FOUR BITS: Tebow, Wambach, Beal, Johnson

1 » A rash of quarterback injuries has shaken the NFL over the first half of the season, and there are also a number of floundering teams in serious need of a boost, but former Florida Gators signal caller Tim Tebow nevertheless remains a free agent. Sunday night, NFL.com‘s Mike Silver reported that the St. Louis Rams had “at least internally discussed the possibility of signing” Tebow though nothing was imminent and it was unlikely to happen. This report came after starting QB Sam Bradford was knocked out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury (he will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL). CBSSports.com‘s Jason LaCanfora later tweeted that the Rams have “no desire” to bring in Tebow and that head coach Jeff Fisher “would not consider it.” Instead, St. Louis will go with Kellen Clemens, a career 51.8 percent passer with seven passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions over eight seasons (including 12 starts). The biggest news story involving Tebow over the last few weeks included some shirtless pictures taken while he was on vacation with his family in Hawaii.

As Tebow hopes to have a future in football, it may be another sport entirely where he can make the greatest impact. According to TheMMQB.com, USA Rugby is extremely interested in having Tebow join the program and compete on behalf of the United States in the Olympics (assuming he picks up the sport well). Writer Jenny Vrentas crunches some numbers, with some help from a company named Atlantic Standard, and notes that Tebow’s athleticism is simply off the charts, which makes him a player the rugby community would covet.

Check out three more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Tebow, Wambach, Beal, Johnson

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6 BITS: Bonner, Miller, Johnson, Simpson, Beisel

1 » In South Florida for about a week while his team participated in the first two games of the 2013 NBA Finals, San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner told ProBasketballTalk that he was getting a lot of support from Florida Gators fans in the area. “I’ve been getting ‘Go Gators’ everywhere,” Bonner said. “Even people with Miami Heat jerseys, walking down the street will yell at everyone else then see me, wait for no one to look and [whisper] ‘Go Gators.’ It’s the whole spectrum, older Gators, younger Gators. You know, it’s six degrees of separation, except here it’s like two or three degrees of Gator separation.” Bonner, who OGGOA noted last week is a big fan of sandwiches, also said that he enjoyed a few Cuban sandwiches while in town.

2 » Miami guard Mike Miller looks every bit of 33 years old most of the time, but his ability to drain threes in the playoffs has made him a hot name for the second-straight postseason. On Sunday during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Miller went 3-for-3 from downtown, scoring nine points on the evening as his team pulled off a victory. Though he still looks old, Miller feels young for the first time in a while; during the 2012 playoffs, he could not run without limping. “I’ve got a lot of basketball left. It’s the best I’ve felt in five years,” Miller told ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez. “Sometimes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, even when you’re frustrated. I feel great. Knock on wood it stays that way.”

Check out four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » 6 BITS: Bonner, Miller, Johnson, Simpson, Beisel

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Former Florida Gators shine at 2013 Pro Day

Nineteen former Florida Gators football players – including five that have been off the team for more than a year – participated in Pro Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on a rain-covered Florida Field in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance though many head coaches and general managers remained at their teams’ headquarters considering Pro Day was being held on the same day as the start of NFL free agency for the 2013 season.

“It’s an exciting time. That’s how Pro Day is supposed to look at Florida,” head coach Will Muschamp said after the event. “All 32 teams are here and that’s how it ought to be. As we continue to do a good job evaluating in recruiting and developing our players, which we will, our Pro Days will continue to look that way. Really proud of these guys that worked out today and appreciate all their contributions to the University of Florida. I want to congratulate our staff on doing an outstanding job developing these guys.”

“I think they’ve all worked extremely hard,” he continued. “They understand what’s at stake. These guys are at a great time in their life. Here they are the verge of playing in the arena on Sunday. That’s something, as you look at, you’re a football player and taking that next step. They understand what’s at stake. I’m proud of what I saw today just form the standpoint of how they worked and how they conducted themselves, the positive feedback I’ve gotten from general managers, head coaches, assistants and the National Football League of the character of our guys and how they handled themselves at the combine. All of it has been ultra-positive. I’ve been real pleased about that.”

Below are evaluations on and quotes from many of the Gators that participated on Tuesday. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Lerentee McCray and tight end Jordan Reed did not work out but will in a separate, private Pro Day event on March 22 in The Swamp. Reed did still participate in some on-field drills Tuesday.

Muschamp had nothing but high praise for Floyd when asked about him potentially going in the top five picks. “Turn on the tape,” he said. “The guy can anchor, he can play the run, he’s got great initial quickness, he can rush the passer. He’s everything you want from an inside player. The NFL teams, they don’t like to project. I’ve been there; I know. They want to see guys that play in 3-4 and 4-3. They’ve seen him play two-gap. They’ve seen him play nose. They’ve seen him play four-technique, They’ve seen him play one-gap, three-technique, five-technique, nine-technique. They’ve seen him play outside; they’ve seen him play inside.

“From a general manager prospective, talking to his owner and telling him he wants to spend money on a player – a clean player that has no issues off the field – that’s a very smart pick, in my opinion. You got a guy that can be a very dominating player that has got so many positive things surrounding him and he’s been exposed positionally to so many different things within our scheme.”

Other former Gators in attendance to root on the younger guys included wide receivers Reidel Anthony and Riley Cooper, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, linebacker Mike Peterson, running back Chris Rainey and linebacker Brandon Siler.

Safety Matt Elam

» NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock (via Florida’s website): “On tape he plays so close to the line of scrimmage, especially in their nickel package, he’s on the slot. He’s quick-footed, an aggressive tough kid. What I saw today was what I wanted to see, his ball skills, especially on deep balls. I could see him open his hips, take angles like a deep half or deep third. I thought he really helped himself today.”

Continue Reading » Former Florida Gators shine at 2013 Pro Day

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Gators undrafted free agents agree to deals

Updated July 27 at 3:30 p.m.

The end of the NFL lockout sent the league into a frenzy Monday evening as teams were officially allowed to contact and agree to contracts with undrafted free agents who were not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. With only four Florida Gators picked in the seven-round draft back in April, a number of well-known players remained available heading into one of the most questionable offseasons in pro football history.

With contracts now being signed as names continue to roll in, a number of former Gators have already been picked up to join NFL squads this year.

Everything started Monday evening as linebacker Duke Lemmens chose to stay out west and play for the Arizona Cardinals, defensive tackle Terron Sanders got a call from the Baltimore Ravens, and running back Emmanuel Moody decided to join 2010 undrafted free agent wide receiver David Nelson with the Buffalo Bills.

On Tuesday, punter Chas Henry chose to team up with wide receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Cornelius Ingram on the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive end Justin Trattou decided to play close to home with the New York Giants, and offensive lineman Carl Johnson joined up with DE Alex Brown on the New Orleans Saints.

Wednesday brought two more signings as LB A.J. Jones found a spot with the Denver Broncos and LB Brandon Hicks [unconfirmed] signed with the Bills. Jones joins quarterback Tim Tebow in Denver, while Hicks teams up with Moody and Nelson in Buffalo.

Safety Will Hill was originally reported to have agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins; however, it surfaced Tuesday that those reports were premature and the two sides have not spoken about a contract.

OGGOA spoke with Sanders early Tuesday morning, and he related to us that former Florida defensive coordinator now Baltimore defensive backs coach Teryl Austin had a lot to do with him getting this opportunity with a top-tier franchise.

“Coach Austin, he’s up there now, and he put in a good word for me and told them that I can plug the hole and knock people back,” Sanders said. “He convinced them to take a shot at me. They called my agent, my agent called me and asked me if I’d be interested in going to Baltimore. I told them, ‘Yeah,’ and the deal is done.”

Though he has been hoping the lockout would end and has been keeping in shape, Sanders also kept himself busy with a regular job until his future was known.

“I haven’t put on a pair of shoulder pads in a while,” he said. “I’ve been working out, doing some running, and I started working at U-Haul about two weeks ago just to get some money in my pocket until this was decided.”

Other players who could be signed include WR Carl Moore and defensive lineman Brandon Antwine and Lawrence Marsh.

OGGOA will update this post as additional signings are announced.

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Florida Gators grab No. 1 spot on Rivals’ Top 10 recruiting classes since 2002

Celebrating a decade of presenting high school recruiting rankings, Rivals.com released a special feature on Tuesday detailing the 10 best recruiting classes since 2002. The Florida Gators, under former head coach Urban Meyer, earned two spots on the list including the No. 1 overall ranking.

Florida’s 2006 recruiting class, which featured five-stars quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes, came away as the clear leader even after being ranked as the second-best class that year.

“What makes this group stand out above the rest was the number of prospects who panned out: 16 members of the class were starters at one time,” writes Rivals. “Beyond Tebow and Harvin, there were guys such as LBs Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones, DE Jermaine Cunningham, T/G Marcus Gilbert, DTs Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders and WR Riley Cooper. The group helped Florida win two national championships, and Tebow won the 2007 Heisman as a sophomore and was a finalist as a junior and senior.”

Two of those players (Tebow and Harvin) wound up being first-round picks in the NFL Draft; three more (Spikes, Cunningham and Gilbert) were selected in the second-round and one other (Cooper) was a fifth-round pick. Other prominent names in the 2006 class include kick returner Brandon James and offensive lineman Carl Johnson.

The Gators’ 2007 recruiting class, ranked No. 1 the year it was signed, closes out the list at No. 10. One of the reasons it is lower on the list is the fact that three of its most prominent members – five-stars quarterback Cameron Newton and defensive tackle Torrey Davis as well as four-star DT John Brown – had off-the-field issues that did not allow them to conclude their careers in Gainesville, FL.

However, Florida’s 2007 signings also included a trio of first-round picks (cornerback Joe Haden and centers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey), safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright, DE Carlos Dunlap, tight end Aaron Hernandez and punter Chas Henry. Players remaining on the Gators include redshirt seniors QB John Brantley, DT Jaye Howard, running back Chris Rainey and WR Deonte Thompson.

Check out Rivals at 10: Ten best recruiting classes for the rest of the rankings.

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OGGOA’s comprehensive 2011 NFL Draft Preview

Legalities surrounding the lockout may still be looming, but the 2011 NFL Draft will begin without a hitch Thursday night (ESPN, NFL Network) and run through April 30 as more than a dozen former Florida Gators hope to see their childhood dreams come true.

As fans of the 32 NFL teams look on nationwide, those supporting Florida’s players may not be as excited about the event this time around considering there will be a significant drop-off from the nation-leading nine players that were selected in 2010 (including a school-record three in the first round and six in the first two rounds).

Few things are certain when it comes to the NFL Draft – trades can occur at any moment and each team views its most pressing needs and what each player brings to the table differently than analysts and commentators do. Rather than try to predict the unknown variables and tell you what could happen, we will stick with what likely will happen.

» Center/guard Mike Pouncey will be the only first-round pick, selected before his brother was and headed to one of five teams.

Unless a team decides that they desperately need a center and plans to trade into the top half of the first round in order to jump a handful of other teams, Pouncey will likely be headed to either the Miami Dolphins (15) or New York Giants (19) at their respective draft slots or to one of three teams that would have to trade down/up for him: Dallas Cowboys (9), Chicago Bears (29) or Pittsburgh Steelers (31). The top-rated interior lineman in the draft, Pouncey continues to garner high praise and has plenty of teams around the league looking in his direction.

» Florida will not have another player selected until at least the third round.

There was talk for a while that tackle Marcus Gilbert may be moving into the category of a late second-round selection but that has died down recently. However, he is the only player on the team who has actually climbed up draft boards since the season ended. His size is undeniable and scouts were impressed with his agility and strength. Gilbert projects as either a right tackle or guard in the NFL with many scouts believing he might perform better in the latter position. He will likely be selected sometime in the third round and may very well be one of only two Gators picked in the first two days of the draft.

» The future of Florida’s secondary standouts is not very “safe.”

Like linebacker Brandon Spikes in 2010, strong safety Ahmad Black has seen his stock slide going into the draft due to concerns about his speed. Unlike Spikes last year, Black also has scouts worried about his lack of prototypical NFL size and how his immense talent will be able to translate to the big stage. As Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow knows, all it takes is one team to believe in you. And whether former head coach Urban Meyer is in Bill Belichick’s ear once again (the New England Patriots drafted three Gators in 2010) or a team simply realizes that Black has a high football IQ and can significantly impact a game if given an opportunity, he will likely have someone take a chance on him in the third or fourth round.

Though free safety Will Hill has the prototypical size and speed that Black lacks, those around the league have realized he is missing perhaps even more important things like football IQ and character. His athleticism is undeniable, but there are too many question marks about him (including, simply, his talent level) for a team to take a risk on him early. Hill will be picked on the third day – if he is at all.

» Punter Chas Henry will be drafted later than he should be.

When it comes to specialists, just being picked in the NFL Draft is usually an honor. Sometimes one has so much upside that they are selected extremely early (see kicker Sebastian Janikowski [No. 17 overall, 2000] and P Ray Guy [No. 23 overall, 1973]), but most of the time they are just lucky to be chosen in a middle round. Though Henry was the best collegiate punter in 2010 (and arguably 2009, too), his draft position will be based strictly on team need. His ability to serve as a viable back-up kicker should provide him a bit of additional value but chances are he is picked late on the third day.

» The vast majority of Gators will be undrafted free agents.

Due to red flags ranging from injuries to lack of production, the rest of Florida’s draft-eligible players may not know where they are headed for days, weeks or months depending how NFL teams decide to handle undrafted free agent signings in the face of the (recently lifted) lockout.

Offensive lineman Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt; running back Emmanuel Moody; wide receivers Carl Moore and Justin Williams; defensive ends Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens; defensive tackles Terron Sanders, Lawrence Marsh and Brandon Antwine; linebackers A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards; and long snapper John Fairbanks could all be picked up after the draft concludes. There is the chance that a select few (Johnson, Hurt, Moody, Moore, Trattou) could be selected in the sixth or seventh round due to potential long-term upside.

For LIVE COVERAGE of the 2011 NFL Draft, be sure to join us back here at OGGOA beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. and running through the conclusion of the event on Saturday.

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Florida spring practice will be closed to public

The Will Muschamp era of Florida Gators football will begin with a measure put in place that even former head coach Urban Meyer did not institute during his time in the orange and blue: 2011 spring practice will be closed to the public.

“With a new coaching staff here teaching our system, we feel like minimizing our distractions is important,’’ Muschamp said in an official statement. “We realize that there is high interest from the fans, and we are extremely appreciative of the support that The Gator Nation gives us. We hope that they understand that this decision has been made in the interest of helping our program be successful on Saturdays this fall by allowing our team to learn and develop together in this type of environment.

“We also respect that the media have a job to do and understand that this creates a challenge for them, so we ask for their patience with us as we work through our first spring practice here at Florida.’’

Fans will be able to get their first look at the new Gators team on April 9 at the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut spring game. The event will air live on Sun Sports beginning at noon. Tickets are free for students, Gator Boosters and members of the Alumni Association and F Club. A limited number of free tickets are available to the public; otherwise the cost is $5 per person.

Florida also announced Wednesday that Pro Day will be held for those players hoping to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft on March 15 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Among those expected to participated, according to UF, are center Mike Pouncey, safety Ahmad Black, punter Chas Henry and guard Carl Johnson.

OGGOA has previously been informed that running back Emmanuel Moody, defensive linemen Terron Sanders and Justin Trattou will also be participating along with a number of other former seniors/graduates.

In the past, Pro Day had been open to both the public and the media. This time around, only the media will be allowed to attend.

“Pro Day is an extremely important day for the career hopes of these players, and they’ve spent an enormous amount of time and energy preparing for it,” Florida associate athletics director for communications Steve McClain said in a release.

“We feel that creating a more private environment and minimizing potential distractions will help give them the best chance to perform up to their potential. We also feel like it’s become more important than ever for us to monitor who is around our team and student-athletes, and taking this step provides us an even greater ability to manage that.”

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Pitino, Joyer, Dunker

1 » It is quite obvious that former Florida Gators guard Carl Johnson is a large man. Florida fans have known this for quite some time and NFL folks got to see it for themselves during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine when he weighed in at an event-high 361 lbs. However, Johnson’s size is not solely due to eating habits or not working out but rather the medicine he takes to combat his Crohn’s Disease. “[It’s] like arthritis in your intestines,” he told the Palm Beach Post’s Ben Volin. “Crohn’s patients are known for dropping massive amounts of weight, like 20 pounds in a week. So [the medicine] makes me gain weight. It makes me retain water. But it also keeps me alive, so it’s a double-edged sword.” Luckily for Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard (who also has the disease) has been there for him from the beginning. Read more about his struggles with the disease and preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft.

2 » He may be a bit biased due to his son being an assistant on the team and the fact that he coached Florida head coach Billy Donovan while both were at Providence, but Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino tabbed the Gators as his dark horse candidate for a national title during a recent appearance on the Colin Cowherd show on ESPN Radio. “Everybody overlooks Florida,” he said. “Obviously Billy Donovan played for me, but I think Florida’s the type of team with three seniors in the front court with a very quick backcourt. They’re a team that could beat anyone on a given night. I look at Florida. Although they are ranked [12th] in the nation, nobody talks about them as a potential national champion. But they have the experience in their head coach, they have the experience in the frontcourt, the returning backcourt.”

3 » You have to be strong in order to play fullback and linebacker. You have to be even stronger to carry your family on your back when your mother suffers a cerebral aneurysm, undergoes multiple surgeries and has years of recovery ahead of her. Florida freshman FB Hunter Joyer is both after helping his family survive the frightening near-loss of his mom. “To have her there to be able to share in that moment was amazing,” Hunter said of his mom joining him on National Signing Day. “I couldn’t imagine how upset I would be if she wasn’t there. Signing with Florida was one of my lifelong dreams, and she was there to share it and take pictures with me.”

4 » Four-star tackle Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL) looks to be one of the top offensive lineman available in the 2012 recruiting class, and the Gators are already making a strong push for him. Having visited Florida for Junior Day already, Dunker was impressed with head coach Will Muschamp, the campus and town; he hopes to learn more about the school as he goes through the recruiting process. “I had a good time while they were showing me around,” Dunker told the Post. “I was driving through [Gainesville] and it seems like a place I could live.”

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