FOUR BITS: Beal, Leak, Parsons, Tebow

1 » Already in Phoenix, AZ preparing for their Sweet 16 game against the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles, the Florida Gators have been going through practices while also reflecting on the 2011-12 season. One hot topic of conversation has been the emergence of freshman guard Bradley Beal, who responded to a recent request from head coach Billy Donovan and has made the most out of his new opportunity. “The thing I tried to get through to him [was] stop worrying about your shot. Freshmen are going to have peaks and valleys shooting the basketball,” Donovan said, according to GatorZone.com. “I told him, ‘You do too many other things as a player that impact our team,’ and to start stepping up and trying to be more aggressive.” Beal has done just that after spending most of his season somewhat deffering to his more experienced teammates. He has begun been taking the ball to the hole more while simultaneously working on both his defense and rebounding; that in turn has helped increase his overall production. In fact, even his three-point shooting has improved. “I really took it upon myself to bear down and start guarding guys and crashing the boards,” he said. “My shot just ended up coming out of nowhere, really. Coach told me it was just a matter of me playing and getting my rhythm. Sure enough, it came.”

2 » Former Florida quarterback Chris Leak took a job with the AFL’s Jacksonville Sharks this year and was almost universally expected to be the team’s starting quarterback for the duration of the season. However, just days after throwing for five touchdowns in the team’s season opener, Leak was informed that he would no longer be the team’s starter. He was supplanted by Omar Jacobs, a player that was on the team as a backup last season, on Tuesday and reacted by skipping practice on Wednesday. According to the Florida Times-Union, Leak was immediately suspended by the Sharks; FOX 30 WAWS TV reported Wednesday that Jacksonville has already signed another signal caller, which makes it appear as if Leak will no longer be with the club.

3 » Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons was tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant down the stretch in a game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Parsons did an exceptionally good job defending Bryant late in the fourth quarter and Houston wound up winning the contest by three. After the game, Bryant was asked about Parsons’s defense and – after first deflecting a bit – not only praised his effort in that situation but also this season in general.

4 » Quarterback Tim Tebow received some perhaps unexpected support from former Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski, who told Yahoo! Sports Radio this week that he thinks executive vice president John Elway has made a mistake in deciding to trade the former Gators star. “To me, you had the answer. You just need more talent around a guy like Tim Tebow,” he said. “The kid’s a winner. I don’t care where he ends up. Cream rises to the top. That kid is beyond cream. He will rise. […] He’ll do the same that he did last season – and probably better.”

Bostic, Gillislee talk offseason improvements

A pair of senior Florida Gators football players – linebacker Jon Bostic and running back Mike Gillislee – spoke on Tuesday about the team’s activities during the offseason and how they each plan to improve heading into the 2012 season.

BOSTIC, JENKINS GETTING BIGGER AND BETTER

Even though Bostic was Florida’s leading tackler and one of the most productive players on the defense in 2011, he has spent the entire offseason – and will now spend all of spring practice – trying to get better. Though he may have the system down pat, the changes offensive coordinator Brent Pease is making to his side of the ball are giving Bostic and the rest of the defense even more looks than they are used to having.

“There’s something new to learn every day and get better at every day,” he said. “This spring, with this new offense and the shifting and adjusting that they’re doing, it’s really making us learn this defense and learn all these checks and adjustments that we need to make right off the top of our head, not where it’s something we need to learn by week.”

Nearly as effective as Bostic last year, redshirt junior LB Jelani Jenkins appears to have bulked up significantly since new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman took over the program. Bostic says his teammate has “gotten a lot stronger” and weighed in at “236 or 238” pounds on Monday, crediting Dillman and his new style for the improvements to both of their physiques.

“It’s more Olympic-style lifts with the power cleans and stuff,” he said. I had never done those lifts before until I got here. We did some in high school but I didn’t do too much of it. I tried it once, couldn’t get the technique, so I just went about my business and did something else. I like it.”

GILLISLEE READY TO RUN

Moving into the No. 1 running back role for the Gators, Gillislee is looking forward to being an every-down back, a role he has been itching for over the last three years but has yet to be given due to other being in front of him in line. Now that Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey have graduated and moved on to other things, Gillislee is ready to step up and carry the rock full-time.

“[My role] has increased a lot,” he said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “The biggest role right now is getting better every day, being a leader. […] No doubt [I can be an every-down back]. This is my last chance, just the opportunity I’ve been waiting on to take advantage, being No. 1 on the depth chart so far, just getting better every day.”

The two other reasons Gillislee was kept off the field – in addition to others in front of him getting a shot first – were injuries and difficulties in learning pass protection.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Gillislee said of his injuries, according to InsidetheGators.com. “Like every time it was time for me to step up, I ended up getting hurt. But now that I see taking care of your body is the most important thing, that’s a big part of what I’m doing now. Every day after practice I get in the cold tank and do the little things before anything major happens.”

He also said he no longer has issues with pass protection and picking up blitzes. “I feel comfortable now because I’m getting a lot more reps than I usually get,” he told the Sun. “It’s hard. You’ve got to know who is coming and you’ve got a route at the same time. So, that’s the whole hard thing about pass protection. I had a bit of trouble, but I’m good at it now.”

Now all that is left for Gillislee is trying to hit that 1,000-yard benchmark. “I can envision it,” he told ITG. “In the past, I never knew when I was gonna get [the ball] again, so I just went as hard as I can. Not saying now I don’t go as hard as I can every day, but that’s a big reason why I just want to break out.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Bostic on sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson’s neck injury: “The main thing with him, I told him, is to get stronger in the offseason. He’s a freshman who did well at times last year. He’s going to play a big role in our defense this year. His main thing is he just needs to get in the weight room. He’s a guy who can turn and run with receivers. But at the line of scrimmage – with him putting on weight and getting a lot stronger – he can really help us there.”

» Bostic on redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Murphy not getting enough respect off the field: “It’s really three quarterbacks out there doing well. I know a lot of people are looking at [Jeff] Driskel and Jacoby [Brissett], but Tyler Murphy is one of those guys who is really stepping up right now and kind of taking everything from the backside because everybody is kind of looking at the other two. But Tyler Murphy has come out there, he’s done his job just like the other two.”

» Gillislee on if he was every planning to transfer: “Nah. I was born a Gator. I been a Gator all my life. I would never change this. Now it’s my opportunity, so I plan on keeping it that way.”

Reports: Four teams at front of the line for Tebow

With Peyton Manning now in a No. 18 Denver Broncos jersey, Tim Tebow’s time in that orange and blue is quickly coming to an end. Now the key is determining where Tebow will wind up and how he will be utilized by his new team.

Numerous media outlets citing a number of anonymous sources reported Tuesday evening that the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and at least three other teams have contacted Denver and “have serious interest” (to quote NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi) in trading for Tebow.

Initial reports noted that the Broncos may not receive much more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Tebow but having a number of teams interested will certainly drive the price up for the organization that eventually lands the former Florida Gators standout.

Jacksonville, according to The Florida Times-Union’s Tania Ganguli, has already had internal discussions about adding Tebow but had not reached out to Denver in any formal sense as of 6 p.m. New York, according to ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini, may be more of a player for Tebow than initially thought.

The Jets were believed to be a “long shot at best” to trade for Tebow, but Cimini reported around midnight that interest among team officials has “intensified.” The New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta added that the team’s interest is “legitimate,” even quoting a source as saying, “We are players in the Tebow race.”

Continue Reading » Reports: Four teams at front of the line for Tebow

FOUR BITS: women’s bball, baseball, lax, NBA

1 » No. 9-seed Florida Gators women’s basketball (20-13) saw their season come to an end Tuesday night at the hands of the No. 1-seed Baylor Bears (36-0) and star center Brittney Griner. Florida fell 76-57 to Baylor in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament as Griner posted 25 points (on 8-of-14 shooting), nine rebounds, four assists and six blocks. She was just one of five Bears’ starters to score in double figures on the evening. The Gators were led by three seniors including C Azania Stewart, who scored 14 points and grabbed four boards. Classmates and guards Deana Allen and Lanita Bartley also scored in the double digits, adding 13 and 10 points, respectively. In addition to being knocked out of the tournament and having their season come to an end at the hands of the top team in the country, Florida was hit hard emotionally by Tuesday’s loss. Five seniors – Stewart, Allen, Bartley and redshirts G Jordan Jones and forward Ndidi Madu – played their final games in a Gators uniform.

2 » No. 1 Florida baseball (20-1) extended their school-record winning streak to 18 games with a 5-3 win over the Samford Bulldogs (13-8) on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (2-0) got the start and picked up the victory while tossing a career-high six strikeouts and allowing just one earned run on three hits in 4.0 innings. After giving up a run in the first inning, Magliozzi got some support as the Gators rallied to tie the game. Florida hit around for two more runs in the bottom of the second and – after Samford got within a single run of tying the game in the top of the seventh – added another in the next frame to solidify their lead. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI) drove home senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R) twice in the contest. Freshmen first baseman Taylor Gushue (1/4) and third baseman Josh Tobias (2/3, R) each batted runners in as well. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S 7) came in for the final frame, striking out one of three batters he faced and clinching the victory.

3 » No. 5 Gators lacrosse (9-2) routed a fellow top-ranked opponent on Tuesday, defeating the No. 10 Dartmouth Big Green (5-1) in a 20-4 blowout at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Florida scored a school-record 17 first-half goals and registered eight-straight goals to end the contest including only three in the second period. UF’s 20 goals against Dartmouth were the most the team has ever scored against a ranked opponent in school history. Junior attacker Kitty Cullen led the Gators with a career-high eight points including five goals and three assists (she also added a career-high three ground balls to her total). Juniors As Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand each had four goals, and midfielder Brittany Dashiell added three more.

4 » In his first mockup for the 2012 NBA Draft, ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford has Gators freshman G Bradley Beal slotted as the No. 4 overall pick heading to Portland. Though Ford notes that Beal “hasn’t had a dominant freshman season,” he believes that “his scoring ability in the backcourt” is something that is undeniable to NBA scouts. Ford is bullish on Beal’s potential in the pros and has been for quite some time, noting often that he expects him to go anywhere from fourth to sixth in the upcoming draft should he decide to leave school early. He also has sophomore center Patric Young listed as No 22 overall to Memphis even though he recently noted that he plans to return to school for his junior season. An extra year in college for Young could very well vault him into the lottery in 2013 should he improve his offense and all-around consistency.

Tebow’s future a hot topic at Manning’s presser

At a 3 p.m. press conference staged by the Denver Broncos to introduce Peyton Manning as the team’s new starting quarterback, former Florida Gators signal caller Tim Tebow remained a subject of high interest and much discussion.

After being introduced by owner Pat Bowlen and executive vice president of football operations John Elway, Manning spoke about his decision and then answered a number of direct questions including two in particular about Tebow.

Manning first said that he did not have any conversations with the front office about the entirety of the quarterback position even though he knows “there are decisions to be made.” Then he added on his own:

Let me just say this: I know what kind of player Tim Tebow is and what kind of person he is. I’ve gotten to meet him personally one time. What an awesome year he had this year. If Tim Tebow is here next year, I’m going to be the best teammate I can be to him, and he and I are going to help this team win games. If other opportunities present themselves for him, I’m going to wish him the best. He’s going to be a great player wherever he is. Those are decisions that have to be made by other people. Those are not my decisions and those conversations never did come up with me. This is the place where I wanted to come and play football and to help this team win in whatever role or capacity that is.”

He also noted that he did not specifically have anything to say to Tebow’s fans that may prefer him instead and will obviously still support him going forward.

“I don’t know what to say to them. I think they’re fans of his for a great reason,” he said. “He’s a great player and a great guy. I think they can still be fans of his. I’m a fan of his, too. He’s a great player, great guy, great respect for what he accomplished last year. That was pretty impressive.”

Elway then took the podium and answered a number of specific questions regarding Tebow and his future (or lack thereof) with the franchise.

“We’re going through that process now,” Elway said in regards to Tebow’s future. “We’re going to look at that obviously. Coach [John] Fox and I called Tim [Monday] night and talked to him about it.

“This is a tough business. The toughest thing about this whole thing is Tim Tebow because of what I think about Tim Tebow. The things he did last year were tremendous. [He] helped turn this organization around from a 4-12 team to a playoff team and winning the division. And I’ve got a great deal of respect for him as a person and the things that he does.

“But that is no question the toughest thing about this business – the personal side. We just had to make a decision as an organization – myself, Coach Fox, the personnel department, the coaches. What would be the best opportunity for the Denver Broncos to be competitive for a world championship? And Peyton Manning was that so that’s why we chose to go that direction.”

Continue Reading » Tebow’s future a hot topic at Manning’s presser

FOUR Tebow BITS: destinations, future, Hoge

1 » Despite ESPN presenting a narrative in which a team would only be interested in quarterback Tim Tebow at the behest of their owner and not the football operations department, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King believes there will (or at least should) be plenty of organizations interested in the former Heisman Trophy winner. According to King, Buffalo and Miami should be the two teams most interested in Tebow for the variety of ways in which they can use him aside from being a starter. King also thinks that Green Bay, New England and Baltimore (teams with strong coaches and front offices) could utilize Tebow in a similar fashion while also helping him improve as a quarterback. He also believes that the Denver Broncos should just keep Tebow, though obviously that is not a sentiment the organization or its power structure shares in any way, shape or form. “I do not join the chorus of the Tim Tebow Is Worthless Club. In the right situation, I would really want Tebow on my team,” he wrote. “I think he’s a valuable piece on a winning team, even if I’m skeptical he can ever be a long-term NFL starter.”

2 » Monica Culpepper, the wife of former Florida Gators defensive tackle Brad Culpepper and a recent contestant on CBS’s Survivor, recently told 970-WFLA radio that Tebow conveyed to her his desire to return to playing football in the state of Florida. “Brad and I just had dinner with Tim last week, and I don’t think this comes as a shock or surprise to him that Manning was actually going to go there,” she said. “And in all honesty, Tim said, ‘I miss home. I miss the South. And hopefully I’ll land somewhere in Florida.’ I sure hope Jacksonville takes him because he’s such a great kid, such a good player.”

3 » Other destinations that have also been mentioned as potential suitors for Tebow include Jacksonville, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Tampa Bay. A report from ESPN at 3 p.m. on Tuesday noted that Green Bay, Jacksonville, Miami and the New York Jets “have discussed a trade for Tim Tebow.” However, word out of North Florida is that returning home is not likely to be an option for Tebow as the front office is not interested in his talent regardless of what the owner thinks. Additionally, the Miami Herald‘s Armando Salguero shut the door on his local team, tweeting Tuesday afternoon that, “The Dolphins at this time have zero intention of pursuing Tim Tebow.”

4 » After absolutely bashing Tebow for a year and sounding off on him quite decidedly last August, ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge offered an extensive and (what sounded like a) sincere mea culpa about the second-year signal caller in an interview with ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning on Dec. 12. Just over three months later, Hoge has reversed course again on Tebow, going so far as to insult him as part of a list of quotes the network released to the press following Manning’s decision on Monday. “The more I studied him in an NFL setting, the more disturbed I was that he has no clue what he’s looking at,” Hoge said. “His IQ as a football player is not very good. That is why they have to come down and make it some of a college-form system that he’s comfortable with in Florida. He can’t execute, from a cerebral aspect, a pro-style system.”

Reggie Nelson, Rex Grossman re-sign with teams

A pair of former Florida Gators football players followed in the footsteps of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and re-signed over the weekend with the teams they played for in 2011.

Safety Reggie Nelson turned down overtures from the New York Jets to return to the Cincinnati Bengals on a four-year contract worth $18 million including $6.5 million in the first season, and quarterback Rex Grossman agreed to rejoin the Washington Redskins for one year with the knowledge that he will not be the team’s starter.

Nelson had a career year for Cincinnati in 2011, registering 85 combined tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 12 pass defenses and a pair of sacks. It was the best he had played since his rookie year in Jacksonville, and the team obviously expected his resurgence to continue in 2012 and beyond.

Grossman started off hot for Washington but reverted to his mean as the season went on. He completed a career-high 57.9 percent of his passes for 3,151 yards with 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and went 5-8 as the Redskins’ starter. With Washington trading a boatload of draft picks for the opportunity to select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft, Grossman will be relegated to backup duty in 2012.

Though three Gators are now off the market, 11 other notable former Florida players are currently listed as free agents including: wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati), linebacker Channing Crowder (DNP/retirement), LB Andra Davis (Buffalo), running back Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay), defensive end Derrick Harvey (Denver), DE Jarvis Moss (Oakland), LB Mike Peterson (Atlanta), cornerback Lito Sheppard (Oakland), offensive tackle Max Starks, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (Denver) and DT Gerard Warren (New England).

Photo Credits: Rich Lipski/Associated Press, Cincinnati Enquirer

FOUR BITS: women’s bball, baseball, softball, gym

1 » Having returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, nine-seed Florida Gators women’s basketball (20-12) picked up a hard-fought 70-65 victory over the eight-seed Ohio State Buckeyes (25-7) in first-round action on Sunday. Florida led early and maintained their advantage throughout the contest, eventually pulling away in the final few minutes for the win. Junior forward Jennifer George led the way for the Gators with 16 points (she also added six rebounds), but senior guard Lanita Bartley was the player of the game with 15 points, four boards, three assists and two steals. Florida will now face top-ranked Baylor (35-0) and player of the year Brittney Griner on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. live on ESPN2.

2 » No. 1 Gators baseball (19-1, 3-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 17 games, sweeping their series against the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-13, 0-3 SEC) with another pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday. Florida outscored Vanderbilt 23-5 over the weekend, beginning with a 10-2 victory in their Southeastern Conference opener on Friday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The Gators pulled out a 5-1 win on Saturday on the heels of one of junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson’s best outings. Johnson improved to 3-0 while recording a career-high nine strikeouts in 6.0 innings and giving up just two singles. UF was up 1-0 through 4.5 innings but scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth including two RBIs apiece from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, HR, R, BB) and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/5, R). Florida captured Sunday’s contest with an 8-2 victory behind another solid outing from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (2-1, 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K). The Gators offense was fueled by a trio of solo homers from Tucker (1/3, RBI, 2 R, BB), freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1/4, 2 RBI, R) and freshman second baseman Casey TurgeonSEC Player of the Week award in his career on Monday.

3 » No. 4 Florida softball (26-2, 7-1 SEC) also swept a conference opponent over the weekend, taking down the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-12, 2-6 SEC) by a combined score of 17-3 over three days at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers and freshman RHP/first baseman Lauren Haeger dominated the weekend for the Gators. Rogers (14-1, S 2) earned two victories and a save, while Haeger (8-1) picked up a win and also went 5/8 over the three-game stretch with a homer, six RBIs and a run scored.

4 » No. 6 Florida lacrosse (8-2) defeated the William & Mary Tribe (2-6) 21-8 on the road Saturday. Junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell led Florida with five goals, and UF added four more each from junior attackers Kitty Cullen and Gabi Wiegand and freshman M Shannon Gilroy.

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