SIX BITS: NFL, Rainey, Beal, Rosario, track

1 » In addition to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey (who is expected to be released from his contract) and Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson (a restricted free agent), six other former Florida Gators currently under contract with NFL teams will be unrestricted free agents the day after the Super Bowl. Those players include Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Louis Murphy, Kansas City Chiefs LB Brandon Siler, Oakland Raiders guard Cooper Carlisle, Pittsburgh tackle Max Starks and Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman.

On rosters for Super Bowl XLVII are San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald and Baltimore Ravens WR Deonte Thompson. The end result and may very well come down to which quarterback stands out and makes as few mistakes as possible.

2 » Speaking of Rainey, the former Gators running back had his recent simple battery charge reduced to disorderly conduct by Alachua County Judge Walter Green after the State Attorney’s Office decided it did not have enough evidence to pursue the more serious offense. The judge withheld adjudication and fined Rainey $200 to go along with court costs of $300 for the offense, effectively ending the legal issue, according to Florida Today. The alleged victim in the case denied that Rainey hit her the day after his arrest and contradicting statements from witnesses made the state’s case inconclusive. The Steelers announced the day of Rainey’s arrest that they had decided to waive him; however, NFL transactions made during the postseason cannot be completed until after the Super Bowl. With the charges being significantly reduced, Pittsburgh could theoretically have a change of heart or consider bringing Rainey back on a cheaper free agent contract.

Check out four more BITS of Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: NFL, Rainey, Beal, Rosario, track

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TWO BITS: Coaching hires = spots for Tebow?

1 » On Monday, OGGOA opined via Twitter that the Chicago Bears potentially hiring Montreal Alouettes (CFL) head coach Marc Trestman could open up another potential destination for former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow (as a reserve). Two days later, in the wee hours of the morning, Trestman’s hiring was announced. So what exactly is the connection between these two? Not only did Trestman work as Tebow’s quarterback coach and consultant in his training before joining the NFL as a rookie, the coach adamantly defended the player on numerous occasions and propped up his ability to transform into a solid signal caller at the next level.

“I believe, in the right environment, Tim Tebow will figure this out,” he told The Morning Journal in April 2010. “He doesn’t have explosive arm strength, but he has more than adequate arm strength to throw the ball in the NFL and make all the throws. I saw him do something totally different in seven or eight days. I can only imagine what he’s going to do in one year or two years, because he’s going to outwork everybody else and find a way to figure it out.”

He continued, “If you’re a coach and you love coaching quarterbacks, you’d love the opportunity to develop Tim Tebow. That’s going to be the question. Guys are going to be asking themselves, ‘Wouldn’t I love to go to work every day and coach this kid? Is there enough there I can work with to make this happen in our system?’ When I go into that room with him he’s going to demand of me all the help I could give him, and he’s going to want me to demand of him everything he can give us. It’s a beautiful thing, because it all begins in the quarterback room.”

Whether or not Trestman will consider bringing Tebow in as a second- or third-string developmental quarterback during his first year as a NFL head coach remains to be seen. Tebow has become toxic to some in league circles because of the pressure his fan base levies against a team and how the New York Jets handled him this season. But a strong coach who is willing to say up front that Tebow is being added as a developmental player could succeed with him long-term.

2 » “Read option” is the phrase of the year in the NFL and with so many teams having success with mobile quarterbacks that use their legs nearly as often as their arms, Tebow may very well find a home somewhere as a backup in one of those situations. Another potential landing spot that will be using some form of the spread offense in 2013 is the Philadelphia Eagles, which just hired Oregon head coach Chip Kelly on Wednesday. The team already has Michael Vick under contract through 2015 and will likely be drafting a young, mobile signal caller to back him up but might still have a spot for a player like Tebow on the roster. Just weeks after it looked like Tebow may no longer have a home in the NFL, some interesting opportunities have most certainly opened up. Whether any of them have legitimate interest in the former Heisman Trophy winner is another story altogether.

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FOUR BITS: Brown, Dunlap, Hernandez, Caldwell

1 » Out of the NFL last season, former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown decided to call it quits and will make it official on Thursday when he signs a one-day contract with the Chicago Bears and retires from the league. Brown, who will sign his final contract on the day of Chicago’s first preseason game, was the No. 104 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Bears and became a start defender for the team. He registered 411 tackles, 45.5 sacks, five interceptions, 43 pass defenses and 17 forced fumbles over his nine-year career, the first eight of which he spent in Chicago. “This is pretty special,” Brown told the Chicago Tribune of the Bears offering him a one-day contract to retire. “It shows a level of respect. I appreciate the club and I think they appreciate what I was able to do while I was here, representing the team and their brand as far as the Chicago Bears. I did it and I did it proudly. I tried to play football the right way. I hope people always felt I played my butt off and played the game the right way and kept my nose clean off the field.”

2 » Another former Gators defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, has been coming on strong in his third training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals. Dunlap is looking to have a breakout year in his third NFL season and is putting all he can into camp this time around. “As a pass rusher you want to be at the top. I haven’t done that yet,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Whoever is at the top is not always the same, but I want to be up there with the best of them and crack that 10 [sacks] number. I was coming off the bench before and now I’m going to be a starter. That should help me get in a rhythm during the game.” Dunlap is being tasked with remaining healthy and being an every-down player; he has been showing the coaching staff that he can be exactly what they need going forward. “So far he’s been very good and done everything right,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “Last year it took him about four days before he got started going down. Right now he’s still going in the right direction, so that’s a good sign.”

3 » The New England Patriots may have just re-signed tight end Rob Gronkowski to a huge contract but it is TE Aaron Hernandez whose role the team is desperately trying to expand. According to ESPNBoston.com, Hernandez has been “on fire” and “explosive” to start training camp. Not only is he hauling in plenty of passes, Hernandez has been used as a punt returner by the Patriots and is also staying late after practice to take hand-offs from quarterback Tom Brady. Hernandez is even receiving love from often frosty head coach Bill Belichick, who kissed him on the elbow (picture) last Friday. “I had a little bruise on my elbow and I was whining about it, and he was just showing me the love of a father figure and gave me a kiss on the elbow,” he told the Boston Globe. The love Hernandez truly wants to see is in the form of millions of dollars handed to him as a contract extension, though that may not be coming for quite some time.

4 » One former Florida offensive star may no longer be with the Denver Broncos but that is not stopping one of the team’s newest acquisitions, wide receiver Andre Caldwell, from shining. According to the Denver Post, Caldwell is getting along famously with new QB Peyton Manning thanks to his speed and sure hands; he may even be in line for a starting job. “There’s a place for me in this offense to make big plays to help this team win,” he said. “When Denver made that move at quarterback, this spot became a No. 1 priority.” Caldwell had some great moments but was never a consistent producer with Cincinnati, something that he hopes he can become in Denver now that a lingering injury is no longer a problem. “I mean, two years went by. I kept getting treatment. It kept not getting better and finally the pain got so bad I couldn’t even really sleep through the night,” he explained. “So I finally went to see a specialist, and he checks me out and said, ‘You’ve got a sports hernia, and it needs to be taken care of.’ Right then, I just felt that relief, like a huge weight was off. I know I can be one of those impact guys and now my body’s right. I’m with this team, with this quarterback. This is big.”

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TWO Video BITS: Brown on Saints, Noah on Fela

1 » Former Florida Gators, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Brown appeared on ESPN2’s Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable on Tuesday to discuss playing for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who he said was “wrongfully suspended”) and bounties in the NFL (among numerous other topics like the worst thing he did as a child and his first kiss). “It’s football. It’s not golf now. That’s what we have to understand: That it is football and it was built around hits and that’s what we do.”

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, currently on the bench while nursing a serious ankle sprain while his team competes in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, was featured in a video by OkayAfrica on Tuesday. In the clip, Noah discusses Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti, how his music has impacted his life and how he shared a bond with President Barack Obama over Fela one year ago.

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SIX BITS: NFL injuries, Tebow, Munroe, women

1 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the team’s leading receivers this year with 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns through two games, sprained his MCL during Sunday afternoon’s game and will be out of action at least 1-2 weeks, according to the Boston Globe. Also injured on Sunday was Chicago Bears free safety Major Wright, who was hit hard in his contest and was removed from the field with what was considered a head injury. After further evaluation, Wright was diagnosed with a “stiff neck” and not a concussion, which means he does not have to miss his team’s next game. However, Wright may not start anyway as, according to the Chicago Tribune, the team is considering moving Brandon Meriweather into the starting role.

2 » Denver Broncos second-year player Tim Tebow has yet to see the field as a quarterback in 2011 after leading his team to a 1-2 record in three starts to conclude the 2010 season. However, Tebow got into his team’s game on Sunday as a wide receiver due to injuries to some of the other players. According to NBC Sports, Tebow asked the coaching staff if he could play receiver on the scout team rather than do nothing during practice. The coaches agreed and allowed him to fill the role and he wound up playing out wide on Sunday as a result. Head coach John Fox said Monday that the Broncos only consider Tebow a quarterback and have no plans to play him at receiver going forward.

3 » Former Florida Gators safety Dorian Munroe, who OGGOA recently profiled as we broke the story that he would be playing for the Toronto Varsity Blues of OUA Canadian college football, was interviewed in a profile piece on The Score out of Canada. Through three games with Toronto, Munroe has 13 tackles and an interception.

4 » In unrelated Tebow news, he told the Associated Press last week that, while he appreciated the support of fans who were raising money for billboards declaring that he should start for Denver, he hoped they were “going to do the right thing” with the money and donate it to charity. Fox, asked about the billboard, said, “I’ve seen a lot of billboards and I can’t remember one that really influenced me.”

5 » No. 9 Florida soccer (8-2) ended its non-conference slate over the weekend with a pair of decisive road victories. On Friday, the Gators defeated the Missouri Tigers (7-2) behind a pair of goals by freshman midfielder Annie Speese at 43’ and 86’. Sunday’s 7-2 blowout of the Kansas Jayhawks (6-3) was a total team effort with six different players scoring. Speese added her third goal of the weekend at 20’, but freshman forward Tahnai Annis opened and closed the contest with goals at 9’ and 89’. Florida will continue its four-game road trip with a pair of games against Georgia (Friday) and Tennessee (Sunday) as they open Southeastern Conference play. UF will then return to Gainesville, FL for a five-game homestand.

6 » No. 6/7 Gators volleyball (8-2, 1-0 SEC) began league play on Friday with a 3-0 shutout (25-20, 25-18, 26-24) of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-5, 0-1 SEC) on the road in Starkville, MS. Senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy, who was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts, posted a triple-double with 10 kills, 19 assists and 11 digs in the match. Also excelling Friday was senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel, who led the team with 14 kills on the evening. After playing their last three matches on the road, Florida will return home for a two contests next weekend against Kentucky (Friday) and Tennessee (Sunday) before hitting the road the following weekend.

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4 BITS: Taylor retires, volleyball, Baker, Brown

1 » Former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor, a 13-year NFL veteran who spent the majority of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, will sign a one-day contract with the team on Friday and officially announce his retirement. Taylor – who has rushed for 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns while catching 290 passes for 2,384 yards and eight touchdowns – was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2007 who is only one of 30 players in league history to have rushed for more than 10,000 yards. He was a three-time Southeastern Conference champion (1994-96) and one-time national champion (1996) at Florida and was named as a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC member in 1997. A member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, Taylor spent his first 10 years in the NFL with Jacksonville before playing his final two seasons with the New England Patriots. The No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, he is Jacksonville’s all-time leader in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns.

OGGOA will have more on Taylor’s retirement on Friday. Stay tuned.

2 » Looking to avenge a come-from-behind victory by the Gators in the Sweet 16 of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, No. 25 Florida State Seminoles volleyball strode into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on a mission Tuesday evening. Fortunately for No. 9 Florida (3-0), the Gators were able to push back their opponents and sweep the Seminoles 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-22) in front of a school-record 1,901 students (total attendance: 4,631). Florida has won all nine sets in which they’ve played this season and continues to claw their way to victory each match. Senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy notched a triple-double in the contest with 12 kills, 10 digs and 17 assists. The trio of senior middle-back Cassandra Anderson (eight), senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell (seven) and senior OH Kristy Jaeckel (six) combined for 21 kills on the evening as the Gators improved to 28-2 against FSU under head coach Mary Wise.

3 » Former Gators wide receiver Dallas Baker is set to make his debut with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL on Sunday and is excited for his opportunity to get back on the field. Baker, who was signed by the Montreal Alouettes in April but traded to Saskatchewan in August, only played in three games with the former team and caught just three balls for 28 yards. He found himself on the bench with the Roughriders and now, after a teammate got injured, he will finally get back on the field. “I’ve always been a guy who’s been in a situation like this, so [waiting] really wasn’t tough at all,” Baker told The Regina Leader-Post. “It was all about being patient and that’s something that I was used to.” Baker also spoke to the paper about his uncle and fellow former Florida star Wes Chandler. “When I got drafted, he was like, ‘Hey, that’s the easy part,’” he recalled. “I thought it was the hard part. He told me the things to do to be a professional athlete. He told me to never get complacent. He also told me, ‘Watch and learn. If you see a vet do something, that doesn’t mean you can do it – especially if you know it’s wrong. [...] But if you see a vet do something like staying late watching film, pick up on that.’”

4 » Though he was released by the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, former Gators defensive end Alex Brown has already heard from at least three teams who are interested in his services this year. “I talked with my agent, and three teams have made contact,” Brown said on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for my family and what’s a really good situation for me to go in. I would love to go play in a 4-3, so there are a lot of teams out there that still run a 4-3 that could use a defensive end that still has a little bit left. So hopefully I can find a good place that my family and I can feel comfortable with.” One possible destination? The team that drafted him – the Chicago Bears. “It would be crazy to do another Gator Chomp in Soldier Field. That would be nuts,” he said.

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4 NFL BITS: Brown, Lemmens, Spikes, Black

1 » In a surprising move on Tuesday, the New Orleans Saints released former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown. A nine-year NFL veteran who spent the first eight years of his career with the Chicago Bears, Brown was signed by New Orleans as a free agent in 2010 and notched 39 tackles (32 solo) with a forced fumble and two sacks as a 16-game starter. He held the same position through the first three preseason games and worked with the first-team defense in every practice this offseason. “It saddens me to say that I have been released from the Saints because [they're] a first class organization and I will miss it,” he wrote on Twitter. “Good luck to the guys and Who Dat Nation keep roaring… My family and I had a blast here.. Thanks.” Brown joins DE Bobby McCray and offensive tackle Max Starks as big-name free agents currently available with Florida ties.

2 » Also receiving bad news was former Gators linebacker Duke Lemmens, an undrafted free agent who found out Tuesday that his contract with the Arizona Cardinals had been terminated. Lemmens played in the team’s first three preseason games and made a number of tackles but was one of many players the team released in this round of cuts.

3 » New England Patriots LB Brandon Spikes had not practiced or played with the team since Aug. 4 but finally returned to the field on Tuesday according to reports from numerous media outlets. Spikes has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury but is expected to see some time in the team’s preseason finale at home on Thursday. He played in 12 games with eight starts during his rookie season and was fifth on New England with 71 tackles (41 solo) and an interception. He was suspended for four games in 2010 for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

4 » Another player out for an extended period of time was former Florida safety Ahmad Black, a fifth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2011 NFL Draft. Black suffered a high ankle sprain in the team’s preseason opener and has missed numerous practices and both subsequent preseason games since. There are rumors that Black could be cut soon because the team is only planning to keep four safeties and he has not had much of a time to make an impression, but head coach Raheem Morris has said previously that he believed Black was one of the steals of the draft. “I know he’s going to try to go this week,” Morris said, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “But it’d be hard right now for him to go out there and do some things, especially with the way Larry Asante’s playing, and Corey Lynch. Those guys played their butts off this preseason, not to mention our starters. It’ll be tough. You’d like to see him out there.” Black could always be a candidate for the practice squad in a worst-case scenario.

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FOUR BITS: Blakely, Wright, Goble, The Voice

1 » In a conversation with Rivals affiliate AuburnSports.com, former Florida Gators running back Mike Blakely discussed at length his departure from the team and decision to transfer to the team he actually wanted to play for, the Auburn Tigers. “On signing day, I didn’t even want to sign,” he said. “I didn’t even want to put my name on the paper. But I saw the boys around me doing it and I was like, ‘Might as well do it.’ I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I signed and regretted it.” Blakely says that, contributing to his displeasure, was the head coaching change from Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp, the offense switching from the spread to pro-style, and having (what he thought at the time was) unnecessary surgery on his shoulder.

Now looking back on his short time with the Gators, Blakely has fond memories of his former teammates and Muschamp, who he says he appreciates, respects and will still call ‘Coach’ whenever he sees him. Blakely goes into great detail about his situation and has plenty to say; click here to read the rest of the story.

2 » The NFL is currently investigating the usage of images of a handful of its players by Exxxotica Expo 2011 in promoting its May event in Miami, FL. According to the ABC affiliate WLS-TV in Chicago, IL, an on-the-field picture of former Florida now Chicago Bears safety Major Wright was used in advertisements for the event. Billed as one of the party’s hosts, Wright was featured in the ad alongside pictures of players from the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Though Wright cannot personally be held liable, the Bears are upset that their team was featured on the ad, and the NFL is bothered by the company violating licensing rights. “While Wright could not be reached, he is a fixture in Miami’s South Beach party scene, and he appears in ads and videos as the host of similar club events,” WLS-TV reports.

3 » Gators assistant women’s golf coach Jay Goble has been named head coach of the Baylor Bears. From the University of Florida: “Florida reached the postseason and improved in each of Goble’s three seasons in Gainesville. In 2009, the Orange and Blue finished 16th in the NCAA East Regional, eight spots shy of the top-eight finish needed to qualify for the NCAA Championships. The following season, the Gators placed 11th in the NCAA East Regional and in the 2011 NCAA East Regional, secured a berth in the NCAA Championships after landing in seventh.”

4 » Whether or not you are a fan of the new singing competition The Voice on NBC, it was interesting to learn Tuesday night that the show features a pair of connections to Florida. Kendra Andrews, the fiery redheaded sister of ESPN reporter and former UF dazzler Erin Andrews, is not only the main choreographer on the program, she also appears from time-to-time as a backup dancer (including last night during the second-to-last performance). Additionally, Casey Weston, a singer on Adam Levine’s team, is the sister of Gators junior volleyball player Sundai Weston. Should you wish to vote for her, you can do so up to 10 times (for free now through Monday) by calling 1-855-VOICE-02. Good luck to both ladies for the duration of the program.

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