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Florida Receivers Form Elite Group

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The evolution of quarterback Feilepe Franks helped Florida reach ten wins. The proliferation of his playmakers could make the Gators a championship contender.

This is the most deep group of skill players that Florida has had in a long time.
~Chris Doering

Dynamic playmakers have long been a fixture of Florida football. For a program that has shined under the bright lights, highlights, quite frankly, are a big reason why. In year two of the Dan Mullen era, get ready for even more. Bringing back their top six receivers, plus welcoming in heralded incoming recruits, the Gators have one of the nation's best collections of perimeter talent. Mullen's scheme isn't the only return to form.

As they take on more of featured a role, this orange-and-blue throwback group of wide receivers and tight ends could be what helps takes Florida to the next level.  

Back out wide are Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Trevon Grimes, Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney and Tyrie Cleveland, who combined for 146 receptions, 1,973 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. The Gators have talent, depth, experience and, with Mullen's offense now more intrinsic given the familiarity, room to grow. Expectations are high for a unit that, even at a place like Florida, has all-time ability. 

"This is the most deep group of skill players that Florida has had in a long time," explained SEC Network analyst Chris Doering, an All-American wide receiver during his career in Gainesville and UF Athletic Hall of Famer. "The receivers have a chance, in my opinion, to be the second-best in the conference behind Alabama."

Simply put, the perimeter is stacked with production. Jefferson, counting his time at Ole Miss, has 126 total catches on his resume. Hammond enters this fall with 26 grabs in his last nine games. In a rivalry victory over Florida State, Grimes ended the regular season with five receptions for 118 yards. Five of Swain's 14 catches went for touchdowns a year ago. In two seasons, the versatile Toney has already scored touchdowns receiving, rushing and passing. Cleveland, on the back-end of the famed Tennessee heave, averages over 17 yards per catch for his career.       

The notable progress that has been made is only part of the process overall. Another step forward, for multiple standout receivers, appears to be on the horizon. Veteran position coach Billy Gonzales continues to reinforce Mullen's mantra and groom a depth chart as accomplished as almost any in the country. Florida's wideouts are excellent and, with a full year in the system, are still improving. 

"I think the difference is going to be another year under Gonzales' tutelage," Doering added. "He is a guy that played the position. He teaches the details very, very well. These guys, going back last year and watching tape, they struggled at times against man coverage. They struggled at the top of their routes. I think they are going to be better route runners this year. I think they are also going to understand the scheme a little bit more. And I expect them to be a much more productive unit as a whole if they can give that time to throw."

Florida's receiver rotation, all upperclassmen now with Cleveland, Hammond, Jefferson and Swain all seniors, is a key part of the program foundation. That leadership has been on display this off-season. Beyond being just Gator stars, Florida's playmakers will help set the 'Gator Standard'.  

More of a focus on the tight end position is on the way, too. Rising sophomores Kyle Pitts and Kemore Gamble, along with incoming blue-chipper Keon Zipperer, bring considerable upside to the position. Pitts, who scored a touchdown in a late season win over Idaho, is a player many are excited to see more of. The anticipation is that Mullen, with a track record of throwing to the tight end, including in Gainesville, will incorporate more of a focus on the aforementioned this fall.  

"He reminds me a lot of Cornelius Ingram in the way that they used him in Mullen's offense when he was coordinator. You create matchup issues by moving him outside. I think he will be a productive part of the passing game," Doering nodded. "Gamble, Zipperer, they have a lot of talent there. Tight end has almost been forgotten about the last couple of seasons. What Mullen does really, really well is find players that can create a matchup. I think that is a position that is going to be much more utilized than what we have seen."

The evolution of quarterback Feilepe Franks helped Florida reach ten wins. The proliferation of his playmakers could make the Gators a championship contender.

"At the end of the day, we have guys that are going to get open every play," Franks smiled. "The backfield, tight ends, receivers, they can just get open and that is what makes my job so easy now. You just get open, I'll throw you the ball. You keep going, next person gets the ball. You get open again, you get the ball again. It's all part of the process. Every receiver is going to have fun." 

Big plays are on the horizon. 

"There is so much talent all over the field. These guys remind me of some of the old-school Gators," shared former UF All-American tight end Ben Troupe. "This is Florida football."

A year ago, the Gators made people look. Now, led by a number of spotlight playmakers, Florida will make people look again.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports