Florida's defense and receivers highlight a successful class
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's signing class was heavy at a few positions.
None more important than receiver.
The Gators landed one of the nation's top recruiting classes Wednesday, a 28-player group that included seven defensive linemen, five offensive linemen and five receivers.
The additions back up coach Will Muschamp's philosophy of building along the lines of scrimmage. They also show how eager the Gators were to upgrade the team's receiver position.
Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fulwood, Marqui Hawkins, Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson were among those who signed national letters of intent, giving Florida its deepest - and probably most needed - receiver contingent since 1997.
"You've got to improve," Muschamp said. "When you say filling needs, you talk in terms of depth and talent. And those are the two things you've got to be able to address. I think we've taken a step forward in both situations. We've improved our depth and I think we've improved our talent, (added) some guys that can come in and compete."
The Gators need help.
Florida lost two of its top four receivers from last season. Starter Frankie Hammond graduated and tight end Jordan Reed, who led the team with 45 receptions, left early for the NFL. And considering the Gators had three wideouts among their top 11 pass-catchers, it was clearly an area of concern.
The newcomers should bolster the position, maybe even immediately.
"We'll find out in August," Muschamp said. "It's hard to say. I mean, it's hard to ever say. Y'all know my philosophy: The closer you are to the ball, the harder it is to play as a freshman. It's just the game's a lot faster, a lot bigger. The further out, wideout is obviously a place, corner, where you can play because your natural instincts take over and the game's a little slower on the perimeter as opposed to when it gets closer."
Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Fort Valley, Ga., is considered the best of the group. He enrolled last month and will take part in spring practice that begins in March.
Robinson caught 53 passes for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Peach County High.
Bailey, a 6-foot, 170-pound slot receiver, had 40 receptions for 658 yards and nine scores as a senior at Armwood High in Seffner.
Fulwood, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound Jacksonville native, caught 88 passes for 1,821 yards and 34 touchdowns the last two seasons at Bishop Kenny High despite playing through injuries.
And Fulwood's size will be a nice addition for a team that had five scholarship receivers - and none taller than 6-1.
"It's always a matchup issue when you have bigger receivers that can run vertically down the field and he certainly can," Muschamp said. "He's got tremendous ball skills down the field."
Hawkins and Thompson could take more time to develop.
Still, Florida hasn't had a group of receivers with this much promise in years. The much-ballyhooed 1997 class included Travis Taylor, Darrell Jackson, Brian Haugabrook, Steve Shipp and Mike Gipson. Taylor and Jackson went on to have decent NFL careers. Shipp ended up as one of the program's biggest busts. Haugabrook played sparingly in four seasons, and Gipson moved to defense.
The Gators have been thin at receiver for years.
They've only had one receiver catch more than 40 passes in a season since Percy Harvin in 2008. And none of the team's recent wideout recruits - most notably Chris Dunkley, T.J. Lawrence, Ja'Juan Story, Javares McRoy and Stephen Alli - panned out in Gainesville.
The Gators are hoping for more from Bailey, Fulwood, Hawkins, Robinson and Thompson, especially considering the team's passing offense ranked 114th last season.
"All of those (receivers) and everybody we signed in this 28 will have an opportunity to contribute to our football team, and they'll determine how much," Muschamp said. "I tell them at every home: `You're the one that will determine how much you play. Not me."'