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March 19, 2013
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Louchiez Purifoy -- Florida's humble honey badger -- is a tad frustrated right now, even in spite of a little cheating.
How did Champ Bailey make it look so easy?
Although teammate and cornerback-buddy Jaylen Watkins joked Purifoy's experimental transition to wide receiver is "a pain in the butt because he knows all our techniques and rules," UF's special teams ace and starting cornerback shared a contrary viewpoint.
It's been darn hard, for him.
"It's all new to me," said a soft-spoken Purifoy on Tuesday afternoon. "I'm trying [to make plays], but I've been playing corner for a minute now and it's kind of a different change."
In an effort to halt diminishing returns from a fading position at Florida, coach Will Muschamp and his staff opted to inject the offense with a budding playmaker, inserting their dynamic junior defensive back as a spring trial for the first seven practices of camp. Since 2010, UF's wide out position has been a black hole and considering the Gators return just 44 total catches from the same unit a season ago, it was an easy idea for the coaching staff.
The ultimate team player, Purifoy obliged, only with initial reservations.
"At first, I didn't want to play it, " he explained. "I really didn't want to play receiver, but I'm kind of getting back into the groove of it now."
While Purifoy, who played a little receiver as a senior in high school, battles learning the (whole) playbook and coordinator Brent Pease's complex verbiage (for both the X and Z spots), his teammates were excited about his offensive potential.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel admitted it was natural for Purifoy to experience frustrations learning a new position, but "I was happy when they told me he was going to be on our side for the first part of spring. He's an athletic freak and he's a guy we want to get the ball. He's done a good job so far. He's really embraced the challenge."
Driskel says the junior really wants to learn, calling him "a student of the game."
"Just the other day I was watching film and he poked his head in and we talked for 20 minutes about what he can?do differently and what I'm looking at. He's definitely trying to get as much knowledge as he can."
Quinton Dunbar, UF's top returning wide out (36 catches in 2012), didn't see Purifoy's insertion on offense as a slight to the returning receivers and instead called it an opportunity and a challenge.
"I feel like each of us can make plays," Dunbar said. "I feel like I can beat out anyone."
Dunbar likely won't be faced with that dilemma though, as earlier Tuesday morning Muschamp emphatically stated Purifoy remains a cornerback and special teams star first.
Florida's issue moving forward is how to best balance Purifoy's fall role. It's obvious the junior prefers playing mostly defense -- "I get to go back to my comfort zone on Saturday. I enjoy helping the offense, but the defense is where I belong. It's all up to them." -- but his titillating athleticism and versatility may be too much to pass up for a desperate offense with an already deep defensive backfield.
"Speed kills and that's what they like," said Purifoy about his role as a playmaker. "I'm a competitor and he likes physical people. That's what I bring to the table."
While the former All-American Champ Bailey averaged around 100 snaps per game (between offense, defense and special teams) as a junior at Georgia in 1998, Muschamp remains hesitant to place any sort of target number on Purifoy just yet.
Muschamp described the issues for a two-way player in today's college game, citing the complex advancements in the past 15 years.
Yet it remains apparent it's a distinct possibility for Purifoy in 2013. The Gators haven't specifically outlined the playmaker's expanding role, but it's coming.
"He needs to be in really, really good shape," Muschamp would later quip.
According to Watkins, that's the last thing to worry about.
"Not many people can do it, but he's one guy I'm definitely confident can do it," the senior explained. "He has a motor that a lot of people don't have. He embraces stuff that could potentially look hard to some people. He wants to play special teams. He doesn't want to come out. He wants to play 50 [snaps] on defense, 50 [snaps] on offense. That's the thing he likes to do."
When asked if he could handle such a load, Purifoy smiled, saying, "Yeah, it's a lot.
"But I can handle it."
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