Florida Gator Football Preview 2014: Playmakers Are Priority Number 3

[Note: This is Part 3 of a five-part Florida Gators football preview for 2014. Click here for parts 1 and 2]

“’Cause all I do is win, win, win, and if you goin’ in, put your hands in the air, make ’em stay there …” – DJ Khaled

Last year Florida had less open threats at wide receiver and tight end than Les Miles has crazy press conferences. If the offense is to improve to a respectable level, the Gators must find reliable and quick hands that move the ball downfield.

To give you an idea of the ineptitude Florida looks to combat, last season saw two tight ends combine for four catches. A wide receiver has not broken the 1,000 receiving yard threshold since way back in 2002. And nobody has cracked 570 yards receiving since Riley Cooper in 2009.

With rising seniors Tevin Westbrook, Clay Burton, Hunter Joyer, and Gideon Ajagbe on the TE/FB side, and receivers Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose (haven’t we said this before?) returning, the team has leadership. Talented underclassmen Valdez Showers, Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson, Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman, Alvin Bailey, and Marqui Hawkins give Florida depth.

It’s this writers personal opinion that the Gators have at least one go-to receiver to whom Driskel can throw (either Robinson or Fullwood would fit this role perfectly). They can then develop a committee style offense for the rest, and keep opponents guessing. Think about this: a new offense lends Florida the perfect opportunity to keep it interesting and “on the move,” as they say.

Fullwood has great play-making abilities in tight coverage. Though it was ultimately a day to forget, his incredible catch against Vanderbilt was a sign of his potential.

Robinson looked good against SEC stud Vernon Hargreaves in spring practice, and could provide a pulse in open space that just didn’t exist last season. Though he’s had some disciplinary issues, all indications are that he has grown up. Robinson is an incredible athlete – as shown in this video from his high school years – and if his game comes together, he could be a difference maker. His speed (he made a 31 yard TD dash in the spring game) and elusiveness may give Florida its first real playmaker since the days of Percy Harvin.

Potential incoming TE transfer Jake McGee also adds a tantalizing downfield threat to the mix. During a game against Penn State in 2012, he made one of the best catches that I’ve ever seen, by bailing out his QB while being blanketed by two defenders. McGee could really be a threat in an offense tailor-made for his unique skill set. In Kurt Roper’s new system there is an array of options for the tight end position – be it from in the slot, the nickel, or down the field. Should he choose to enroll at UF for his final season of eligibility, McGee will add another veteran presence to the huddle and give Jeff Driskel a big downfield target.

Though Driskel completed only 56.25% of his passes in the Orange & Blue Debut, and many sailed out of bounds or were underthrown, there was substantial progress made (hey, he didn’t throw any picks, right? Right?). He looked more comfortable with his receivers, was quicker and (finally) more aware of when the ball needed to leave his hands. He also helped counsel receivers on both accuracy and communication – something that was nonexistent the past 2 years. It wasn’t a bad rate of progress after only a few spring practices and meetings in an entirely new offense.

This is quite possibly the most critical off-season ever faced by this program. Yes the 1979 team went 0-10-1, but that was light years ago. It was before the golden age of ESPN, well before social media, and at a time when the Florida Gators brand was not nearly as strong as it is today.

With NCAA regulations limiting official practices in the off-season, this team needs to come together on its own (as Driskel has indicated it will) and congeal as a unit. It was apparent to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of football that Florida’s offense was out of sync from the first snap against Miami last year. Roper is making huge strides already (again, not that difficult when considering last year’s ineptitude), and this team will be better on offense.

The key difference between last season’s disastrous results and a return to respectability is Driskel’s ability to lead. That means developing relationships with his recievers, learning this offense inside and out (e.g. not looking to the sideline for every play), and making GOOD decisions (as opposed to ones like this). If he doesn’t … oh, boy … we won’t go there.