Florida signs 5 WRs, goes heavy on both lines

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.”’