GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Through his first two seasons at Florida, coach Jim McElwain has yet to break the offense out of its long-standing slump.
Explosive plays have been a rarity. Inconsistency has been one of the main forms of consistency.
But heading into the 2017 season, two playmakers have the potential to bring a spark to what has been a vanilla offense.
Enter Dre Massey and Kadarius Toney, the versatile skill position players who might be the X-factors that play a heavy hand in Florida’s success.
Massey and Toney have a skill-set similar to that of wide receiver/running back/return specialist Percy Harvin, Florida’s top offensive threat from 2006-2008. In that three-year span, Harvin recorded 3,781 combined rushing and receiving yards with 32 total touchdowns and helped the Gators win two national championships.
Massey and Toney might not put up those numbers right away. They do, however, have the potential to provide enough of a change-of-pace to shake up the game.
Consider Florida’s numbers from last season:
- Last in the SEC in total offense (344 yards per game)
- Last in the SEC in total plays from scrimmage longer than 30 yards (21).
- Tied for 12th in the league with Vanderbilt in yards per play (5.19). Only South Carolina (5.15) was worse.
Massey and Toney can fix that.
They can run. They can catch. They can pass. In simplest terms, they need to be on the field and to have the ball in their hands.
The opportunity for creativity is at a premium now. Throw both Massey and Toney on the field along with the starting quarterback — whoever that might be — and the Gators have the ability to confuse the defense while having other playmakers (Jordan Scarlett, Antonio Callaway, Tyrie Cleveland, etc.) at their disposal to force the defense to show its hand.
Massey, a redshirt junior and a transfer from Holmes Community College in Mississippi, was supposed to have his chance to show his versatility last season. He was pegged as the Gators’ starting slot receiver. The former high school quarterback was also going to serve as Florida’s primary kickoff returner and be used in certain Wildcat-type packages.
But then he tore the ACL in his right knee during the first half of Florida’s season opener against Massachusetts.
“He was a dynamic player in the spring last year,” Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “When you turned on the tape and [saw] the things he was able to do for a new player coming in, we really had high expectations, and then in the first game he’s got to go off. So you kind of go, ‘Well, I don’t know what it could have been.’
“You had a vision and a thought. It never materialized.”
He underwent surgery and spent the rest of the year rehabbing. After being limited to non-contact drills in the spring, Massey looks to be close to 100 percent again. He’s no longer sporting the bulky knee brace he had four months ago. His burst off the line of scrimmage has been strong through the early part of fall camp. His speed is noticeable.
“He’s worked extremely hard to get back,” Nussmeier said, “and we’ll just see as he progresses through camp what his package is and how that leg is responding and where he’s at.”
As for Toney, the true freshman is a dual-threat quarterback by nature but an overall athlete by design. He spent the spring taking reps with the quarterbacks, but McElwain is allowing him to roam the field and work at different positions throughout the fall.
During the portions of practice that have been open to the media, Toney has worked exclusively with the receivers despite wearing the orange quarterback jersey.
“You guys will be able to see when we’re at practice kind of what we’re working on that day based on what position he’s kind of at,” McElwain said. “He’s going to be a little bit everywhere, which is a good thing.”
Regardless of who McElwain names as his starting quarterback for the 2017 season, he will have a deep and talented repertoire of skill position players at his disposal.
Massey and Toney are likely to be near the top of that list.
They just need to get on the field.