Pittman emerges early

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's most impressive receiver this spring is someone Gators coach Will Muschamp thought might make a pretty decent defensive back.

Latroy Pittman played receiver and defensive back at Citra (Fla.) North Marion High School and worked out at both of those spots during Florida's 2011 camp. No matter where Pittman was, though, Muschamp was watching. And the more he watched the better he felt about the Gators' first commitment of the 2012 class.

"We really liked him," Muschamp said. "We liked him at receiver. We liked him at defensive back. He's a talented young man. He's physical. He's tough. He's got ball skills. He's got play-making ability.

"We're very pleased with his progress."

He certainly should be, because the 6-foot, 201-pound Pittman was arguably UF's best receiver in the spring. He graduated high school early, enrolled in January and immediately started impressing coaches and teammates.

Pittman doesn't have blazing speed -- a 4.64 in the 40-yard dash -- but he kept getting behind the coverage in practice. He beat Loucheiz Purifoy, one of the projected starters at cornerback, deep in one-on-one coverage for a touchdown on the first day of full pads, and he consistently got open on short and intermediate routes.

"The guy just makes plays," redshirt sophomore receiver Quinton Dunbar said. "He just makes plays. That's all I can say. He's very good."

Pittman made a big one in the spring game, getting behind walk-on cornerback Ben Peacock and catching a 43-yard pass from Jacoby Brissett on third-and-8. The drive eventually ended with Brissett's 4-yard touchdown pass to Dunbar.

"That was a big third down," Brissett said. "We needed a completion just to get the drive back on. One-on-one coverage and had faith that he'll beat his man in press coverage."

Pittman nearly had a 55-yard touchdown catch. He beat press coverage again down the right sideline, but Brissett overthrew him by 3 yards. Brissett said he and Jeff Driskel are already comfortable enough with him that they'll throw him the ball regardless of whether he's covered or not.

"He's been showing us he can make plays," Brissett said. "Only thing we can do is just throw the ball up and give him a chance and he capitalizes on his opportunity."

Pittman's emergence is good news for UF's offense, because the Gators haven't had a consistent wide receiver since Riley Cooper in 2009. Nobody emerged the past two seasons, and even experienced players like Deonte Thompson and Frankie Hammond (41 career catches) were non-factors. Andre Debose (26 career catches) has delivered a lot of big plays, but will also disappear for games.

"We just need more guys that can continue to step up at that position," Muschamp said. "I'm pleased with our progress, but we need to improve."

Right now the pacesetter is Pittman, who was unable to comment for this story because freshmen are not allowed to speak with the media.

"He's one of our top guys right now and he's only going to get better," Driskel said.