GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Brandon Powell wasn’t on the practice field much this spring after aggravating an old foot injury, but he saw enough to know that better days are ahead for Florida’s offense.
In particular, Powell is confident the Gators will be much more effective in their passing game under new coach Jim McElwain, and that’s despite the rap Powell and his receiver cohorts were tagged with under the old regime.
“Everybody keeps saying we don’t have any receivers,” Powell said. “We really do. It’s just that last year we couldn’t spread the ball around like we wanted to because of the play-calling. This year, we’re going to prove to a lot of people that we’re better than what everybody is saying.”
What the Gators don’t have is a wealth of proven receivers, which is stunning considering the number of athletic skill players the state of Florida produces every year. Powell, a 5-foot-9, 181-pound sophomore, moved to receiver full-time this spring after playing running back last season. He figures prominently into what McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier want to do this season on offense.
The Gators’ go-to-receiver remains junior Demarcus Robinson, who caught 53 passes for 810 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The only problem is that Florida doesn’t return another player who caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago.
“Everybody keeps saying we only have one playmaker, Demarcus Robinson,” Powell said. “I’m just trying to add to that. Last year I had a couple of big plays, but feel like I’ll be able to make a lot more of them in this offense.
“We have a ton of athletes on offense. Last year, we just couldn’t show it with the play calls. With coach Mac coming in, it will show. You already see it in practice. People are making plays in practice that didn’t even touch the field last year.
“He knows how to use his players, and that will show this year.”
As McElwain points out, a big part of the problem was that the Gators had three offensive coordinators in the last four years. They’re also on their seventh different receivers coach in the last seven years.
“They went through three transitional stages on offense here,” McElwain said. “You get a new group of guys in, and it’s not that their offense was bad or wrong or anything. That’s not what I’m saying. But each coach is looking for a different kind of guy when he’s recruiting.
“You look at us getting off the bus now offensively, and it’s like the Land of Misfit Toys. They’re all different and recruited for different systems.”
The reality is that the lack of consistent production at receiver goes back to the end of the Urban Meyer era. Until Robinson’s 53-catch, 810-yard season a year ago, no Florida wide receiver had hit the 600-yard receiving mark in a season since Riley Cooper in 2009.
The Gators are working tirelessly on the recruiting trail to bring in more firepower at receiver, but that’s going to take time. In the meantime, McElwain likes the way this group has gone about its business and has worked with a purpose.
“I really like these guys on this team because they’re committed to being great,” McElwain said. “Sometimes playing with a chip on your shoulder ain’t a bad thing. Yeah, we have some guys who aren’t household names, but it’s our responsibility to put them in a position through a shift, through a formation, through a motion to try and create a matchup to help them make an explosive play.”
Powell caught 15 passes last season. He also got 16 carries. He’s at his best in space, and while he’s an obvious fit for the slot receiver role, the Gators want to utilize his speed and open-field running by moving him around.
Senior Latroy Pittman and junior Ahmad Fullwood are also back at receiver after combining for 27 catches and 14 starts last season, and they’re joined by a menagerie of younger players at the position who have yet to make their mark. True freshman Kalif Jackson was an early enrollee who will push for time, and another true freshman, Antonio Callaway, will be on campus this summer.
The Gators also like their tight ends. Jake McGee is back after breaking his leg in the first game last season. Sophomore DeAndre Goolsby had a good spring andDaniel Imatorbhebhe is another early enrollee true freshman who went through the spring.
The one thing McElwain has made clear to everybody on the roster is that the slate has been wiped clean.
“He has something he calls ‘Get-it-to-guys,’ ” Powell said. “I saw that my first two weeks of spring before they pulled me out, that he has a good feel for getting the ball to his playmakers. I don’t care what anybody says. None of us do. We have some big-time players on offense, and this year we’re going to get a chance to show it.”