Florida playmaker Antonio Callaway has been talked about a lot this week — not for his production, which has made him the first Florida wideout in almost a decade with three straight games of five catches and at least 70 yards, but for an injury that he picked up against Kentucky last Saturday.
That injury, to the sophomore wide receiver’s quadriceps, has had Jim McElwain talking about Callaway at every turn this week: In his Monday press conference, in his Wednesday press conference, and in his Thursday night call-in radio show. Callaway’s status has varied from making McElwain nervous to “highly doubtful to questionable” to probably out.
It’s safe to say that Callaway playing extensively against North Texas on Saturday night would be a major surprise. He probably won’t.
And, really, he shouldn’t play at all.
This seems like an obvious statement, but other than Luke Del Rio, no single player is more important to these Gators than Callaway. Losing either Teez Tabor or Quincy Wilson or Jarrad Davis or Alex Anzalone would leave Florida with the other playmaker at the same position; losing any running back means only that three talented ones would remain.
Losing Callaway for an extended period of time would be far more significant.
At wide receiver, Florida is far less deep, and certainly without a player who can do as many different things as Callaway does. Brandon Powell approximates many of Callaway’s traits and can play many of his roles, but Callaway’s a far better deep threat, as Del Rio connecting with Callaway for a touchdown and losing a big play thanks to a Powell drop (albeit on a difficult catch) against Kentucky demonstrated.
If Callaway being out to nurse an injury a week prior to a crucial game at Tennessee means he’ll be closer to full health against the Vols — or even just that he won’t be worse off than he already is — then it is a good move for that reason alone.
But Callaway being out is likely to also force Florida to find other playmakers in its receiving corps. And even if that’s only for one week — against an overmatched foe that Florida should defeat handily, with or without Callaway — that cannot hurt.
Powell could use more reps as an outside receiver. So could freshmen Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain. C.J. Worton needs more reps, period, and perhaps a chance to have a big game — his next catch will be his ninth as a Gator, and he’s never had more than three in a game, belying some “opportunity is knocking” narrative-shaping. Maybe Ahmad Fulwood could get a feel-good touchdown catch, or Chris Thompson could be deployed on a deep route that establishes him as a threat to be reckoned with if he sees the field on offense.
Tennessee knows all too well about Callaway — and so do most of the rest of Florida’s opponents, who will have a bead on him whether or not he plays against the Mean Green. The Vols, though, don’t know what else Florida has in its bag of tricks.
Neither, I think, do the Gators.
This weekend, without Callaway, Florida has a chance to figure that out.