Very Quietly, Florida HC Jim McElwain Developing Versatile WR Corps

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Very Quietly, Florida HC Jim McElwain Developing Versatile WR Corps
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Florida WR Antonio Callaway

The days of the "fun and gun" that Steve Spurrier made famous in Gainesville are gone.

Long gone.

Florida hasn't produced a 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs hauled in 71 passes for 1,088 yards in 2002—when the 2016 class was still a year shy of kindergarten.

Some of that had to do with the multidimensional running game former head coach Urban Meyer implemented with star quarterback Tim Tebow, but the absence of game-breakers at wide receiver has become the Achilles' heel of the program for a generation—especially over the last half-decade. Only once since 2010 has Florida's team leader in receiving yards had more than 700 (Demarcus Robinson had 810 in 2014).

That could change in 2016, because very quietly, second-year head coach Jim McElwain has given himself depth, versatility and the ability to get creative with the current corps of wide receivers on the roster. 

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Florida WR Antonio Callaway

Antonio Callaway had a team-high 678 yards last year as a true freshman, including four touchdowns and 23 receptions that went for first downs. The 5'11", 198-pound sophomore from Miami missed out on freshman All-SEC honors due to breakout campaigns from Alabama's Calvin Ridley and Texas A&M's Christian Kirk, but is already considered one of the most important pieces of McElwain's puzzle.

"This is a guy that this conference is going to hear about for awhile to come, and rightfully so," McElwain said prior to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. "Not only what he does as a receiver, but obviously as a return guy. He's energized us and he is a true playmaker. He's a get-it-to-guy and we're going to make sure he gets his touches."

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Florida WR Brandon Powell

Callaway is a known commodity, as is slot weapon Brandon Powell.

The 5'9", 184-pound junior who moved from running back to receiver prior to last season caught 29 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, and was a big help to former quarterback Will Grier and quarterback-turned-receiver Treon Harris, who were forced to deal with offensive line issues all year. 

Harris is interesting too, because the 5'11", 195-pound rising junior clearly has the athleticism to be a difference-maker, and can be used in a variety of ways by McElwain as a receiver or Wildcat quarterback who is actually a threat to throw.

What's more, three new wide receivers will be in Gainesville this spring—all of whom have the chance to make an immediate impact. Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond are both 4-star prospects who have the ability to serve as possession receivers or threats downfield, and Dre Massey is a 5'9", 184-pound junior college speedster who gives McElwain even more options in the slot.

"Just to see them interact and just get involved in how we go about our daily business is something that's huge," McElwain said of the early enrollee wide receivers and fellow early enrollee quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask in quotes emailed by Florida. "I'm really proud of those guys. I'm proud of all those guys that chose to do a little extra work, you know, when it's a little uncomfortable to get in here and start their college careers a semester early."

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Florida head coach Jim McElwain

Additionally, Tyrie Cleveland, a 6'2 1/2", 189-pound, 4-star prospect from Houston who was a bit of a signing day surprise, should grow into a big-time possession weapon once he gets into a college strength and conditioning program.

"He's a guy that came by this summer and always had a lot of interest in the Gators, right there in Duval County, before he moved to Texas, so he's not necessarily, you know, stuck and into the Texas part of it," McElwain said on national signing day, according to quotes emailed by Florida.

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On top of those weapons, McElwain already has highly touted senior Ahmad Fulwood, who hasn't been able to put it together over three years in a stagnant offense. The 6'4", 208-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, is a huge target with long arms, and he is joined by fellow receivers C.J. Worton, Alvin Bailey and Chris Thompson.

The combination of experience and talented newcomers should make life easy for the new quarterback—likely Franks, Luke Del Rio or Purdue transfer Austin Appleby. 

Florida has been lacking playmakers outside for a full generation, but McElwain has done a very good job replenishing that cupboard over the last couple of years through recruiting and position changes. That should benefit the Gators in 2016, the players who were already in house and the eventual winner of the battle to become the starting quarterback.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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