Catching on

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp says he likes to experiment with his football team during spring practice. Try some new plays and formations on offense, maybe move some players around on defense, work on a new blitz or two.

But that wasn't why he decided to move junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy to wide receiver for the first seven practices in preparation for a role on offense next season. That was done out of near desperation.

Florida's receivers have underachieved for so long that Muschamp -- a former defensive back, one of the country's top defensive minds, and the Gators' safeties coach -- is giving up one of his best defensive backs so UF's passing game has a chance to rank ahead of more than just option teams in 2013.

"We need to get better at receiver," Muschamp said.

The Gators signed four receivers in February -- including early enrollee Demarcus Robinson -- but the best option for immediate help is the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Purifoy. He has the size, speed, athleticism and ball skills that Muschamp wants in a receiver and he has already shown he is a playmaker on defense and special teams in his first two seasons. He forced three fumbles, blocked two kicks (including one in the final seconds to beat Louisiana-Lafayette), and broke up five passes last season.

Purifoy played a few snaps at receiver last season, catching one pass for 5 yards and carrying the ball once for 8 yards. He initially wasn't thrilled about spending half of spring practice on offense or the fact that he might have to play significant snaps there next season.

"At first, I didn't want to play [receiver]," said Purifoy, who played some receiver as a senior at Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest. "I really didn't want to play it. I'm kind of getting back into the groove of it now and it's kind of fun."

But Purifoy's time at receiver has not been easy this spring. He's a bit overwhelmed by the offensive playbook and sometimes has trouble remembering where to line up and when to go in motion. He said he's got the routes figured out but still isn't completely comfortable.

He did, however, stand out during UF's two open practices last week, making several deep catches and carrying the ball on end arounds and jet sweeps. But his frustration was noticeable, too. Muschamp spent several minutes walking with his arm around Purifoy's shoulders on Friday after Purifoy struggled in a team drill.

"He's still in a learning process," Muschamp said. "He got a little frustrated. I said, 'Listen, remember your first day at corner? I mean, it just doesn't happen overnight. That's why we're doing this, so you can learn the concepts of the offense when you step in.'

"It's very difficult for a guy that's had tremendous success at a position when you're trying to learn another position."

Purifoy is working hard at it, though, and his teammates have noticed. Quarterback Jeff Driskel has tried to be as helpful as possible. When Purifoy does get things figured out, that gives Driskel another option in the passing game.

"He's an athletic freak and he's a guy we want to get the ball and he's done a good job so far," Driskel said. "He's really embraced the challenged and done a good job.

"He wants to learn. He's 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."

UF needs Purifoy to become a reliable pass catcher because the Gators have few of those now that tight end Jordan Reed is gone. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar is UF's most experienced receiver with 50 career catches and redshirt senior Andre Debose (29 catches) is still plagued by the consistency issues that have kept him off the field. Senior Trey Burton, who has spent his career as a utility player, is the most experienced with 69 career catches. But he's not an explosive, downfield threat and that's what Purifoy can bring to the passing game, which is something UF hasn't had on a consistent basis since Riley Cooper in 2009.

"He's going to be special," redshirt senior cornerback Jeremy Brown said. "He's going to make a lot of plays on offense this year."

But he's going to have the chance to make them on defense and special teams, too. Purifoy is going to continue to play corner and his usual roles on special teams, especially as a gunner on the punt team and possibly as a kickoff returner, which he did late last season.

Purifoy has returned to defense for the remainder of spring practice, although he'll surely see action on offense in the spring game on April 6. After that, he's going to spend his offseason learning the offense and conditioning.

"I guess I'm going to be getting in shape this summer," said Purifoy, who could possibly play 60 or more snaps a game next season. "It's a mindset. You just have to put in that work.

"That's a lot, but I can handle it."

In Muschamp's perfect scenario, Purifoy won't need to play any snaps on offense. That will only happen if Debose reverses four years of inconsistent play, sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades take major steps forward, and several of the incoming freshmen receivers can make an instant impact.

Since all of that happening is unlikely, Purifoy will make the most of his time catching passes.