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Heading the top of the list this year will be senior Dallas Baker (6-3, 206). Although injured for a bit of the late season, Baker proved his toughness as he continued to play through his injuries and play well. Baker is long and lean and what the Gators love in their outside receivers. Although he doesn’t seem like the perfect fit for some of the screens they ran last year, Baker performed well in that role also. Baker finished second on the team behind Chad Jackson in catches (52), yards (697) and touchdowns (5) in 2005.
What I want to see this spring: More of the same. Baker had a solid year after two seasons of showing promise and then not exactly delivering on it. He can be a thousand yard receiver in this offense and he seems to have the leadership skills the coaches like on this team.
Senior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius (5-11, 190) should be the next go to receiver this spring. He had 29 receptions for 393 yards last season and probably needs to step up his production for 2006. Cornelius seemed to be there in the clutch a few times for the Gators last season and he needs to produce like that in a more consistent basis. His speed is his biggest asset.
What I want to see this spring: Cornelius needs to force the coaches and Leak to get him the ball. He can dazzle with the ball in his hands and has in the past, but he has to make himself a factor and get noticed.
Senior Kenneth Tookes (6-2, 209) will probably start out this spring in the dog house due to the gun incident in the off-season. A former sprint champion in high school, Tookes’ biggest asset in college has been his blocking ability. However, he has been prone to picking up holding penalties for that same blocking ability. Hardly a factor in the passing game, he will have to make some noise or risk getting passed over early this spring.
What I want to see this spring: Tookes is one of the players that no one figures to factor very much. He has all the tools to be a good receiver, but his time on campus has not produced anything for coaches or fans to rave about. Tookes really is a good blocker, but showing some possession skills and the ability to make plays this spring would do him a world of good in his last season.
Andre “Bubba” Caldwell (6-1, 200) red-shirted last season due to his injury in the Tennessee game. The fourth year junior was on his way to making himself a mainstay in the offense when a collision on a kickoff return side-lined him for the rest of the year. Caldwell will be limited this season, but is expected to have a full recovery for the regular 2006 season.
Caldwell has the speed to play any of the receiver positions, the size to take the ball over the middle, and the athleticism to play the H-back position and make defenders miss on the inside. All of this makes him a big time candidate to be the H-back the coaches really like and can get the ball in his hands in many different ways. The lone problem is his injury and it will certainly limit his inside work as they look to keep contact away from him.
What I want to see this spring: It is going to be hard to gauge Caldwell with his injury. They need to protect it and that means not much contact. Caldwell played quarterback in high school where he was asked to run the ball a lot from the backfield. He has those skills in his repertoire, but we won’t be able to see much of them this spring. For Caldwell, he just needs to show consistency and really learn the offense, so when he is healthy in the fall he can really produce. Above all else, get healthy.
One of the biggest enigmas from last season is sophomore receiver Michael McIntosh (6-0, 191). When he came in as a freshman he was a star on the scout team. Under the new system and new staff, he was pushed to the back of the class and never responded positively. McIntosh has height and seems to be gaining weight. He can go catch the ball but from past reports is not a great blocker or consistent enough to see playing time.
What I want to see: Only a sophomore, this is still a key time for McIntosh. With the slew of receivers coming in the 2006 recruiting class, he needs to show up this spring and make a name for himself or risk getting buried on the depth chart. McIntosh needs to show off some of the pass catching ability he had as a true freshman and he needs to lay his body on the line when blocking for his teammates. If he can do these two things, he will find a spot in the rotation.
Sophomore Nyan Boateng (6-2, 205) showed some really good play making ability in brief stints of playing time last fall. Coming off a major knee injury that side-lined him during his senior year in high school, Boateng healed completely and really surprised me with his ability in the fall.
What I want to see this spring: Boateng expects to be Chad Jackson’s replacement in the offense. He has some of the same ability as Jackson, but time will only tell how good he will really be. The job won’t be handed to him, but if he can show the ability to go over the middle and make people miss, he would be ideal for the slot / H-back position himself.
Sophomore Louis Murphy (6-3, 195) got very little playing time in 2005 and probably could have really benefited from a red-shirt season. Physically ready to play at the collegiate level, Murphy wasn’t mentally ready to take on the intricacies of the offense. He has really good size and strength and seems to be willing to take the ball over the middle.
What I want to see this spring: Murphy isn’t going to amaze anyone with his athletic ability, but he can be a strand out possession receiver. More than anything, Murphy just needs to learn the offense and make sure when his time is called to get the ball, he is there to get it.
One player that probably benefited greatly from a red-shirt is freshman receiver David Nelson (6-5, 208). The Texas native may have been ready more than the other two freshmen last year, but his red-shirt will pay dividends down the road. Nelson adds the height advantage that none of the other receivers can bring. The word is his speed has increased and he seems to be a weapon that will flourish down the road.
What I want to see this spring: What a target in the red zone offense and near the goal line! His height is like having a second tight end out there, but he runs faster than them. I have heard no one question his toughness, but if he can play tough and smart with that frame, he could really be a special weapon for the Gators.
The tight end was a position I figured didn’t even exist in the Meyer offense. He was more prone to having four wide receivers and a running back than really running a tight end in past offenses. Meyer and company proved that theory wrong last year and it may have been dictated by the defenses he saw in the SEC and on the Gator’s schedule.
The Gators have a couple of goods ones at the position for the spring.
Junior Tate Casey (6-6, 242) is the returning starter at the position and has shown the ability to catch and run. He has bulked up since his arrival and his weight is lending itself to making him a true force as a blocker on the end of the line. He suffered some drops early in the season that seemed to make the offense steer away from him. He caught some late in the season that opened the door back up for him at the position.
What I want to see this spring: Show consistency. Casey is a team player and is usually one of the coaches’ favorites. However, staying on the field is going to mean completing his assignment by catching the ball or blocking without committing a hold. He can be a really good tight end if he is consistent in his play.
One player the Gators have to find a way to get on the field is sophomore tight end Cornelius Ingram (6-4, 235). More of an H-back / tight end player, Ingram can really run between the tackles. As a freshman quarterback he showed his running ability last spring in a couple of scrimmages and that ability lends him to be a good candidate to play the slot and pop back into the backfield to run the ball in the Meyer offense.
What I want to see this spring: A year at quarterback may have helped him at his new position. As a quarterback he has to learn everyone’s role on the field and that should lend itself to better understanding of what he needs to do to be effective. I just want to see Ingram get a chance with the ball in his hands either in close or running down the field, and see what kind of defensive personnel will be able to match up with his physical abilities.
The receiving positions should be a really strong suit for the Gators in 2006. The physical talent returning is probably double what most teams on the schedule will bring. A second spring should help add depth and reassurance for the offensive staff to do some things they weren’t able to last season.
Look for the analysis of the line of scrimmage in our next pre-spring report.
Photos copyright by AP Photo and GETTY IMAGES.