fight back with other facts. The spread offense is here to stay and is already the dominant offense in college football. Florida just happens to be the best at producing players for that style and getting them paid in the NFL and is one of two schools nationally to have a WR selected in the last four NFL Drafts.

As mentioned above, Florida, LSU, and Ohio State have all had six receivers taken in the draft since 2006. Other teams that Florida recruits against include USC (3), FSU (2), Miami (1), Georgia (1), and Tennessee (1).

The spread offense is making its mark across the country as 13 of the top 15 scoring offenses in the NCAA last year ran a version of the spread offense, including all teams in the top 10. Of the 34 wide receives taken in the 2009 NFL Draft, exactly half (17) of them played in spread offenses in college.

The next time you hear that the Gator offense is a gimmick offense and that they don't produce players for the NFL, show that person the facts. Florida is quite possibly the example of the way teams should prepare receivers for the NFL. From the system, to the coaching, to the life style, Gator receivers are currently making their mark at every level of football.

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