Despite the news last week that the depth chart at WR got a little smaller, I'm here to tell you why everything is fine and dandy at the wide receiver (and to a lesser extent - tight end) position.
Allow me to remind you that running back/wide receiver Chris Rainey is back and he is healthy.
Allow me to remind you that offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is gone and that Charles Joesph Weis has taken his place.
To have a successful pro-style offense, the conversation begins and ends at quarterback. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm only going to talk about John Brantley. I don't think that anybody here is happy with how Brantley played last year. Enter Charles Joesph Weis. Weis is a genius when it comes to quarterback turnaround. Everyone knows what he did with Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in the NFL. The years they had under even one year of Charlie Weis and his offense are unbelievable. That's the NFL, you say? Maybe. But I'm willing to bet that you can identify to within three seconds when Charlie Weis showed up to help Brady Quinn at Notre Dame. If Brady Quinn is that much smarter and that much a better a quarterback than John Brantley is (say 20 touchdowns), I'll gladly eat some crow. But right now, I'm having a hard time believing that Brantley won't throw for more than 150 yards per game as some have predicted.
One of the major concerns with the wide receivers this year is a lack of size. People seem to think that this group doesn't have that big, tall possession receiver whose primary goal is to move the chains. Well that role is probably going to fall to 6-foot-5 Stephen Alli. Alli had an extremely quiet year last year in catching three passes for a grand total of 17 yards. But that isn't the point. With a new offensive game-plan in place and if he can prove that his hands aren't a question mark, he will be just fine as the possession receiver. Think of a slightly faster Carl Moore.
Up next is receiver Omarius Hines. Hines' abilities and what we think of him here at Alligator Army are well documented. The 6-foot-2 receiver checked in last year with 20 receptions for 281 yards and 1 touchdown. That is good for a 14.1 yard per catch average, which, as we all know, is better than a first down per catch. Just imagine Hines and Alli lining up on the outside in the red zone. How many defenses are going to be able to shut these guys down?
Frankie Hammond Jr (6-foot-1) and Deonte "Stone Hands" Thompson (6 foot) each possess the best "open field" ability among the group. Especially Hammond as documented here. Thompson, when he could complete the catch, hauled in a very respectable 38 receptions for 570 yards and 1 touchdown. His 15 yards per catch average lead the team. Frankie Hammond Jr on the other hand had 22 receptions for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns. Which again (like all the receivers thus far) comes out to a better than a first down average per catch of 12.5 yards. Just think about that for a second. The two best "open field" wide receivers last year averaged better than a first down per catch. Just think of what they can and will do in an offense that actually makes sense.
Quinton Dunbar, who stands at 6-foot-1, and Andre Debose, who checks in at 5-foot-11, are the game changers. Dunbar didn't see the field last year, which was a mistake, and Debose played mostly special teams, which was also a mistake. As everyone knows you must get (and keep) your playmakers on the field. Even though one of the knocks on Debose was an inability to "understand" Addazio's offense (I don't really buy that as a legitimate excuse from the Meyer camp), Debose will be fine in Charlie Weis' offense, especially since he decided this spring that he was really going to take things seriously. Dunbar, on the other hand, was one of the bright spots of the Orange and Blue Debut game and I think that trend will continue.
Robert Clark who is 5-foot-9 is exactly the type of slot receiver that is needed in a Weis offense. I fully expect him to do a lot better than his seven-catch, 29-yard, one touchdown season he had last year. Weis gets the most out of the slot position wide receiver and if Clark is that guy (I think he will be) than he'll be just fine. Solomon Patton, also listed at 5-foot-9 is another guy that could potentially grab that slot receiver position. But I just think that based off of last season and this spring, Robert Clark has vastly out-preformed Patton in every facet.
Still not convinced? That's okay. It happens to the best of us from time to time.
Freshman tight ends A.C. Leonard (true freshman) and Michael McFarland (redshirt-freshman), who stand at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6 respectively, are two of the most highly regarded tight ends in their particular recruiting classes. Throw 6-foot-3 Jordan Reed into the discussion and this is one dynamic group. Don't forget that for two years (1993 and 1994), Charlie Weis coached tight ends for the New England Patriots. He knows how to use them. While I don't expect to see all three of them each have the production of Aaron Hernandez as individuals, but if they can get close to that production combined, I'll take it. Due to the fact that the offense will involve a lot of play-action passing, I see the tight ends becoming very valuable.
Don't forget that Chris Rainey is back and healthy again as well. We all know what he can do.
Last year, the Gators' offense finished 53rd in the country using the F/+ model by footballoutsiders.com. Charlie Weis, in his last year at Notre Dame in 2009 when they finished with a 6-6 record, ended the year with an offense ranked 12th. If you think the addition of Weis as offensive coordinator and the departure of Addazio in that same role isn't worth a bump of nearly 20 (yes, I said 20) spots, than you're crazy. Heck, even Spencer Hall over at EDSBS explained the benefits of Charlie Weis' offense.
But I can even do one better than Spencer Hall. The head chief of Tomahawk Nation, Bud Elliott admitted that the Gators have a "pretty good crop of receivers." If a fan of a main rival, especially someone who knows what they are talking about admits it, one would have to seriously think that the Gators just might have something.