11 Gator Bites for Thursday, December 20

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» The New York Jets finally decided to bench quarterback Mark Sanchez after a five-turnover performance on Monday night. Despite the fact that Tim Tebow had been Sanchez’s back-up all season long, the team decided to promote third-stringer Greg McElroy to starter, leapfrogging Tebow and breaking a promise the team made to him when they traded for him in the offseason. When Denver was shopping Tebow and had equal offers from New York and Jacksonville, the player evaluated the situation to determine which would be his best destination. Sources close to the player told me at the time that Tebow chose the Jets for two reasons. New York told him that they would utilize him in a number of roles right away and that he would also get a legitimate chance to start for the Jets should Sanchez either be injured or benched. While the team did put him in occasionally as Wildcat quarterback and as a punt protector, he was barely used in the offense and never correctly. He was inactive the first time New York replaced Sanchez during a game and has now been jumped over by McElroy for the starting job this week.

» Sports Illustrated’s Peter King summed up the situation well Wednesday on Twitter: “I think what happened w/ Jets is they saw Tebow have some bad practices, then he wasn’t electric on early touches, and they gave up on him.” Putting it another way was ESPN’s Ed Werder, who tweeted: “Jets traded 2 draft choices, paid Broncos part of Tebow’s signing bonus, ignored Bronco performances, never gave him chance” With all of that being true, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian O’Connor went off on the franchise in his latest column. “The Jets used Tebow, and then abused him,” he wrote. “They used him to sell tickets and PSLs and steal a few more headlines from the local big-boy franchise that had just won another Super Bowl title. They abused him Tuesday by declaring that a seventh-round pick who has been inactive for 13 out of 14 games gives the Jets a better chance to do something they fail to do: win.” O’Connor also looked to Tebow’s record, noting that he was 8-4 last season before falling to New England in the playoffs and is 9-7 in 16 career starts, which included three with an interim coach and did not include last year’s victory in Miami when he came in for Kyle Orton. “How is he less qualified to face San Diego than McElroy, who has one moderately successful relief appearance behind him and who has eternal backup written all over him?”

Check out NINE more Gator Bites…after the break!
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SIX BITS: ESPN, Lattimore, Steelers, Henry, Noah

1 » Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Kirk Herbstreit broke down Saturday’s game between the No. 2 Florida Gators and No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks on the network.

2 » After releasing a star-filled injury report earlier in the week, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said Thursday that it looks like almost all of his big-name players will be in action on Saturday against Florida. The one exception, of course, is defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who has an injured shoulder but will also be suspended for punching a player during last week’s game against LSU. Running back Marcus Lattimore (hip) is still not slated to start but is expected to play after going through a full practice on Thursday. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (foot) is also good to go, as are a number of players who were hit with a flu bug over the course of the week, Spurrier said.

Check out four more BITS in this post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: ESPN, Lattimore, Steelers, Henry, Noah

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SIX BITS: Westbrook, Alli, Brantley, lax, Dunlap

1 » At a Gator Gathering in Orlando, FL on Tuesday, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp announced that sophomore Tevin Westbrook (6’5” 268 lbs.) will switch from defensive end to tight end over the summer. Westbrook, who appeared in three games as a true freshman but did not see much action in those contests, was one of the last players to commit to Florida in 2011 and did so knowing that he would not play much right away as the team had plans to develop his talents. There were rumors that Westbrook was considering transferring following the spring but he has apparently decided to take on this new challenge. He committed to UF over offers from Connecticut, North Carolina, Purdue and South Florida.

2 » Muschamp also touched on a number of other topics during the event. He noted that redshirt junior wide receiver Stephen Alli will miss approximately three months of action after having successful surgery on a stress fracture in his leg, depleting the team’s pass catchers even further, and added that linebacker Graham Stewart, who the school announced last week decided to transfer, will move on to UConn.

3 » Four-star defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, a pledge to the Gators since Jan. 28, wrote Monday on Facebook that he is now a soft commitment to Florida. UF’s third-highest rated recruit according to Rivals at No. 82 overall and best overall recruit according to ESPNU (No. 18), Brantley wanted to reassure Gators fans that while his commitment status has changed he is not planning to play for any other team but Florida. “I feel like I rushed myself into a commitment, that is all,” he told InsidetheGators.com of his decision to open his recruitment slightly. “Not ever, I am not decommitting,” he added. “Florida is at number one, like way in front of the pack, but then you have Bama at two and three is USC and Florida State.” Other schools have continued to recruit Brantley, but he was quick to note that the Gators have been in constant contact with him as well. In addition to visiting other campuses, Brantley also plans to speak with Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to get a better feeling of what Florida’s depth chart will look like upon his arrival.

4 » Gators lacrosse received a special distinction on Tuesday, just one day after learning they will be the No. 1 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. As the newest top 25 polls were released, Florida learned that they are the new unanimous No. 1 team in the country. UF took down previously top-ranked Northwestern for the second time this season on Saturday to win the 2012 ALC Tournament and is now both the fastest program in school history to receive a No. 1 ranking and the fastest program in collegiate women’s lacrosse history to earn that distinction. NCAA Tournament action for the Gators begins on May 12 at 1 p.m. against Albany.

5 » Cincinnati Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap is ready for his breakout. After leading Cincinnati in sacks as a rookie with 9.5 (all of which he registered in the final eight games of the season), Dunlap slowed down a bit in his sophomore campaign and only registered 4.5. Slowed by a foot injury in the preseason and a hamstring injury that nagged him over the final few games, he struggled to be completely healthy and consistently effective; Dunlap hopes to improve on both in 2012. “When you get there you expect to get the sack. It’s better to be there than not be there,” Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer of being around the quarterback but not bringing him down. “When I was starting to get them then the unfortunate situation [injury] happened. Now I want to have a complete season. The hamstring is one of those things that really doesn’t go away until you give it good rest. This year I didn’t want it holding me back.”

6 » Cleveland Indians outfielder Johnny Damon, an 18-year MLB veteran and long-time Gators fan who actually committed to Florida before deciding to play professionally, recently provided financial support to the UF College of Medicine in order to aid research opportunities. The $16,000 contribution from Damon’s foundation will be used to help study “a genetic condition called glycogen storage disease type III, which prevents children and adults from properly processing sugar stored in the body,” according to UF. Researchers are currently doing work on the Faroe Islands (where one in 3,000 people have the disease compared to one in 100,000 in the United States) to learn about the disease and determine if they can find a solution that could not only help people with the disease but also “potentially change the course of care for [people with] high blood pressure and other common conditions.”

“Johnny Damon has no connection to this disease, so his willingness to help means a lot to me,” said David Weinstein, M.D., a professor of pediatrics in the UF College of Medicine and director of the UF Glycogen Storage Disease Program. “We hear often about problems in sports, but we don’t frequently hear about athletes who go out of their way to help people. We could not do this without his support.”

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, LaPorta, Macklin, facilities

1 » Hobbled by migraine headaches throughout his life, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin believes that – finally – the nagging issue is behind him. “This is the best I’ve felt, probably, since I’ve been in kindergarten,” he told Ed Miller of The Virginian-Pilot. “I met a couple of doctors. There were a couple of things they found in my neck that I won’t get into – some things they found and fixed, along with diet and the rest of the things that can cause them. It’s been great, and knock on wood, it’ll continue.” Harvin, who had a scary episode during practice in Minnesota last year, has visited dozens of doctors and specialists and received even more explanations and treatments the migraines than he can count. He believes it has been five or six months since he last experienced one and hopes this streak continues permanently.

2 » Cleveland Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta, one of the best baseball players ever to wear a Florida Gators uniform, was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the club on Saturday after he severely sprained his ankle on Friday while caught in a rundown. LaPorta is currently hitting .242 with eight homers and 31 RBI.

3 » In an extensive question-and-answer session with Dime Magazine, Florida center Vernon Macklin touches on a number of topics including his workouts leading up to the 2011 NBA Draft, decision to transfer to the Gators, opinion of how he can succeed in the pros, and plans for draft day. Here are a few choice selections from the interview, which can be read in full right here.

Dime: Are you happy with the decision you made to come to Florida for two years after spending your first two at Georgetown?
VM: I’m pretty happy about it. I think Coach (Billy Donovan) took a great risk in taking me, transferring from a school and not playing as much. But I think I went in there and played hard for him for the two years. And I sat out a year, I learned a lot from him and a lot of guys. So I think it was a great fit.

Dime: How did it feel to make such a deep run in the NCAA Tournament?
VM: It was good. I’m happy we made the run. It’s been a while for Florida to be back and playing good basketball. So us making a run to the Elite Eight and being able to compete every single game in the tournament was great for us. It was also great for Coach Donovan and the whole program.

4 » Some more improvements are going to be made to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – both inside and out – in the next two-to-three years. According to The Gainesville Sun’s Nathan Crabble, Florida is looking to upgrade some of the Gators’ facilities in ways that will benefit both student-athletes and fans.

The board also approved a variety of renovation projects, some using $2.8 million in reserves and the rest using $15 million in bonds planned to be issued. Reserves will be spent on projects that include the resurfacing of the Percy Beard Track and the conversion of staff and JV locker rooms in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to football meeting rooms and a player lounge.

The bonds, which still must be approved by the Florida Board of Governors, would be spent on projects that include renovations to the gymnastics studio in the O’Connell Center and the baseball and softball stadium scoreboards. Renovations would be made to the west concourse of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that include changes to concession stands and bathrooms, [athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Brantley, Horschel, volleyball

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has already had a few eventful days in Florida in the month of July. On Saturday – teaming up with Florida’s Blood Centers, the Van Duzer Foundation and Palm Beach Autographs – the former Florida Gators star headlined a 12-hour blood drive in Fort Pierce, FL. Between meeting with fans, signing a ton of autographs (some of which can be purchased here) and speaking about his charities, Tebow entertained the crowd and kept fans wanting more. His First and 15 Foundation was also a featured part of a brand new playroom addition to Shands Children’s Hospital‘s pediatric cancer facility; the organization donated $156,000 used to buy high definition televisions, video game consoles and the like.

Five more BITS on John Brantley, golfer Billy Horschel and more…after the break!
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TWO BITS: LaPorta struggling, Harrison caught

1 » Former Florida Gators baseball star Matt LaPorta, now a starter with the Cleveland Indians, is struggling mightily in his first full season in MLB. The two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2005, 2007) batted .254 with seven home runs and 21 RBI in 52 games his rookie season (2009) but is not coming close to that pace this year. In 20 appearances, LaPorta is hitting .214 with no homers and only a single RBI to his name. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft was expected to be a source of power in the major leagues but has yet to live up to the expectations he had garnered. Cleveland acquired LaPorta as part of the trade that sent now-New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago.

2 » Fellow former Florida baseball player Ben Harrison is also struggling, but he is facing a very different type of conflict. On Friday, Harrison – who is currently a free agent in the minor leagues – was suspended 100 games for violating MiLB’s drug program. He was caught buying and using amphetamines, which were outlawed in MLB beginning in 2006. During his University of Florida career, Harrison hit 40 home runs and 192 RBI, ranking him second all-time in both categories behind arguably the best player in school history, the now-retired Brad Wilkerson.

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FOUR BITS: Brewer MIP, LaPorta, Jones, Couch

1 » As OGGOA mentioned two weeks ago, former Florida Gators guard/forward Corey Brewer is much improved one year after returning from surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament. Brewer is playing so well for the Minnesota Timberwolves, in fact, that he is in the running for the NBA’s 2010 Most Improved Player award. “It’s a confidence thing,” Brewer said of his improvement. “My rookie year was tough because I was going from one extreme system to another extreme system. I didn’t know where I could fit in. [...] That’s why I loved Florida because we pressed, I got to get out on the break, got a lot of dunks. Now to be able to do it in the NBA, to actually get some highlights, it’s good.”

Brewer also told The Gainesville Sun that he keeps a close eye on the Gators and is hopeful for the future. “They need a few more players,” he said. “Coach [Bill Donovan] has been doing a good job. Austin Rivers is going to be really good when he comes up. The big kid from Jacksonville [Patric Young] coming in, I like him. And then my man, Casey [Prather], he’s from Tennessee. I like him, athletic 6-4.”

Three more BITS on UF connections in the MLB, NCAAs and PGA…after the jump!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Brewer MIP, LaPorta, Jones, Couch

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FOUR BITS: Petrino vs. No. 1; Kiper’s Big Board; Harvin update; LSU cries about TD

1 » Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bobby Petrino will face a No. 1-ranked team for the first time in his coaching career Saturday afternoon when he takes on the Florida Gators. Losing to Florida 38-7 at home last season, Petrino and the Hogs have plenty of motivation to come back and attempt to take it to the Gators. Running back Michael Smith, who went for 133 yards against UF last season, tweaked his hamstring against the Auburn Tigers last week and is day-to-day.

2 » ESPN’s NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. has come out with his new Big Board, which lists his top 25 NFL prospects. Gators on the list include defensive end Carlos Dunlap at No. 7 (down one spot from last week) and middle linebacker Brandon Spikes at No. 19 (up one spot from last week).

3 » In a story that always seems to draw news, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin missed practice Wednesday. Harvin injured his shoulder last week against the St. Louis Rams but did not miss any game time.

4 » As if only scoring three points last Saturday night was not humiliating enough, the LSU Tigers have decided to be sore losers and ask Southeastern Conference officials to review Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper’s touchdown catch. Cooper grabbed the shirttail of cornerback Chris Hawkins and used it as leverage to get wide open in the end zone and catch a pass from quarterback Tim Tebow. The touchdown gave the Gators a 10-3 lead with 50 seconds left in the first half. “Yeah, we sent that in,” LSU head coach Les Miles said Tuesday. “I’m savoring the opportunity to call in there.”

Extra BIT » Cleveland Indians outfielder Matt LaPorta underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left hip and left big toe on Tuesday. It will take the former Gators first baseman 4-6 months to recover from the injuries, which may slow him down to start the 2010 season.

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