For a team that has lost three of its top four pass catchers from a year ago, the Florida Gators sure are confident that the passing game will be much improved in 2013.
With junior quarterback Jeff Driskel entering his second year as Florida’s starter and a bunch of talented young receivers jockeying for position in spring practice, offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a lot more to work with now than he did in 2012.
While hopes seem to be pinned on junior Loucheiz Purifoy becoming a reliable part-time offensive playmaker, freshman Demarcus Robinson breaking out as a first-year player and will-he-or-won’t-he redshirt senior Andre Debose finally coming into his own after years of accomplishing little on the field, it is actually redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar who has been standing out the most early on during spring practice.
“They want me to be that guy. They want me to be the leader of the group and they want me to lead by example, so I’m looking forward to taking that role,” Dunbar said on Tuesday. “It’s just a humbling experience. I want to continue getting better each and every day, continue to work hard and lead by example.”
Dunbar was the Gators’ second-leading receiver a year ago, hauling in just 36 receptions for 383 yards and four touchdowns. Though he only eclipsed four catches and/or 40 yards once all season – in the 2013 Sugar Bowl against Louisville when he reeled in five balls for 77 yards – Dunbar was Florida’s most productive wide receiver.
All he has done since spring practice began a week ago is used his work ethic to engrain that thought in the minds of his quarterback and offensive coordinator.
“Quinton Dunbar has been running great routes and really understanding where to get to [on the field],” Driskel said Tuesday.
Pease even went so far as to reach out to Dunbar after practice on Wednesday to let him know how pleased he is with what the player has done thus far in the offseason.
“I actually sent him a text [Wednesday] night. I’m really proud of that kid. He has come along so far attitude-wise, accountability and his work ethic on the field. It’s really starting to show up,” he said on Thursday. “He makes a big play [Wednesday], just does things right. He can play a bunch of positions now. [I’m] proud of him, and I think it’s going to carry over to reach the goal that he set for himself.”
Asked if he believes Dunbar could be the Gators’ first 1,000-yard receiver since 2002 (Taylor Jacobs – 1,088 yards), Pease said Dunbar has the ability but that Florida’s offense is not necessarily constructed in a way that would lead him towards that goal. He needs to be more than just the team’s best pass catcher.
“It’s probably tough because we try to keep things somewhat balanced out. If he’s going to do that, he’s going to have to be really productive with the ball once he catches it,” he explained. “I don’t know if we get it around enough to say we’re going to throw to you for that. You’re going to have to create a lot of those yards on your own.”
Dunbar on Tuesday credited new wide receivers coach Joker Phillips for some of the improvements he has made as a player since the conclusion of the 2012 season.
“He’s helped me a lot as far as off the field, reading coverages. It’s more a mental game than a physical game,” he said.
Yet no matter how much Phillips or Pease try to help him, Dunbar knows it is up to him to do what is necessary during practice to be productive, prove to Driskel that he is a reliable No. 1 option and make it be known to Pease that he can be a trustworthy recipient of multiple offensive touches each game.
“I’m just coming out, working hard each and every day, trying to be a leader of the group as they want me to be,” he said. “So I try to come out and lead by example so these guys can follow me.”
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