Florida’s wide receiver corps didn’t exactly have the best day in the news yesterday. Allow me to try to make today a better day for them by shining the spotlight on them with my latest breakdown piece.
The leader: Antonio Callaway. There’s still no official word about Callaway’s status, but all indications are that he’ll be back for the first game of the season. He’s as explosive a playmaker as they come, possessing all the physical characteristics you could ask a receiver to have: pure speed, great route running, sure hands, and does a great job high pointing the football. He also does the little, unnoticed things, like slowing down to catch under thrown balls right in stride as opposed to having to reach back for it. The question is how he’ll play after being away from the team for so long. He’s bound to find his 2015 form at some point, and could be the key component to a surprising championship run.
The second in command: Brandon Powell. Easily the most underrated player on the entire Gators team, Powell’s resume includes making toast of Jalen Ramsey and weaving through Mississippi’s entire defense at once. What most people don’t talk about is how he saved the Gators against Tennessee a year ago. Despite clearly being banged up, Powell managed to get open on a quick out route for the touchdown to pull within 27-21- after which his teammates had to help him off the field. That’s not even accounting for the incredible play within the play he made on the famous snap known as “He’s Going To Score,” clearing all the nearby Vols out of the area with a single cut block. Even though Dre Massey has come on and commanded some reps, Powell is a gritty, resilient little dude who could have a breakout year as the slot receiver.
The dark horse: Dre Massey. I was going to use this spot to promote another freshman, but then yesterday happened. Massey was far from the Gators’ most prized wide receiver commit in last year’s class, ranking behind Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and Joshua Hammond. But he’s apparently surpassed them all, breaking through with a big performance in the spring game, and now he appears to be in line to start with Cleveland’s arrest yesterday. Don’t let that ATH label fool you; if he improves his route running by just 2%, Massey could be up for SEC freshman of the year consideration.
The other guys: Ahmad Fulwood, CJ Worton, Tyrie Cleveland, Joshua Hammond, Freddie Swain, Rick Wells.
The key to success: finding a second dependable threat. Even with the pair of proven playmakers in the tight end depth chart, the Gators simply must find a legitimate threat to beat opponents through the air among their wide receiver group. Failure to do so will result in opponents blanketing Callaway and daring Luke Del Rio to throw the ball his way when it’s crunch time. Between Powell and Massey out of the slot, or any of the freshmen/Ahmad Fulwood on the outside, somebody has to step up and force defenses to have to defend more than one wide receiver.
The outlook: Very cloudy. And that isn’t even factoring in Callaway’s status, because again, I’m inclined to believe he’ll be back to the team soon. Ever since the departure of receivers coach Billy Gonzales in 2009, this position has gone south in a major way. Hope for this year was high with such a deep group of talented receivers, but then two of them got arrested for turning a dorm into a BB gun battlefield and now there are even more questions than before. There’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic with all the talent Florida has (and will have once Cleveland and Wells get reinstated) but success at this position is far from a sure thing.
The verdict: The Gators will take steps toward becoming a feared passing team once again. Steps, though, do not constitute success, and the sum of the wide receiver corps’ work will show that there are still many steps to go. So they’ll certainly be better, if only because it’s impossible for them not to be with all that pure talent McElwain just hauled in, but there’s only so far this unit can go in a year.