Florida signs heavy at skill positions to revamp offense
GAINESVILLE — Florida added some much-needed talent to its anemic offense on national signing day.
After scoring just two offensive touchdowns — one on a Hail Mary and the other on a trick play — in their final three games last season and finishing 112th in the country in total offense, the Gators went heavy at the skill positions.
Florida signed two quarterbacks, two running backs and five receivers Wednesday. Six of those nine enrolled in January and will participate in spring practice.
"Obviously that's part of the side that needed most of the restructuring," coach Jim McElwain said. "I think we addressed some of those position needs."
Receiver Tyrie Cleveland from Houston was the surprise addition. Cleveland grew up in Jacksonville and visited campus last weekend, but was committed to Houston until signing day. The 6-foot-2 speedster flipped early Wednesday during an announcement at Westfield High.
"He's had a lot of interest in the Gators, right there in Duval County before he moved to Texas," McElwain said. "For him, it's a little bit of a homecoming. Here's a guy who grew up wanting to be a Gator, playing in The Swamp, back with a bunch of guys he actually grew up playing with. I'm really happy he's back in this part of the country."
McElwain and the Gators will have to wait until late June to get a closer look at Cleveland.
Most of the other offensive players are on campus already.
Quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask as well as running back Mark Thompson and receivers Josh Hammond, Drew Massey and Freddie Swain will get a chance to start competing for playing time in March.
Other things to know:
Best in class: Antonneous Clayton, DE, Vienna, Georgia. The Gators needed to add depth on the defensive front after losing talented linemen Jonathan Bullard and Alex McAlister to the NFL draft. Clayton had 77 tackles, 27 tackle for loss, 13 quarterback hurries, nine sacks and a forced fumble last year at Dooly County High.
Best of the rest: Feleipe Franks, QB, Crawfordville. Franks might just be the pocket-passer McElwain is looking for. The 6-foot-6 Franks threw for 2,766 yards with 35 touchdowns as a senior at Wakulla High last year.
Late addition: Tyrie Cleveland, WR, Houston. Cleveland caught 46 passes for 982 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior.
One that got away: Shavar Manuel, DT, Bradenton. Manuel de-committed Wednesday and later signed with rival Florida State, leaving the Gators with just three defensive lineman and no defensive tackles in the signing class.
How they'll fit in: Florida can only hope the offensive additions boost a unit that ranked 100th in the nation in scoring last season. Franks and Trask are expected to battle incumbent starter Treon Harris, Oregon State transfer Luke Del Rio and Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby for playing time right away.