Spring Outlook: Receiver/Tight End

Outside of quarterback, no other positions at Florida's spring practices will be scrutinized more than receiver and tight end. Gone form the last two years are NFL starters Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy along with potential high draft picks Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez. Add Brandon James to that and this spring will be all about forming a receiving corps that can make some noise in the fall.

The Florida Gators have one starter returning from a year ago from any of the four receiver type positions on the field. They have a few guys that have seen game action, but nothing extensive enough to warrant praise. This is a big question mark on this version of the team and there are a lot of players here this spring to look at and evaluate.

In Carl Moore (SR. 6-3, 225), the Gators have a senior that would have played a lot last year except for a hurt back. He should be ready to go this spring and we hear that he should get one of the starting outside receiver spots. That is what expected. Think of Moore as a Dallas Baker type of receiver with a little more muscle and strength. He can be a big time player for Florida and is a big target for the quarterback to throw to. H needs to assert himself and separate himself this spring.

Lost on the roster for four years has been Justin Williams (SR. 6-0, 205). Williams is a superb athlete and may have the best overall skills of any of the current receivers. He just hasn't been able to turn it on mentally. Here is to hoping that a coaching change with Zach Azzanni assuming the reigns, will do wonders for Williams. He has good size and very good speed, with long arms and agility. He just needs to buckle down in his final spring.

This should be the breakout year for Deonte Thompson (JR. 6-0, 201). Everyone is hoping that what they saw of Thompson in the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati is a preview of what he will bring to the table in 2010. Thompson was a five star prospect when he came out of high school and he has the tools to merit such praise. So far the coaching change seems to have done wonders for him and we expect him to have a big year starting this spring. He is the fastest receiver on campus.

A position switch for the spring will come in the form of Chris Rainey (JR. 5-9, 185). Rainey is moving to the slot position to take advantage of his particular skill set and the staff just wants to find a way to get him with the ball in the open field a little more often. The spring will decide whether this is a permanent move for him as the mental part of the move will be the toughest thing for him. He should be exciting to watch this spring to say the least.

We have seen glimpses Frankie Hammond (SO. 6-0, 175) and what he can do and this could be a big spring for him as he tries and works himself into the starting line up. Hammond has great but not elite speed. He has good height but a little on the thin side. So far he has shown the tools to be a solid but not spectacular receiver in college. This spring could change all of that.

Omarius Hines (SO. 6-0, 214) was the surprise of the freshmen last year when he finally got a chance to contribute. He is definitely bigger than most of his counterparts in the receiving corps, yet he also has elusive moves to go along with his power skills that he utilizes. Hines should have been worked into the rotation earlier last year and there is no excuse now with the older guys gone. He can earn a starting spot this spring.

T.J. Lawrence (SO. 6-1, 196) is more of a possession receiver and he just has to be a guy they can trust. Lawrence will do himself a huge favor if he tries to learn multiple positions and makes himself into the David Nelson mold. A versatile guy that can be trusted goes a long way with this staff and will get you on the field over a more talented receiver that knows less of what he is doing.

My eyes are going to be on Stephen Alli (FR. 6-6, 205) this spring. Alli is said to be freak of the receivers and has the physical measurables to go along with elite track speed to merit that notion. Alli should still be a senior in high school after graduating a year early last year and he also played his high school ball in new Hampshire after living most of his life in Canada. The SEC and Florida defenses are going to hit harder and play much faster in live com[petition than anything he has ever seen. I know that Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden hated to go up against Alli on the scout team, however Alli had the benefit of knowing he wasn't going to be hit then. We shall see how that all translates this spring.

A lot of eyes are also going to be on Andre Debose (FR. 5-11, 176) a year after surgery to repair his hamstring. Debose will practice but be very limited with no contact for most of the spring. It will be a wait and see what he can do early on, but his eventual emergence on the field will be greatly anticipated. Debose came to Florida as the number one threat on their recruiting board in the 2009 class and was supposed to be the starter in the slot right away. A healthy and healing spring is the best thing for Debose, but it would be nice if he could get out there and show some of the amazing things he did in high school.

Two freshmen arrived in January and will be inserted right into the mix at that vacated slot position. Solomon Patton (FR. 5-9, 175) and Robert Clark (FR. 5-10, 170) will challenge Rainey with their own skills and talents and don't bet against either one of them getting on the field this year both as receivers and kick returners. If speed kills, these two are slot assassins.

The summer will bring an infusion of even more talent as Chris Dunkley (FR. 5-11, 175), Quinton Dunbar (FR. 6-2, 165), and Adrian Coxson (FR. 6-1, 195) arrive on campus. Dunkley was the number one target on the board for the Gators so look for him to get a lot of attention early on in the fall. Coxson and Dunbar are highly regarded bigger receivers that have a little more physical maturity to them than the other freshmen on campus.

At tight end, the race this spring will be wide open between three freshmen. Gone is all-American Aaron Hernandez. It is a huge hole to fill, but there is a trio of guys ready to try.

Desmond Parks (FR. 6-4, 236) returns after redshirting in 2009. Parks has progressed nicely putting on weight and can be a down field threat as a tight end. He is the tallest of the group currently on campus and his burst should allow him to be a receiver the quarterbacks can throw the ball up to. Parks will have to work a lot on his ability to block at the line of scrimmage and that will be the biggest thing for him to upgrade this spring.

Jordan Reed (FR. 6-3, 240) moved over from quarterback and may end up being the most physically punishing of the group. Reed constantly fought of weight gain as a quarterback and now that won't be a problem at a position where he needs some size to compete in the SEC. There is no doubt he has the physical skills to play the position as he can run, is agile, and strong...but how long will it take him to really learn the position is the big question.

Gerald Christian (FR. 6-3, 235) is probably the most athletically ready tight end in the group. Christian has size, speed, agility, and a tenacious way of playing the game. If I had to pick a starter right now it would be Christian. But that is before the first ball of the spring is snapped and he won't line up first on day one. Christian came to Florida with all the accolades and I expect him to earn it.

The summer will bring one more addition to the tight end position in the form of Michael McFarland (FR. 6-6, 225). McFarland is definitely the tallest and eventually will be the biggest and strongest of the group. Coming in later than the others he will be behind so I expect him to redshirt. He will have to work on his quickness, but he possesses the overall physical traits to be a pro level tight end in the future.

Zach Azzanni has a lot to work with this spring. He definitely has a core group of starter types in Moore, Thompson, Rainey, Hines, and Hammond. That will be complimented by a group of talented yet inexperienced players that this spring has a chance to uncover their ability. It is up to them to stand out and be noticed.

Tight end coach Brian White has a lot of talent and right now has no idea who will likely start. He has more tight ends now than he had last year, but all of them are younger as well. The position will be another race to really watch closely this spring.


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