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What do you expect from Andre Debose next year?

Andre Debose Chomp By MIKE McCALL

The biggest question facing Florida’s offense for next season is how to replace Percy Harvin, and it seems like a lot of people have taken the attitude that, "Oh, Andre Debose will be here next year. It's all taken care of."

Debose has been touted as the Second Coming, but the claims that he’ll shoulder the load Harvin left behind need to be tempered. Maybe he will be the next Harvin. Just not yet.

Urban Meyer has made it clear that he doesn’t want to give up what he calls “The Percy Position” just because Harvin entered the NFL Draft, and why would he? Meyer said opposing coaches told him that the toughest matchups against UF last season were Harvin and tight end Aaron Hernandez, and he wants to keep at least one player on the field who's versatile enough to score by taking direct snaps, hand-offs, option pitches or catching passes.

From the way Meyer talks about Debose, it's clear he thinks he has his man. On National Signing Day, he called the Sanford Seminole High receiver “the best player in America,” and he's counting on Debose to make his presence felt right away.

“I expect him to be a starter and a guy who will come in and contribute,” Meyer said Monday. “I expect it because I’m going off his highlight film. Sometimes I give guys too much credit, but he has one of the best highlight films I have ever seen. He’s tough too. I went and saw him play in person, and I saw him do some great things.”

Sure, Debose’s highlight film is dazzling. He has blazing speed that helps him burn defenders while taking direct snaps, hand-offs, end-arounds or running routes—all the things that make up The Percy Position.

But Debose isn’t at spring practice, and he won’t arrive until the summer. As Meyer said this week, spring ball is the time to determine who’ll see playing time, and there’s a host of talented athletes already in place trying to fill Harvin’s shoes.

Receiver David Nelson said it’ll take several players to make up for the loss of Harvin, and at least for next season, that’ll be true.

Running backs Jeffery Demps, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody can take most of the rushing load, along with quarterback Tim Tebow. Receiver Deonte Thompson is chomping at the bit to take over a more versatile role, and a big group of wideouts is trying to earn more catches.

There’s only so much pigskin to go around, and Debose doesn’t have the luxury of going through spring practice to learn the offense and adjust to the speed of the college game—two things that Harvin said he struggled with early on.

Receivers coach Billy Gonzales is a little less caught up in the hype, and he knows Debose has a lot of work to do before he’ll be getting carries and catches in crunch time.

“I don’t know what I can depend on right now because I haven’t had a chance to work with him and he hasn’t been here,” Gonzales said. “Our expectations are really high, but they’re reasonable. It’s hard to come into any offense and have an impact as a freshman.”

Keep in mind that in his freshman year, Harvin wasn't really even Harvin yet. He was more of a side show than the main act for most of the year. He showed flashes of brilliance here and there, but it took 10 games before he got 10 touches in a contest.Percy Posterizes Dallas Baker

From then on, he was a focal point in the offense. He was the MVP of the Southeastern Conference Championship and the leading receiver in the BCS title game. In his sophomore and junior seasons, the offense revolved around him, and things seemed slightly out of whack when he wasn’t around (see 2008 SEC Championship).

But all of that took time, and Debose will need at least the same grace period.

“I definitely would say he’ll come in and contribute, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to come in and be the man right away,” Harvin said. “I think between him, Rainey, Demps and David Nelson, they’ll get the job done. But to put all that pressure on one person is hard.”

And Debose will join the team this summer with a level of hype that Harvin didn’t even have to face.

When Harvin signed with UF in 2006, he had Tebow in his recruiting class, which took a lot of pressure off. Debose—easily the best offensive player in the Gators’ 2009 class—won’t have that luxury.

What’s more, there’s a mold for Debose to fit into. Harvin arrived as a talented athlete, but it was hard to know what to expect. He carved out a position in Meyer’s offense, and now Debose has to live up to it.

That’s a notion that the 6-foot, 176-pounder isn't happy with, as he said on signing day that he doesn’t want to be compared to anyone else. Like it or not, he’ll be measured by the Harvin yardstick throughout his career, and it’s clear that there are some differences.

They’re both very versatile receivers, but Debose doesn’t have the same tools as Harvin.

“I think Percy Harvin is more of a guy who makes people miss in open space because he has that wiggle,” Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said. “Debose is more of a one-cut, outrun-you type of guy. He’s very efficient in his movements as far as outrunning people to the sideline or up the middle. That’s what he excels at, more than making people miss in space. Not that he can’t do that, but that’s more of Harvin’s specialty than Debose’s.”

Essentially, Debose is more like a taller version of Demps than Harvin, Jr. He uses his straight-line speed more than the lightning-quick dance moves that Harvin utilized to embarrass defenders.

None of this is to say that Debose isn’t an electrifying receiver. In his senior season, he rushed for 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns, caught 27 passes for 664 yards and six scores, threw for 353 yards and four TDs and also returned kickoffs and punts. He also made the winning TD catch in the 6-A State Championship against Miami Northwestern, scoring three times total in the game. (Click here for highlights, his first score is around 2:40, and his game-winner is near the 5-minute mark).

He has the talent to be a huge asset for Florida, but to expect him to fill in for one of college football’s best players right away is very far off base. If Debose is going to be like Harvin this season, he’ll be like the freshman Harvin, not the one who served as the lynchpin for UF’s dynamic attack for two years.

“I think he can come in and help them in the fall for sure, but to think he’ll be the centerpiece of that offense is a little tough to say,” Simmons said. “He’s a pretty ridiculous athlete, and all that’s going to come through. He’ll have a big play here or there, but I don’t think he’ll be an impact player until mid-season at the least.”

What are your thoughts? Will Debose be a playmaker from Day 1, show flashes of his talent, be a bust, or land somewhere in between? How important is his performance to Florida's national title hopes?


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