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Vastly improved WR Thompson in competition for starting spot

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Posted: Tuesday, April 8, 2008 12:00 am

Whenever Urban Meyer was asked about Joe Haden, Major Wright or the Pouncey twins last season, he couldn't help gushing like a school girl.

But when he was asked about fellow freshman Deonte Thompson, his usual response was that he might get in the next game.

Thompson never did.

While a season-ending injury to tackle Phil Trautwein forced Maurkice Pouncey into a starting gig, and a general lack of depth and skill forced Haden, Wright and Mike Pouncey into starters on the defensive side, Thompson was left hiding on the depth chart. Even Tim Tebow didn't have enough balls to go around with Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy all lining up at receiver.

But when Meyer was asked about Thompson recently, he was singing a different tune: "He's battling for a starting spot."

There has never been any doubt about Thompson's speed - he has only lost to tailback Chris Rainey by one step in a race, and Rainey has beaten Harvin a few times - but the process of becoming a complete receiver has been a long time coming for the South Florida product.

"His route-running coming into this spring has really improved by seeing guys like Bubba and Murphy," Tebow said. "He's really becoming a mature player that, when you don't have everybody healthy, is kind of a go-to guy."

Thompson has been practicing with the first-team offense, and Meyer's words appear to be on the verge of happening.

And, after last year, it's certainly a lot easier for him.

"When I first got here, there was a big frustration," Thompson said. "I was down on myself."

But now Thompson says he can play faster and can understand the offense. Combine that with his natural speed and UF has a new threat alongside its already experienced receiving core.

"He's got some blazing speed," Wright said. "It's hard to stop him. He gets in the open field - you will not catch him."

Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales conceded that there was a point where they almost played Thompson last year, and even Thompson said he started understanding the offense much better by midseason, but the coaching staff didn't want to lose Thompson's freshman year of eligibility on one game.

By not playing, the developing receiver got to keep an extra year of eligibility and picked the brains of Caldwell and Murphy for a season, while still practicing against the first-team defense.

"It was a learning year," Thompson said. "At first I didn't want to (redshirt). They were going to play me the Auburn game, but they didn't want to blow me for one game."

Even in just practices, however, Thompson's ability was clear.

"He's a 100-meter dash kind of guy," Haden said. "From this time last year he's improved a lot. It seemed like he got a little faster and his route-running and knowledge of the game is a lot better."

Cracking the receiving rotation of Harvin, Murphy, Cornelius Ingram and Riley Cooper along with the developing Aaron Hernandez and Carl Moore is not easy, though. But coming in as Scout.com's third-rated receiver in the nation, Thompson has shown glimpses of what he's capable of.

Now it's just learning to do that all the time.

"He's shown unbelievably great, great, great sense to make plays," Gonzales said. "But at the same time he can't continue to go up and down. He's got to continually get stronger and better. That's something we're working on."

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