GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. made a new friend over the summer and the two spent an awful lot of time together.
They hung out at home, at the Gators’ football offices and anywhere else Hammond had time to catch up with his friend.
The friend’s name? Charlie Weis’ playbook.
A redshirt junior out to make a name for himself in Weis’ pro-style offense, Hammond has responded well to Weis’ message and his methods of delivery.
“He’s a football guy,’’ Hammond said. “He takes his job seriously. He won’t lead you in the wrong direction. You follow his lead, learn the playbook, it’s like it’s fail-proof if you go out there and do what you are supposed to do.’’
Hammond evidently has, drawing praise recently from head coach Will Muschamp, who said Hammond “consistently has been our best receiver’’ since the spring.
Hammond has emerged along with senior Deonte Thompson and redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar as the top receivers on the depth chart early in camp. His goal is to keep it that way after finishing fourth on the team with 22 catches for 276 yards a year ago.
“You can tell that he’s been studying this playbook and it’s been showing on the field,’’ quarterback John Brantley said Friday.
This season is off to a much better start than last year for Hammond, who was suspended for the season’s first two games for an on-campus DUI arrest in June 2010. Hammond even had his scholarship revoked by former coach Urban Meyer, who wanted to see how committed Hammond was to football and the team.
Hammond responded well then, too, regaining his scholarship in January and working hard to make a good impression on Muschamp and Weis when spring practice started in March.
So far so good for Hammond, a 5-foot-11, 188-pound product of Hallandale High in Hollywood where he starred in football and track.
The change from Meyer’s spread-option offense to Weis’ pro-style attack has boosted Hammond’s expectations.
“Coming from a spread, there is less receivers on the field,’’ he said. “I’ve been working hard. I’m trying to learn every position so that way I can move around wherever they need me. I’m definitely looking for a more expanded role – get more catches, get more yards and make more plays.’’
The Gators need receivers to do exactly what Hammond hopes to if Brantley and the new offense are going to be successful.
Thompson led the team last season by averaging 43.8 yards per game. Hammond’s best game came in a 10-7 home loss to Mississippi State in which he caught a career-high five passes for 69 yards. Meanwhile, Dunbar received a redshirt due to a hamstring injury and never made an impact.
As part of his introduction to the playbook, Hammond has focused more on the fundamentals of playing receiver such as route running and line separation.
“Coming from a spread, where it’s kind of short and quick [routes], you rely more on speed,’’ he said. “Now it’s down to technique and beating the guy in front of you.’’
Once spring practice ended, Hammond spent most of the summer in Gainesville preparing for his shot. He often hung out with fellow receivers to study the playbook and discuss ways they can get better and take advantage of their new roles in Weis’ pass-friendly offense.
“We met on our own time, whether it was here or at our apartment,’’ Hammond said. “We just kept the ball rolling. It’s on all of our minds because everybody wants to be that go-to guy and right now all of us are out there working and grinding.
“That makes it even more competitive. Nothing is set in stone and that makes everybody want to go harder and give that extra effort to be that guy.’’
The addition of former UF receiver Aubrey Hill as receivers coach has also helped Hammond’s renewed confidence. Hammond and Hill first crossed paths when Hammond was in high school and Hill coaching at Miami.
Hammond chose the Gators and when Hill was hired by Muschamp to return to UF, the two caught up and made a connection.
“Him coming from this university definitely helps a lot,’’ Hammond said. “Whether it’s on the field or off the field, he has been around this city for four years himself, so he understands what goes on and what we college students go through from time to time.
“Having him as a coach definitely eases our mind,’’ he said.
So does Hammond’s knowledge of the playbook after their long summer together.