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UF lacks experience at wide receiver heading into '09

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Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 12:00 am

After watching receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy work out for NFL scouts at UF's Pro Day on March 18, Urban Meyer came to an unpleasant realization.

For the first time during his tenure in Gainesville, the Gators were losing their top two receivers.

"I'm wondering how we're going to get a first down next year after watching that receiving workout," Meyer said.

With Harvin and Murphy headed for the NFL, UF entered spring practice waiting for playmakers to emerge and fill the void.

Senior David Nelson, who caught crucial touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference title game and BCS Championship, will be charged with leading the group, and he sees a lot of potential in his under-the-radar unit.

"I expect this to be one of the best receiving groups in the country because we're solid all the way through," Nelson said. "No one really expects a whole lot after losing Murphy, (tight end Cornelius Ingram) and Percy, but I think we're going to surprise people."

Nelson, Deonte Thompson and Riley Cooper will be the most experienced wideouts returning, but none of those three tallied half as many yards or catches as Murphy and Harvin last season.

Tight end Aaron Hernandez, UF's third-leading receiver in 2008, will provide a steady presence in the passing game, but someone will have to take over the diverse role Harvin played.

Last year, he was second on the team in rushing (660 yards on 70 carries) and receiving (644 yards on 40 catches), and he excelled on direct snaps and jet sweeps.

While incoming freshman Andre Debose has been dubbed the next Harvin because he has a similar skill set, it's unlikely Debose will be able to fill his predecessor's shoes right away.

"You can't replace a player like Percy Harvin," Nelson said. "It'll take three or four of us to fill in the production him and Murph had."

Debose, Thompson and running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are all candidates to pick up Harvin's rushing duties, but the lineup at receiver is much less defined.

Nelson, Thompson and Justin Williams - who played safety last season - began spring practice as the first teamers with Carl Moore subbing in.

But redshirt freshmen T.J. Lawrence, Omarius Hines and Frankie Hammond are knocking on the door for playing time, and Cooper (currently with the baseball team) and Debose will join the Gators in the summer, meaning the battle for playing time will be wide open.

Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales said he will shuffle the lineups frequently to give each player a chance to impress, and if there's one thing he knows, it's that his players have a desire to stand out.

"I stood in a group with them and said, 'If you have achieved everything you wanted to here at the University of Florida so far, raise your hand,'" Gonzales said.

No hands hit the sky.

"I have an incredibly hungry group of receivers because they all have such high expectations, and they have an opportunity this spring to try and achieve those goals," Gonzales said. "I'm excited about the whole group. No one is proven right now. They've all played, but no one is a proven guy, and they know that and they're willing to work for it, go out and get it."

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