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Florida Football

Former Player Feedback: Ready to compete for the East

July 14, 2019
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FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
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As the Florida Gators players prepare for the fall, we look back over the spring practices and Orange and Blue Game with former players as each recaps what he saw from his respective positional unit and what he expects from them this fall in our annual F-Club series.

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F-Club Series: QB | RB  | WR

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Among those in the Gator Nation former Florida wide out Chris Doering will always be most known for “The Catch.” His 28-yard reception from Danny Wuerffel with three seconds left against Kentucky in 1993 secured a 24-20 win for the Gators and helped launch the program into four consecutive SEC Championships.

But Doering accomplished much more than just producing arguably the most popular play-by-play call of radio announcer Mick Hubert’s career.

The Gainesville native joined the Gators in 1991 as a walk-on. After redshirting, coach Steve Spurrier awarded him a scholarship, and Doering rewarded Spurrier with a record-breaking career. Over four seasons, he caught 149 passes (sixth most in school history) for 2,107 yards (10th) and 31 touchdowns (tied for No. 1 in SEC history with Amari Cooper).

Doering won three SEC Championships and was named First Team All-SEC and Second Team All-America as a senior in 1995. He was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.

He played in the NFL for more than a decade and now works for the SEC Network as an analyst. He also operates Chris Doering Mortgage in Gainesville.

Doering, 46, took some time before leaving for SEC Media Days to talk with Inside the Gators about the depth of the Gators’ receiving corps, what makes Billy Gonzales a great receivers coach, why he thinks Florida is a playoff contender and more.

What are your overall thoughts on Florida’s wide receivers heading into the 2019 season?

“I think this is a group of really talented receivers that have a lot of potential. I thought that, in years past, they’ve had some potential that hadn’t been realized, and maybe they’ve underachieved a little bit. But, I think having a year under their belt with Billy Gonzales, who I think of as one of the best teachers when it comes to the receiver position, I think they’re ready for a breakout year. So, I’m really excited about this group as a whole, not only the talent but the depth of talent that they have there is pretty impressive.”

What makes Billy Gonzales such a good teacher of the position?

“I really believe a lot of times on coaching staffs, the receiver coach is considered to be a little bit lower on the totem pole, maybe a guy that’s a better recruiter than he is an X’s and O’s guy or a technique guy. A lot of times, those guys have been more of baby-sitters at that position than they are true teachers at that position. I think Billy Gonzales is a great teacher. I think he’s a guy that played the position obviously, so he knows the nuances from first-hand experiences. I think he really does a good job of trying to teach the little things. To me, that’s what made our group of receivers when I was at Florida so good is that we were really coached with the details of how to play the position between Dwayne Dixon and Coach Spurrier. We really focused a lot on the details. I think that’s really what allowed me to play at the next level, ‘cause certainly there was a lot of guys that were much better athletes, much better probably overall receivers, but didn’t have that same coaching. I really feel like this group of receivers is getting that kind of coaching from Billy.”

What do you think the ceiling for the group is? Can they be the best in the SEC?

“That’s going to be a challenge. Right now, heading into the season, obviously Alabama is probably the best in the conference and have proven themselves to be that with the type of production they had last year. I think they can be competitive with Alabama’s group. I don’t know that right now I’d put them in the same class as Alabama’s group, but I think they can maybe be the second or third best group in the conference.”

Is this the most depth they’ve had since Dan Mullen was here as offensive coordinator?

“Yeah, no doubt about it. I had a chance to talk to Coach Mullen during the spring – I was doing the Orange and Blue Game. He mentioned how important it has been for those guys to buy-in to understand that ‘Hey, we don’t need you to play 80 plays; we want you to play 35-40 of your best plays and to understand that we’ve got eight or nine guys that we can rotate in.’ So, it’s about staying fresh, it’s about being able to roll guys through and understanding that there’s other ways to contribute as well. He talked about Tyrie Cleveland and his commitment to playing on special teams and the impact he had as a gunner last year and helping Florida be able to flip the field the way they did in the punt team. So, I do think this is the most depth they’ve had in a long time, and I think they’re all buying-in to understanding their role with that kind of depth in that group as well.”

How hard is it to get guys to buy-in to the idea of spreading the ball around and being involved on special teams and as a blocker?

“It’s really tough, particularly at the receiver position where typically a lot of us are considered to be divas at the wide receiver spot. So, everybody’s such a competitor, wants to play every single play. Everybody wants the ball to come to them every single snap. But, it’s understanding that ‘Hey, I’m going to go out, I’m going to run my route full-speed and I’m going to trust that the quarterback’s going to read the coverage and throw where the ball’s supposed to go as dictated by the coverage rather than wanting to force-feed it to one specific guy.’ That’s what we did at Florida when I was there. The fact that I was able to play with guys like Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green and Ike Hilliard and Travis McGriff and all the great guys, it just was impossible to defend because if the quarterback’s dropping back and reading the coverage and knowing where to go with the ball, there’s always going to be a mismatch. I really feel like that’s kind of the case that this group will have this year as well.”

What sticks out about Van Jefferson?

“I think the thing that impresses me about Van is, obviously, he’s been well-coached throughout his life as the son of a receiver that played in the NFL. He knows the ins and outs of playing that position. Every conversation I’ve had with him, he seems very mature. Catches the ball really, really well and runs disciplined routes. That’s what you want as a quarterback, as a coach, a guy that you can depend on to know where he’s going to be, that he’s going to get the depth, get to where he’s supposed to be on time and that when I throw the ball to him he’s going to catch it.”

Do you think Trevon Grimes is ready for a breakout season?

“I do. It was interesting ‘cause last year watching him, you look at him in practice, he’s got that NFL-ready body already. But, I think he was still figuring it out a little bit, and then watching him some in spring practice and then watching him kind of have that coming out party in the Orange and Blue Game, on top of he had some late-season success, particularly against Florida State last year. But, I really think that he is understanding the position more and understanding that he can kind of be that go-to mismatch that Florida needs to have with his size, athletic ability and speed. I think it’s all going to come together for him this year.”

Do you think Kadarius Toney’s going to be more involved in the offense this year? He was just awarded the No. 1 jersey earlier this week.

“I think that’s a good sign in and of itself ‘cause Coach Mullen talked about jersey No. 1, it takes a special person to wear that number. It’s somebody that’s a baller, and I think they’ve been a little frustrated, I would say, in the past because he’s such a dynamic player, such an electric kind of X-factor, but he hasn’t been a wide receiver. He’s been a guy that you diagram plays for to get the ball in his hand, whether that’s the wildcat quarterback or a jet sweep or on a bubble screen. But, he hasn’t been a guy that’s been able to get catches in the offense as a true wide receiver, a guy that understands how to run routes, how to get open and to be dependable when the ball’s thrown his way down the field. I think that’s what they’ve pressed him to do this spring, and, clearly, he’s responded pretty well ‘cause he looked good in the spring game. And, again, the trust of Mullen giving him that No. 1 jersey leads me to believe they have big expectations for him this year.”

What are the keys to being a really good slot receiver?

“Playing on the inside, you have to, one, understand coverage and understand leverages of those coverages, particularly where the soft spots are going to be. You also have to be a guy that’s a disciplined route-runner, and you can’t be afraid to catch the ball in traffic. I think that’s one of the things that differentiates a guy that is just a burner that can play in the outside and a guy that can function on the inside and outside is his willingness to catch the ball in traffic and understand that he’s going to take some shots over the middle.”

Where do you think Feleipe Franks is at entering this season?

“I really think Feleipe showed last year that he started to understand his role in the offense. I think [Mullen’s offense is] about creating mismatches through formations, spreading people out, forcing the defense to show their hand in terms of what they’re trying to defend and then having a quarterback that’s able to take advantage of it. You saw it in the Peach Bowl against Michigan. When Florida spread Michigan’s defense out, Feleipe Franks was a big factor in running the football. And Dan Mullen said that in the past, ‘We don’t need an adept runner. We need a guy that’s a willing runner.’ I think Feleipe started to understand that toward the end of the year, that he can impact a game with his legs, and that’s going to give him an opportunity to have some more one-on-one opportunities throwing the football. So, I really think he understands his role a little bit more, and I think, as you can see, 31 touchdowns, six interceptions. He’s becoming more judicious with the football. I’d like to see him still progress because from time to time he was still trying to force things in. I think he takes that next step in understanding that sometimes you throw the ball away or just because you throw a go-route doesn’t mean you have to throw it. Sometimes, a check-down is the best option, and it’s going to allow you to live to play the next down.”

The Gators’ receivers were a weakness just a few years ago, and now they’re possibly the best unit on the team. What’s the biggest difference?

“I think it’s a good combination of they’ve recruited well at the position and, again, they’re being coached by one of the best in my opinion in Billy Gonzales. It really is all about coaching. The other thing is being given opportunities. I think in the past, you look at some of the offensive play-calling, the route combinations, there just wasn’t a lot of creativity. Now, I think you’re seeing a guy in Dan Mullen that knows how to scheme to get guys open, and you’re seeing guys that are coached to understand the offense and coached to know how to run routes to get open. I think the thing that I want to see this year is I want to see them be able to beat man coverage a little bit more regularly. I think even last year you saw them struggle in one-on-one situations sometimes, corners sitting on receivers at the tops of their routes and not being able to get as much separation as they need to. So, I think that’s what I want to see this year is those guys taking that next step in winning against man coverage ‘cause if a team’s going to put an extra safety down in the box, it’s going to be tough to run. So, you’ve got to be able to win on the outside versus one-on-one, or everybody’s going to commit to putting an extra guy down there to stop the run.”

What do you think about Mullen as the CEO of the program and not just as a play-caller?

“I think he’s done an amazing job. From the moment he stepped off the plane Gator chomping, he’s shown me he understands the culture of Florida football, he understands the history of Florida football and he’s communicated that to these players. The fact that they went from four wins to 10 wins in just a season shows me the impact of a guy that can change the culture, get guys to buy-in that he largely didn’t recruit the majority of the roster and that he’s able to do what they hired him to do, and that’s win games by doing it with an offensive flare that’s fun to watch and a guy that knows how to coach quarterbacks. I saw him accomplish all those things in one season last year.”

Looking at the whole team now, what do you think are the biggest keys to success for the Gators this season?

“Biggest key to me is the offensive line. You mentioned the receiver position, they’re as deep and talented as they’ve been there. Tight end is really talented as well. You’ve got some matchup issues there at that position. Running backs are deep, and you look at that trifecta of Lamical Perine and Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce. They’re going to be difficult to stop. All that is at the disposal of Feleipe Franks, but, if he doesn’t have time to throw the football, if they don’t have running lanes for the running backs to be able to run the football, all that is a moot point. So, I think that to me is the biggest key this season is can they find some guys to step up on the offensive line and can they create chemistry and continuity over the next couple weeks.”

How good do you think this team can be? Are they ready to compete with Georgia in the SEC East?

“I do. I believe they’re ready to compete with Georgia. They showed it last year, and I think that gave them a lot of confidence. They went into the fourth quarter, it was a one-possession ballgame. And that was with Florida missing a flea-flicker, that was with fumbling the ball on their own 1-yard line. They self-destructed and still found themselves in a one-possession game against not only the best team in the East last year but a team, over the last two seasons, that’s been one of the best in the country. I think that gave them a lot of confidence. Not only do I believe they have the ability to compete in the East, I think they can be a legitimate football playoff team.”

Stay tuned to Inside the Gators for the remaining F-Club series as we talk to more former players about their respective units heading into fall camp.

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Inside the Gators F-Club Positional Breakdown series isn't associated with the official University of Florida F-Club

Former Player Feedback: Ready to compete for the East

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