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Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar is Florida's top returning receiver.

Wednesday March 13, 2013Gators Spring Preview: Receivers and Tight Ends

Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar is Florida's top returning receiver.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators open spring practice optimistic that the passing game will be better in 2013 than it was in 2012.

That confidence in large part is due to the return of junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who has a year of experience as the starter in second-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease's system. But for the Gators' passing game to truly take off, head coach Will Muschamp knows they will need more production at receiver.

The Gators have lacked consistency at receiver in Muschamp's first two seasons and the position remains perhaps the biggest question looming as the Gators start spring camp.

To inject a new wrinkle into the mix, starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will spend the first half of spring practice learning the position. Purifoy has proven his playmaking ability on defense and special teams.

If he can carry over some of that ability at receiver, expect to see Purifoy spend plenty of time on offense in the fall.

"Loucheiz is a guy thatís got great ball skills, acceleration, can do a lot of things for us,'' Muschamp said. "We just need to get him more turns and reps at the position and not get away from what he does best, which is cover. Itís an interesting balance that weíve got to be able to manage."

The top receiver returning is redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, second on the team with 36 receptions last season with a team-high four touchdown catches. Dunbar has continued to improve and could be Driskel's go-to guy if he continues to make strides.

Behind Dunbar on the depth chart at X receiver is fifth-year senior Andre Debose, who has yet to fulfill his potential in the offense. Debose is a dangerous kickoff returner and perhaps the team's most dangerous player when he has the ball in open space, but as a receiver, Debose has trouble separating himself from defenders to find that open space.

As a result, he caught a career-low three passes last season. If Debose emerges from the shadows and shows the consistency and work ethic the coaches want from him, he could improve this unit's outlook considerably.

With Purifoy atop the depth chart at the Y receiver spot, senior Solomon Patton, sophomore Ralph Andrades and freshman Demarcus Robinson fill out the position.

Patton proved to be a useful weapon last season before suffering a season-ending broken arm against Georgia. He is cleared for non-contact drills this spring and is expected to be fully healthy by fall camp.

Meanwhile, Andrades is splitting time between baseball and football this spring but Muschamp said he will be in meetings and practices. Robinson is an early enrollee who arrived as one of the country's top prep receivers.

Robinson chose the Gators over Clemson and at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, is considered a strong candidate to play right away if he can pick up the offense this spring.

"Heís looked good in the offseason program as far as his athleticism and those sort of things,'' Muschamp said. "But we havenít done as much football-related stuff and the guys covering him and getting their hands on him. Some of the corners we have are pretty good, so it will be interesting as we progress through. But as far as the things Iíve seen athletically, certainly Iím excited about what I see.Ē

At the F-back receiver, senior Trey Burton is listed as the starter with sophomore Latroy Pittman the top reserve.

Burton has been Florida's most versatile player the last three seasons and has excellent instincts that make him a valuable weapon. Pittman had a strong fall camp last year but experience freshman struggles and caught only two passes for six yards.

To help improve the production at receiver, Muschamp added veteran receivers coach Joker Phillips to the staff. Phillips spent the last three seasons as head coach at Kentucky and has a long record of developing quality receivers.

The Gators lost their most dangerous receiver from a year ago when starting tight end Jordan Reed opted to bypass his senior year and enter the NFL Draft. Reed led the team with 45 receptions for 459 yards.

The battle to replace Reed is expected to be intense as four players are listed on the depth chart at the position: Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson.

Burton (6-4, 253) moved from the defensive line to tight end last season and is still learning the position, as is Westbrook (6-5, 262), another former defensive lineman.

Taylor (6-5, 224) played sparingly last season and has perhaps the best hands of the group. Thompson (6-3, 252) redshirted last year but has the physical tools to be a primary weapon.

Taylor and Thompson were considered the top two tight ends in the country by various recruiting services coming out of high school and both could see significant playing time if healthy. Muschamp said Thompson is working through past foot injuries well and is expected to be full strength this spring.

 

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