Thursday August 22, 2013 Robinson's emergence one reason Pease expects more success in downfield passing game
Updated: 9:06am, August 27
Updated: 9:06am, August 27
Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease seeks an improved passing game in his second season.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one has to remind Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease of the struggles in the downfield passing game in his first season.
Fresh off a stint calling plays for one of the nation's most prolific offenses at Boise State, led by quarterback Kellen Moore, Pease inherited a Florida offense last season with a first-year starting quarterback and a lack of proven playmakers at receiver.
The formula Pease used was much different than his time at Boise State.
Still, the Gators finished 11-2 and soared to No. 2 in the polls late in the season primarily because of a ball-control offense featuring running back Mike Gillislee, excellent ball security and an occasional long ball from quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Gillislee became the first Gators runner in eight years to crack the 1,000-yard barrier. Meanwhile, Driskel's legs proved as dangerous as his right arm. He finished second on the team in rushing while Florida ranked last in the SEC in passing.
"That needs to be better," Pease said Wednesday. "I don't want to be last. Nobody wants to be last in that."
Determined to improve the options in the passing game, the Gators eyed a large group of receivers on the recruiting trail and hauled in five true freshmen.
The one who arrived first has stood out the most.
Demarcus Robinson enrolled in January, had a strong spring practice, and since fall camp started, has drawn favorable reviews from coaches and teammates.
"He's a good freshman,'' junior cornerback Marcus Roberson said. "He's the best I've seen so far. He's a guy who can get better as well as get you better. As camp went on, his game elevated a lot."
Robinson (photo, left) chose the Gators over Clemson and at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds he provides a difficult cover for opposing defensive backs. He was an all-state selection at Peach County (Ga.) High.
Robinson is strong enough to outmuscle defenders and fast enough to run by them.
While only time will tell if Robinson develops into a go-to receiver for Driskel, Pease considers him capable of the job physically.
"He's gotten a lot better,'' Pease said. "The kid's a phenomenal athlete. I think he is one of the guys who have got to fill that role. I don't think he's the only guy because I think we've got probably three or four kids that can do that."
Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar is the team's leading returning receiver. Dunbar caught 36 passes and a team-high four touchdowns last season.
Robinson will start the season as Dunbar's backup at the X receiver spot (updated with release of depth chart on Monday).
Four other true freshmen receivers -- Alvin Bailey, Marqui Hawkins, Chris Thompson and Ahmad Fulwood -- are also vying to make a difference in the Gators' passing attack.
Their progress varies.
"Marqui has been slowed by an ankle. He has been really slowed by the ankle and he’s trying to push through it, but again, not able to run full speed,'' Gators head coach Will Muschamp said. "Alvin’s a guy that we think is talented and can play in the slot. If he continues to progress, certainly can help us. Ahmad and Demarcus have distanced themselves.
"Chris Thompson would be the third guy that can help us because he’s going to help us on special teams. He has a knack for blocking kicks. He’s done a really nice job of showing up on special teams. He’s got great vertical speed. He’s a guy we’ll continue to look at."
The Gators recently converted defensive back Valdez Showers to receiver/running back. Showers was a prominent playmaker in high school and was named Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior.
Pease plans to use Showers in a role similar to the one filled by Omarius Hines last year.
"For us, here's a kid that played [offense] in high school, natural,'' Pease said. "He's got that foot speed. He's a little different than Omarius because he's probably got a lot more quickness and he's a little bit more elusive because of his size. Omarius was so strong."
Among the veteran receivers in the mix for more passes their way are Trey Burton, Ralph Andrades, Solomon Patton and Latroy Pittman.
But there is little doubt that if Florida's passing game is to improve significantly, the freshmen must play a factor.
Robinson is leading that charge.
"He's got great hands. Size-wise, he is really what you want,'' Pease said. "For a young kid that faces [that] much man coverage and has to get off of that, has the body to do it, you don't see a lot.
"Every repetition you can see him get better. One thing he does have, he can get knocked off at times on a re-route, but he has the ability to explode to go get the ball. He has a lot of range."
Robinson's strong camp has allowed the Gators to leave cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy on defense for the most part.
Still, Pease said not to rule out Purifoy playing receiver during the season.
"We repped him in the spring,'' Pease said. "He still gives us a body that is explosive. Anytime you can put the ball in his hands he's got the potential to do great things with it. He's a guy that will still figure into the plans when we go along."
Bottom line: Pease is keeping all his options open as the Gators try to improve in the passing game in the second year of his offense and second season with Driskel at quarterback.
Finishing last in the league in passing is not something Pease wants to repeat.
"I'm not always going to get caught up in numbers, but I do think our production has got to be better,'' he said. "That production has to occur when our opportunities are there. I know we didn't have great numbers but we had high percentage of throwing the ball, so we're taking advantage of what we could with what we had.
"It's not perfected, but we expect it's more of a threat to our offense this year than where we were last year."