John Brantley, Deonte Thompson And William Green Sign NFL Free Agent Deals

Two former Florida Gators were expected to be selected in the 2012 NFL draft and exactly two were. Defensive lineman Jaye Howard went to the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round and running back Chris Rainey joined former teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert after he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round. No other Gator heard his name called during the NFL’s three-day event (Janoris Jenkins aside). There is hope though; more than a few undrafted players have become key contributors and even stars in the NFL.

Once the draft ends – and even before it comes to its conclusion – phones are ringing and teams are talking to those players they hope to give an opportunity to (or, more realistically, take another look at). Players are signed as undrafted free agents, while others are invited to various camps. Four such individuals have been given a chance to continue their football careers beyond their time with the Gators.

The Baltimore Ravens signed both quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Deonte Thompson. The two have already spent a lot of time together as Gators and former classmates as a part of Florida’s 2007 recruiting class. While neither would claim their orange and blue careers went as planned, it is nice to see them get at least a look at the next level. There is plenty both can improve, but the opportunity is there. Brantley isn’t being brought aboard to unseat Joe Flacco, but Thompson comes to a team with little depth at wide receiver.

Defensive end William Green was signed to the team that at one point in NFL history became the team that signed Brantley and Thompson. Still with me? Green is now a member of the Cleveland Browns and will go to camp fighting for a roster spot.

Former Florida and Notre Dame offensive lineman Dan Wenger also received interest from several NFL teams, but wasn’t offered a deal. He was invited to participate in the New York Jets mini-camp though.

Will Muschamp to the Wide Receivers: "You Got to Get Open."

The Florida wide receivers have been a topic of discussion all season long. After 10 games, the Gators’ leading pass catchers are a running back – Chris Rainey with 335 yards – and tight end – Jordan Reed with 24 receptions. To make matters worse, the leaders at the wide receiver position are Andre Debose with 272 yards and Deonte Thompson with 17 receptions. 10 games have passed; you can do the quick math to figure out the somewhat pitiful averages.

Blame has been placed everywhere at this point. We’ve discussed the offensive line at length throughout the season and we’ve also mentioned the quarterbacks’ inability to get the ball to the receivers. But what about those wide receivers themselves? What can they do to become part of the offensive attack? Will Muschamp thinks the answer is right in front of them: they have to get open.

During Wednesday’s SEC press conference, Muschamp mentioned the receivers and a need for consistency from the unit. He also keyed in on two points: getting open and making catches. Muschamp discussed the need for the receivers to get seperation from man-to-man coverage and put themselves in a position to make plays. He said drops have hurt the Gators and he went back to the one word that could end up defining Florida’s season – inconsistency.

Maybe Muschamp is right; he is the head coach after all. The offensive line does need to hold up and the quarterbacks do need to get the ball out quicker, but without the wide receivers putting themselves in the position to make plays, it’s all for naught. Youth is not an excuse. Thompson, Frankie Hammond, Omarius Hines and even Debose have been around for long enough regardless of a new system. Quinton Dunbar is the youth, but much more was expected from the redshirt freshman. Inexperience can’t be blamed. It’s past the time for the receivers to step up; that was months ago. It’s now time for them to make a quick leap and a big one. With two games left – and possibly a third – eight wins can’t even be whispered in passing without this unit making plays. Seven may even be a stretch.

Offense: Alabama Crimson Tide 38 – Florida Gators 10

First thoughts are up. Moving on to the offense.

For a few moments, everything looked wonderful. Florida started with not only a deep attempt, but a deep completion. John Brantley hit Andre Debose in stride for a 65-yard touchdown and everything appeared to be perfect with the world for just a second. Not only was it the deep ball we’ve all been searching for, it was Brantley – the quarterback with a shaky past – to Debose – the all-world recruit with little to show for it on offense to this point. It didn’t hurt that Debose beat one of the nation’s better cornerbacks – Dre Kirkpatrick – on the play. For just a moment, the aura of the Alabama defense disappeared.

That aura stayed in the locker room a little longer as the Gators had no problem driving the field on their second drive as well. Unfortunately, it was one of those drives that needed to result in a touchdown. The Gators’ defense had held the Crimson Tide offense to a field goal at the other end of the field and Florida had done the unthinkable – drive on the Bama defense twice in two drives. The unthinkable had happened: Debose’s touchdown, Brantley to Deonte Thompson for 30 yards on third-and-six, Brantley to Thompson again for 13 yards on third-and-seven. Things were definitely falling the Gators’ way…for just a moment…

On first-and-goal from the nine, Brantley found Chris Rainey all alone, but the pass was a second late and Rainey’s momentum carried him out of bounds at the four. Had Brantley been able to make the throw just a split second earlier, Rainey would have easily walked into the end zone. On second-and-goal, Brantley made a beautiful pass to the rising hero – Debose – only to have Debose slightly lose control of the ball. Third down resulted in another incompletion and suddenly Florida was faced with a field goal.

Although the drive didn’t end as desired, the Gators were still up 10-3 and had put points on the board on their first two drives. Great, right? Well, those would be the only points Florida would manage in a game somewhat reminiscent of the 1999 SEC Championship Game. The following drives would end like this: interception, punt, punt, field goal miss, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt. Six of those seven punts were the result of three-and-outs. Part of it had to do with the injury to Brantley and the passing game disappearing; much of it had to do with the running game never showing up.

Only one week earlier, the Gators ran the ball 46 times for 405 yards. It’s been said many times, but was proven beyond the shadow of a doubt on Saturday night: Kentucky isn’t Alabama. Against the Tide, the Gators ran the ball 29 times for 15 yards. That’s an average of less than half a yard per carry. The long of the night came from backup-but-could-be-the-new-starting-quarterback Jeff Driskel. Driskel scrambled for 31 yards on a play that reminded many of Tim Tebow. That was all that reminded anyone of no. 15. It was the high point for the Florida run game all night. There’s a theme here and that theme is four yards. Rainey: 11 carries, four yards. Jeff Demps: three carries, four yards. Mike Gillislee: three carries, four yards.

On passing plays, the offensive line looked like a different unit entirely. They formed pockets around Brantley and although he was pressured, the line did their job early he was able to complete 11 passes on 16 attempts for 190 yards (until Bama’s defense woke up, that’s an entirely different story). On running plays, things were incredibly different. When Florida attempted to run up the middle, every hole was closed immediately. Going to the outside, ball carriers were met by what seemed like 50 defenders in Alabama uniforms. Even on plays when the blocking came together, the Tide defense was too quick. Other than Driskel’s scramble, Rainey had the long run of the night of only seven yards and that didn’t come until almost halfway through the fourth quarter.

The loss comes especially hard because we finally saw what the passing game can do. In the first quarter, Brantley attempted seven passes and completed five of them. His first quarter yardage total was 110 with three of his completions going to wide receivers for 103 of those yards. It looked like Charlie Weis had opened up the playbook and the passing game could be as dangerous as we all hoped. Then Bama’s defense woke up.

A “what just happened?!?” interception took the wind out of the Gators’ sails. Florida would go three-and-out twice after the turnover, allowing Alabama to extend their lead to 14 before the half. But then hope was restored and Brantley caught fire again. Four straight completions and suddenly the Gators were at the Tide 13. Then the unthinkable happened. Courtney Upshaw – who had an outstanding all-around night – sacked Brantley and the quarterback went down awkwardly on his leg. Brantley was helped off the field and the offensive surge was officially over.

Florida would only get into Alabama territory once during the second half – and that was only to the 49. Driskel was force-fed the keys to the offense against possibly the nation’s best defense. It wasn’t a night to remember for the true freshman and one he needs to forget quickly. In less than one week, the Gators travel to LSU and he may be the new starter.

A rough night for the Gators’ offense definitely, but if you had any doubts about the Tide defense, they’re now gone. Alabama looks every bit a contender on both sides of the ball, while Florida still has work to do. One team couldn’t run and the other stopped the run consistently. That was predicted to be the key to winning this game and ended up being right on the money.

Up next: the Gators’ defensive performance.

The Offense: Florida Gators 33 – Tennessee Volunteers 23

As with last week, the game recap comes in parts. Offense up first, defense next, special teams after that, and then some final thoughts.

The Florida offense isn’t on any sort of torrid pace with fireworks at every turn, but so far it has been consistently solid. In the 33-23 win over Tennessee, the Gators put up 347 total yards. That’s not overly impressive. Instead, it could be called average, but it was enough. Enough for Florida to not only win its third-straight game, but to jump out to 1-0 in SEC play. That puts the Gators a game clear of SEC East rivals Tennessee and Georgia early in the season. These are the wins that mean the most.

Although finishing them was tough, Florida put together a number of successful drives to get out to an early lead. The Gators scored on their first four drives to lead 16-0 in the second quarter. The Vols, on the other, hand, weren’t able to score until their fifth drive of the game. Florida would do some of the same in the second half, finding the end zone on their first two drives to go up 30-7. Although Tennessee made the score closer late, the Vols were out of it thanks to timely scoring by the Gators’ offense. If the red zone offense had clicked, the score could have gotten out of hand. That aspect to the offense definitely left something to be desired, but chances are it’ll be one of the things worked on most during the week.

In his second season as the starter, John Brantley has already looked much more comfortable as a quarterback. It’s still early in the season, but Brantley has raised his rating by more than 30 points over 2010. Against Tennessee, he registered his highest rating of the season at 167.4. With two touchdowns and no interceptions, Brantley appeared ready to run Charlie Weis’ offense against SEC opponents. His stats won’t awe you, but they don’t have to. Weis has turned Brantley into a game manager and so far so good. When he has to make throws he can. His touchdown pass that wasn’t a catch because Deonte Thompson’s right foot hit out of bounds just before his left foot came down was one of the better throws we’ve seen from Brantley. For now, he’s making the right decisions and helping the Gators’ offense move the ball. He – and the entire offense – will need to improve play in the red zone, but that can come. Let’s rephrase that, it needs to come. Less than two weeks from now, Brantley will face Alabama’s defense. Enough said.

The run game wasn’t as explosive as it had been, but it was nearly as efficient. Weis stuck with the starters against Tennessee and gave 35 carries to Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Trey Burton. Rainey led the way with 108 yards on 21 carries for a good, but modest for him, 5.1 yards per carry. Demps added 48 on 10. The long of the day was only 28 yards, but sometimes that’s alright. The offense moved the ball and did what it had to when it needed to. It was good to see tough yards gained and Rainey carry such a load. There was a point where exhaustion seemed to overtake no. 1, but he came back from it and pressed on. Rainey may have to get used to being the focal point of the offense; he’s suddenly one of the better offensive weapons in the nation. After three games, Rainey is only three rushes and 60 yards from matching last season’s totals and he’s nearly halfway to his career-best 652 rushing yards he posted in 2008. As a running back, Rainey is no longer a change-of-pace type. He’s become an every-down back in Weis’ offense.

As mentioned above, the passing game was efficient, but not dynamic. Unfortunately, a wide receiver hasn’t stepped up and that’s mostly because they still haven’t been used all that much. Brantley only completed 14 passes, but just three went to receivers. Thompson had two for 26 yards and Quinton Dunbar had one for one. Those aren’t great numbers. The backs are making up for the lack of a go-to receiver and look great doing so, but we still don’t know what we’ll see when Florida needs to stretch the field. Rainey broke the Vols’ back on his 83-yard touchdown scamper and Burton and Demps each had four receptions, but add in the tight ends and all non-backs had four total catches. That will need to change. The offense is working for now, but all dimensions of it will need to be running almost flawlessly for the rest of the schedule.

The offensive line continues to improve and seems to have its starting five set. Chaz Green, Jon Halapio, Jonotthan Harrison, Xavier Nixon and Dan Wenger have started every game and are beginning to come together as a cohesive unit. Tennessee only managed one sack and one other hit on Brantley. That’s a plus for the line and a definite step in the right direction. Facing a better defense, the line played well and opened holes for the running game. Short yardage can still be worked on and overall the line still has room to grow, but a step forward is not a step backward. That’s about as obvious as obvious can be, but it’s worth pointing out that this unit is improving.

Coming up next: the defense.

The Offense: Florida Gators 39 – UAB Blazers 0

The longer this recapbecame, the more I realized I needed to split it up. So here’s the offense. Twomore parts – the defense and special teams/other – to come today as well.
Game two has come and gone and as expected, Florida is 2-0. That’s not a surprise,but what might be is the Gators play so far. It hasn’t been spectacular justyet, but it has been very good in areas, good in others, and improved in thefinal few. Fans will keep pointing to 2010 and say “it has been better so far this season,” but maybe it’s time tomove on. After two games it has been better, but 2010 no longer matters. 2011does. The SEC schedule begins in six days when Florida hosts Tennessee. Another win has fansconfident and ready to attack the rest of the schedule. For now we do look back,but less than 24 hours back at the 39-0 win over UAB.
The offense is still a work inprogress, but one we’re all excited to see grow. The playbook hasn’t beenentirely opened just yet and that’s just fine. Charlie Weis is known to play to his opponent. After the win over FAU, the use of screens and dump offswere excessive, but they worked. Against UAB, they were used again, but theyworked. The first thought is that they won’t work against bigger, faster,stronger SEC defenses, and that’s true for the most part, but what we don’t knowis what we don’t know. Yes, that makes sense. There’s more to Weis’ playbookthan screens. He’ll use what he needs when he needs it. So far he’s had littleneed for much more than the basics.
John Brantley wasn’t asked to throw the ball as much against UAB ashe did against FAU, but he was more efficient and got the ball down the fieldmore. The game’s first offensive play was exciting even if it didn’t run assmoothly as you’d like (trickeration isn’t always perfect). A 40-yard gain is a40-yard gain I guess. Overall, Brantley passed for 195 yards on only 12completions, compared to 229 on 21 in the first game of the season. Whenworking the middle of the field, he looked more confident and on several playsstood in the pocket, surveyed the field, and fired the ball to his receivers. Brantleyhasn’t been great yet, but he hasn’t needed to be. What he has been isconfident and that should mean something heading into the Tennessee game. Onthe season, Brantley is completing over 67% of his passes, but that 1-2touchdown-to-interception ratio is still a little bit cringe-worthy. Thepassing game needs to be a threat to opposing defenses moving forward and itneeds to not only create scoring opportunities, but actually score.
While the Gators only attempted 20passes against the Blazers, they were pounding the ball away while establishingthe run game. On the night, Florida running backs carried the ball 49 times andBrantley and backup quarterback JeffDriskel added three additional carries. The goal was to keep the focalpoint on the run game and it worked. ChrisRainey was his dynamic self totaling 119 yards on 16 carries. Jeff Demps only carried the ball twicebefore going out with what looked like a minor injury. We’ll definitely behoping it remains minor. The plus of the night was the backups. Against FAU, Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown totaled five carries and 19 yards (all were Gillislee’s),but against UAB, they combined for 115 yards on 21 runs. It was very importantto get the backups more carries especially in situations where Demps was unableto go. We’re now a little more confident in what Gillislee and Brown offergoing forward. Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer got into the action aswell. Those two along with Rainey and Gillislee all had rushing touchdowns. Twogames in and five different Gators have scored on the ground.
With only 12 completions, you’regoing to come away with low numbers among the wide receivers, but we still needto know who’s going to step up. Rainey led the way again with three receptions –only half of his total against FAU. Next up were receivers Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar,and Deonte Thompson with two each.The main reason was the use of screens, but we still have to wonder what we’llsee going forward. After two games, the leading receivers that are actually WRsare Debose and Thompson with five catches and Dunbar with 82 yards. This goesback to the “if you don’t need it, don’topen it up yet” theory, but what happens when Florida needs to rely on adeeper passing game? We just don’t know yet. Brantley looked good hittingreceivers over the middle of the field for good gains, but it was limited.Tennessee will tell us much more and hopefully tell us who the top receiverswill be.
Finally, the offensive line. Ah,the offensive line. The line has talent; we’ve said that for a while now.Plenty of talent across all positions, but also uncertainty. The main reason isa lack of consistency so far. There were a handful of plays where the linelooked phenomenal. The times Brantley worked the middle of the field were goodexamples, but the prime one was the hole they opened for Rainey on histouchdown run. The line parted and took the entire UAB defense with it. It wasa relatively short touchdown run, but if that same play had happened furtherback down the field, it could have been a huge gain. Those are the types ofplays we need to see more of. The line was improved over week one, but stillhas some work to do. The screens were designed, but many of the dump offs werebecause of the quick pressure Brantley faced. This line can be good (and in2012, possibly great), but they need to do so play after play after play. Andthe penalties have to go.
There’s the offense. Defense to come.

Last-Minute Thoughts: UAB Blazers @ Florida Gators

When I have the opportunity to do this an hour before Florida games, I will. When I don’t, I won’t. Seems simple enough. These are a few last minute thoughts that may have been covered in the preview, or they may have been missed entirely. Those of you not tailgating like a champion today can add any of your own. Then again, those of you that are out there enjoying all the glory of the tailgate can as well.

1. John Brantley and the deep ball. Okay, I don’t even need the deep ball. I’d even like the intermediate ball. Either way, let’s see more of it. Florida needs it in the arsenal before the SEC schedule.

2. The Chris Rainey Show with The Jeff Demps Band. Stay healthy gentlemen; you are the keys to the offense. This is your year.

3. A superstar at wide receiver. Deonte Thompson? Quinton Dunbar? Andre Debose? A star is out there. One will eventually have to step up and we’re all waiting to find out who it will be.

4. Offensive line consistency. It’s needed, for an entire 60 minutes. Protect Brantley and open lanes up the middle for the running backs.

5. Sharrif Floyd. So he won’t play, but fans will chant. Whether it’s “Sharrif Floyd” or “Free Sharrif,” it’ll happen and it’ll be glorious.

6. Lerentee McCray’s coming out party. McCray was better than many expected against FAU. The position is his to lose now. This is his second test.

7. In the stolen-from-the-preview department: love Marcus Roberson, have an unhealthy man-crush on Matt Elam, like Jaylen Watkins more and more every day.

8. From Eric Wilbur to Chas Henry to ??? The Gators haven’t punted yet, but sooner or later they will have to. Don’t be worried; history says it’ll be simply amazing.

9. Will Muschamp, Game 2. The new head coach has an excellent win percentage so far. He’ll keep it up there a little while longer. Game two should be as smooth as game one. Not a step back, but another step forward.

10. No looking ahead. The SEC schedule starts NEXT WEEK with Tennessee. Not this week; NEXT WEEK.

BONUS. Go Gators!

Florida Gators Wide Receivers – 2010 vs. 2011

Part three in a series where One Eyed Willy and I go over the Florida roster differences position by position from this season to last and what to expect in 2011. Check out the quarterbacks here and the running backs here.
2010: Carl Moore – RSR, Justin Williams – RSR, Chris Rainey – RJR, Deonte Thompson – RJR, Frankie Hammond – RSO, Omarius Hines – RSO, Josh Postell – RSO, Stephen Alli – RFR, Andre Debose – RFR, Robert Clark – FR, Quinton Dunbar – FR, Chris Dunkley – FR, Solomon Patton – FR
Preseason Rating: B
Postseason Rating: D
Going into the 2010 season, you would have been excited to see what this unit could do. You had a senior that was a highly-touted recruit coming out of junior college, a junior moving into the role of receiver in hopes of sparking a Percy Harvin-like transformation, two sophomores who would get a chance to really make a difference, and five freshman – all of which brought something special to the game.
13 games later you would have let out a sigh and looked forward to the 2011. We will go ahead and run through the numbers:
12 – The total number of passing touchdowns.
9 – The number caught by wide receivers.
1 – Wide receivers with more than 27 receptions.
38 – The number of receptions Deonte Thompson had to lead the team.
1 – Wide receivers with more than 349 yards on the season.
570 – The numbers of yards Thompson had to lead the team.
10 – Receptions on the season for all-world prospect Andre Debose.
5 – The number of games “slash” player Chris Rainey missed due to…well…you know.
3 – The number of wide receivers that appeared in every game.
51 – The longest reception on the season.
15.0 – Highest yards per catch average on the team by, you guessed it, Thompson.
1 – 100-yard receiving games by wide receivers. It was Thompson.
And just for fun:
40 – The number of receptions Harvin had in 2008 to lead the team. We will give the wide receivers a pass that season though. After all, they were part of a national championship team.
2003 – The last year a Florida team did not have a single pass catcher with at least 40 catches. This team was coached by Ron Zook. What does that tell you?
1989 – The last Florida team to have a leading receiver with less than the 38 receptions Thompson had in 2010. This was the last team before Steve Spurrier arrived. What does that tell you?
It all tells you 2010 was not kind to the Gators wide receivers. A great deal of it had to do with two things beyond their control: shaky play calling and inconsistent quarterback play. Still, that does not change the fact that from a group of very talented players, no one stepped up. Rainey actually set a pace that, if eligible to play in every game, would have made him the receptions leader. And that is from a player who split his time at running back.
2010 is over and that is a very good thing. This is a program that saw eight-straight seasons with at least one 1,000-yard receiver during Spurrier’s time at the helm. Since that time, there have only been two 900-yard receivers. Despite bringing two national championships to Florida, Urban Meyer never had a single receiver with over 920 yards. That could be attributed to Meyer’s desire to have a large numbers of receivers on the roster, but it also never truly allowed any one to shine. That is not such a bad thing when you are going 13-1. When you are going 8-5, it is a very different story.
2011: Deonte Thompson – RSR, Frankie Hammond – RJR, Omarius Hines – RJR, Stephen Alli – RSO, Andre Debose – RSO, Robert Clark – SO, Quinton Dunbar – SO, Solomon Patton – SO, Ja’Juan Story – FR
Preseason Rating: C
As much as I hate to give another unit a C, I just have to do it. And it is because of the promise of a Charlie Weis offense that I even give them that. There are three reasons:
1. The offense is new to the program.
2. Until we see different with our own eyes, we have to expect the same inconsistent quarterback play.
3. This unit lost three bodies completely, two more to position changes and only gained one – Ja’Juan Story.
Therefore, it is very hard to expect much out of this unit. It all hinges on the first two of those items above. How long will it take for the offense to click? And how will whichever quarterback turns out to be the right one adapt? If a passer can get the ball to the receivers more often and on longer routes, we may no longer be talking about low receptions and yardage numbers. If the Gators can consistently move the ball up and down the field, we may see one wide receiver haul in nine touchdowns, not the entire unit collectively.
There is plenty to hope for when it comes to the wide receivers, but we not seen it yet out of any on the roster. Omarius Hines had flashes, but only totaled six catches over the last five games. Thompson’s best day was against Florida’s weakest opponent – Appalachian State. Debose was rumored to have problems with the playbook and was rarely seen on offense. That cannot happen again in 2011. Thompson is the lone senior and the time is now for Frankie Hammond and Hines to no longer have just “potential.” Debose needs to become a big part of the offense and Quinton Dunbar needs to live up to the hype he generated in the spring.
The talent is there. The performance has yet to be seen. Every single member of this unit needs to step up in 2011.

One Eyed Observations: Janoris Jenkins, Wide Receivers, and Matt McCall

One Eyed Willy is back answering some questions regarding the biggest Florida happenings of the moment.

The Bull Gator: Janoris Jenkins has been dismissed.  Right decision made by Will Muschamp?  Is he making a statement?
One Eyed Willy: There are conflicting stories as to how the whole Janoris Jenkins dismissal took place.  If you believe some of the Gator “insiders,” it is believed that Janoris was offered an opportunity to come back to UF after serving a lengthy suspension (upwards of 6 games) and seeking treatment for his drug problem.  The story goes that Janoris didn’t like this offer, tried to negotiate with Muschamp, and was told that this was not a negotiation and they decided to “mutually” part ways.  Then there is Jenkins’s version which says that Muschamp basically told him to hit the road as soon as the meeting started.
I am not sure which to believe, and I am not sure that it even matters.  In my opinion, Muschamp had to (and certainly did) make a statement with this decision and I personally believe it’s the right one.  Over the last five years, we as Gator fans have woken up countless times only to open the paper or turn on the computer to see that another UF football player is in some sort of legal trouble.  And as much as I want to win on the field, at some point enough has to be enough.
It seems to me that fans think that you have to have one or the other – a successful football team with character issues or a bunch of choir boys who can’t win on the field.  Maybe Muschamp has the same beliefs that I do – that maybe just maybe you can have a high-quality team filled with high-quality players.  Sure you are always going to have a problem here and there, but at some point we have to just stop the proverbial bleeding and maybe Muschamp has finally done that.
TBG: Florida lost two wide receivers to transfer last week, leaving the position thin in terms of scholarship numbers.  Who steps up?  Who is the most important to the offense’s success?  How critical has recruiting WRs become?
OEW:  You are absolutely right TBG, the WR position at Florida right now is shockingly thin and several unheralded players will need to step up if the offense wants to have a successful passing game this upcoming season.
By my count, the nine true WRs currently on scholarship are Andre Debose, Deonte Thompson, Robert Clark, Omarius Hines, Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar, Frankie Hammond Jr., Stephen Alli, and Ja’Juan Story.  A quick look at this list and I think it would be easy to say that Debose and Thompson need to step it up and have big 2011 seasons.  Unfortunately, I have personally lost a good deal of hope in both of these players.  Up until last year I was one of the strongest defenders of Deonte, but his 2010 season yet again showed me just how awful of a pass-catching WR he really is.  You cannot teach a person to catch the football at this level.  He either can or he can’t and Deonte clearly can’t.  As for Debose, between his injuries and his apparent inability to learn the playbook, I am really doubting the chances of seeing #4 play a meaningful role in the upcoming season.  Hines and Hammond Jr. definitely showed signs last year that the can be quality WRs and I expect a lot of balls to be thrown their way again this season.  But the two guys that I think must really step up are Dunbar and Alli.  Dunbar showed throughout spring practice and the O&B game that he has the ability to stretch the field.  That is a characteristic we could certainly use going forward.  And Alli is just a big target that can be used in the 5- to 15-yard range.  At 6’5″ and 220 lbs, any QB (well except maybe John Brantley) should have no problem picking him out of a crowd and delivering a ball where only he can get it.
Finally, although the question asks about WRs, I think we will rely heavily on our TEs (Jordan Reed, A.C. Leonard, and maybe even Josh Postell) to take some pressure off this depleted WR corp.
In terms of recruiting, behind offensive lineman, I think that recruiting numerous quality WRs has to be of the utmost priority to Muschamp and the entire coaching staff.
TBG: Matt McCall, good choice?  Is the new Billy Donovan staff one fans should be happy about?
OEW: I am not going to sit here and lie and tell you that I know a lot about Matt McCall because honestly I don’t.  What I can tell you is that McCall possess two qualities that I love to see in an assistant coach – he is young and he has UF roots.  Kind of like when Aubrey Hill was hired as the WR coach for the Gator football team, I like seeing guys who either played or started their coaching careers in Gainesville come back at a later time.  I think these types of coaches have a much deeper passion for the Gators than other assistant coaches and that passion exudes both on the recruiting trail and on the court in this case.
Add the McCall pickup to the pickups of John Pelphrey and Norm Roberts and I think Billy D. got himself one hell of a coaching staff.  It can’t be easy to lose all of your assistant coaches within weeks of the season ending, but dare I say that on paper this coaching staff is even more impressive than the previous one.  I do dare say!  Pelphrey was a phenomenal assistant coach with the Gators in his past life, did a great job at South Alabama as a head coach, and although it didn’t last long, he didn’t do an awful job at Arkansas either.  Plus he once again has orange and blue blood and is very close friends with Billy D. which certainly helps.  Roberts brings you that head coaching experience and overall basketball knowledge that you need on your team.  Roberts will be the old man of the group that the other coaches and players can look to for wisdom about the game and certain in-game situations.  He also has great ties to the Northeast which is a hotbed for basketball talent.
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the coaches that Billy D. has brought in and hopefully it will pay off come next basketball season and next March!

The Charlie Weis Offense Arrives, Time to Take Cover

Charlie Weis is no longer new to the Florida football program.  We’ve had plenty of time to be comfortable with the fact that he is the new offensive coordinator.  We’ve put our negative feelings toward Weis in the closet for now, but reserve the right to bring them out the first time a run play nets negative yards or a pass is dropped.  We’re fickle like that.  After all, we’re Gator fans.

What Weis brings is…well…you see, what he can do with the offense is…um…hmm…well, it sure was effective at times in certain places.  It’s just hard to put a finger on exactly what it was.  Run first?  Sure.  Pass first?  At times.  Explosive?  Could be.  Stagnant?  There were moments.  We won’t attempt to define it – EDSBS has taken a stab at that for us, but came up with many of the same conclusions.
The fun part is the implementation of the F.  We have a feeling that “F” will stand for a lot of things during the season.  When things are going the way of the Addazio (and it could happen), the F will be for “Fail” or another choice four-letter word.  When Charlie has put the proverbial smack down on SEC defenses and the days of 50+ points have returned, it will be “Fantastic” or “Fantabulous.”  (Holy crap!  It’s a real word!)  Whatever it is, it’s intriguing.  Intriguing in that at the moment it is held in first-team glory by a one-time “next great thing” receiver – Deonte Thompson, a little-discussed tight end – Michael McFarland, and a dynamic second-year player that no one knows what to do with – Trey Burton.
It seems exciting, but look at it a little closer.  It consists of a formation with one halfback, one tight end, and three receivers; a formation with one halfback, two tight ends, and two receivers; and a formation with two halfbacks, one tight end, and two receivers.  So it’s not exactly rocket science even if it sounds like it.  The implementation of the F position at least.  Weis’s entire offense is a different matter all together.  That we can’t figure out and don’t really want to.  We’d rather take our chances in the fall.  Florida has plenty of weapons, a virtual cornucopia of them, it should (fingers crossed, and other things as well) all come together.  Hold your breath.  Do it!

Florida Gators Release Spring Depth Chart

With every day we get closer.  Just a little, but closer to football season.  Basketball season is winding down.  One month from now, the NCAA Tournament will be but a memory.  We’ll need football information to tide us over until the fall.  There isn’t much of it, and we get it in bits.  The latest bit is here.  It’s the Florida spring depth chart.  It means little.  In fact, it means virtually nothing, but it’s a starting point.

There are some surprises – yes, that’s Gerald Christian at linebacker.  There is some of what we expected – no, it’s not a shock that John Brantley is the first-team quarterback.  Don’t be too concerned with those missing – Jeff Demps, Omar Hunter, and Janoris Jenkins for instance – those out or limited for the spring aren’t listed.
The Offense
QB – 1: John Brantley, 2: Jeff Driskel/Tyler Murphy
* No surprises here.
HB – 1: Chris Rainey, 2: Mack Brown/Mike Gillislee
* Looks like Rainey is penciled in as a HB for now.  It’s unclear if he’ll do double duty as a WR as well.  If we had a vote, that vote would be full-time HB.  Expect that to be a co-starter position when Demps is good to go.
X – 1: Frankie Hammond, 2: Stephen Alli/Quinton Dunbar
Z – 1: Omarius Hines, 2: Andre Debose
* The man-crush list continues to grow on almost a daily basis, but Hines has been on it for quite some time.  Get that man the ball.
F-11 – 1: Deonte Thompson, 2: Robert Clark/Solomon Patton
F-12 – 1: Michael McFarland, 2: Josh Postell
F-21 – 1: Trey Burton
* No, it’s not some advance fighter jet formation.  The F is a position and who fills it depends on the formation.  The first number accounts for the number of halfbacks on the field.  The second is tight ends.  So, with one HB and one TE, the Gators will run a third WR onto the field – Thompson.  With one HB and two TEs, McFarland comes in as the second TE.  With two HBs and one TE, the second HB is Burton (offense, not defense for him).  What’s most interesting in all of this is that it seems as of right now, Hammond and Hines will see more time with the first team than Thompson.
TE – 1: Jordan Reed, 2: A.C. Leonard
* Reed, TE, full time.
LT – 1: Chaz Green, 2: Kyle Koehne
LG – 1: Jonotthan Harrison, 2: Cole Gilliam
C – 1: Sam Robey, 2: Nick Alajajian
RG – 1: Jon Halapio, 2: William Steinmann
RT – 1: Xavier Nixon, 2: Ian Silberman
* By all accounts, Green is an absolute beast, but he may be holding the position for Matt Patchan.  James Wilson and David Young are also not listed.  And Robey, your time has come, make it count.  Overall, depth is a concern.
The Defense
DT – 1: Dominique Easley, 2: Leon Orr
DT – 1: Sharrif Floyd, 2: Earl Okine
*Easley and Floyd will get plenty of playing time during the 2011 season, but expect Hunter and Jaye Howard to be the primary starters.  Starting has meant little across the defensive line in recent years.  Although there’s a new coaching staff, one of Florida’s strengths has been a heavy rotation across the line.
DE – 1: William Green, 2: Clay Burton/Chris Martin
DE/LB – 1: Ronald Powell, 2: Lerentee McCray/Lynden Trail
* You’ll also hear to this referred to as the Buck position by some.  Check out Only Gators for an explanation.  Basically, in the 4-3 it’s an end and in the 3-4 it’s a backer.
WLB – 1: Jelani Jenkins, 2: Dee Finley/Darrin Kitchens
MLB – 1: Jon Bostic, 2: Michael Taylor
SLB – 1: Gerald Christian, 2: Gideon Ajagbe
* Interesting to see Christian, who moved from TE, to be working with the first team so soon.  We’re guessing Jenkins becomes the other MLB when in the 3-4.
CB – 1: Jeremy Brown, 2: Cody Riggs
CB – 1: Moses Jenkins, 2: De’Ante Saunders
SS – 1: Matt Elam, 2: Josh Shaw
FS – 1: Josh Evans, 2: Tim Clark
* Elam is slated to become the Nickel corner, which probably means Shaw takes his spot at safety.  Expect to see plenty of Riggs as we did during his freshman year.
The Special Teams
KR – 1: Andre Debose, 2: Solomon Patton
PR – 1: Chris Rainey, 2: Frankie Hammond
* We like both of these.  A lot.
K – 1: Caleb Sturgis, 2: Brad Phillips
P – 1: Kyle Christy, 2: Dave Lerner
LS – 1: Christopher Guido, 2: Drew Ferris
* Christy, you have a lot to live up to.  Don’t disappoint.  But, you know, no pressure or anything.
Debate as you will.