Will Hill to forgo senior season, enter NFL Draft

Florida Gators junior safety Will Hill has decided to forgo his final season of NCAA eligibility and plans to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft, a source close to the team and a separate source close to the player confirmed to OGGOA on Wednesday.

Hill – a five-star recruit and PARADE All-American who was a consensus top-five high school football player in the country in 2007 – totaled 132 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack in three seasons at Florida.

He was chosen to the SEC All-Freshmen Team in 2008 after leading the Gators with 22 special team tackles including three in the 2009 BCS National Championship. Hill made five starts at safety in 2009 and once again led UF in special teams tackles (13).

As a junior in 2010, Hill caught two interceptions against Georgia including one in overtime that helped lead Florida to victory. (He also grabbed another on a two-point conversion attempt in the same contest.) He was suspended for the first two games of the season (disciplinary reasons) and sat out the beginning of the 2011 Outback Bowl.

OGGOA first reported following the bowl game that Hill left the field immediately after the final whistle and did not celebrate with his teammates or outgoing coaches. Most around the program did not expect him to remain with the team in 2011.

Projected to be a top junior NFL prospect before the season began, Hill was named to the 2010 Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list but failed to live up to the expectations of both draft analysts and fans. ESPN grades Hill as a 68 in its “draftable defensive backs” projections, eight points below teammate and senior S Ahmad Black (76). His rating could improve significantly with a nice showing at the combine.

Fellow junior, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, is also expected to declare for the draft. The University of Florida will release statements when each player makes his intention to pursue a professional football career official.

UPDATE (1/10/11 at 5 p.m.): Since we first reported this story, Jenkins has decided to remain at UF and will not be entering the draft.

Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press

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Tebow makes rounds on Denver radio Tuesday

Now that he has survived his first minicamp with the Denver Broncos, former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow is, according to a radio show producer, back in Tennessee working out until the team reconvenes in a few weeks. To keep Tebowmania going throughout Colorado, he called in to two radio talk shows Tuesday morning, each interview having to be pushed back because of a personal workout.

With Gary and Vic of ESPN 1600 waiting for him to call in at 7:40 a.m. (MDT), his publicist moved him back to 8:30 a.m., eliciting the following joking banter from the hosts during the commercial break: “Jesus has him at 8:00, Mary Magdalene has him at 8:15, and he’s building an orphanage at 8:20.” Upon his call-in about an hour later, they told a producer off the air to “start a conversation with him…talk about rosary beads or something.” However, before he went back-and-forth with Gary and Vic, Tebow spoke to the guys with The Score on AM 1510 at 8:20 a.m.

After the break are some notable quotes from his two radio appearances:
Continue Reading » Tebow makes rounds on Denver radio Tuesday

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FOUR BITS: Tebow & McDaniels, Stamper, Patriots

1 » Apparently the already close relationship between former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and his new head coach, Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos, was like an old-fashioned story – love at first sight. The Denver Post reports that occurrence took place at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine when the two met in a private room along with other Broncos’ staffers. “I was jacked leaving that room. I didn’t even want to visit another room. It was not enough time,” Tebow said. “We were excited, we were enthusiastic. There was passion. It was just intense, and it was ball, and it was juice. The juice level in that room was high, and it was awesome.”

2 » Two bulging discs in his back prevented former Gators linebacker Ryan Stamper from showing teams what he was made of prior to the 2010 NFL Draft – even though there was plenty of interest. What his injury did not faze was the Detroit Lions’ interest in signing him to an undrafted free agent contract. “It was frustrating to sit back while everybody else was working out,” Stamper told the Orlando Sentinel. “All teams had on me was game film and they kept saying they wanted to see me live. It was impossible to work out because every time I tried, it felt like I couldn’t walk the next day.”

3 » The New England Patriots drafted three former Florida players over the weekend – defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez. However, only one of the three already has ties (albeit limited ones) to the area. According to a variety of reports, Spikes has been dating Callie Rivers, a volleyball player at UF who happens to be the daughter of Boston Celtics‘ coach Doc Rivers and brother of former Gators five-star basketball commitment Austin Rivers. Needless to say, her father is happy to have Spikes close and even gave Patriots head coach Bill Belichick a recommendation. “Big guy, big for an inside linebacker,” Belichick told the Boston Herald. “Very highly respected […] and, of course, came with a good recommendation from Doc. Of course, I appreciate that. He can keep an eye on him up here, keep his daughter a little closer to home.”

4 » Already a close personal friend with Gators head coach Urban Meyer, Belichick spoke fondly of the Florida football program when asked why he drafted three players from it over the weekend. “[When] we were in Florida, I felt like we were working out half of the first and second round,” he said. “We saw all those guys […] it was the day after their Pro Day down there. It was a good meeting like it always is with Florida. Those kids are very focused on football. Football’s important to them. They’re in a good program. It’s important for them to win. They know what they are doing. They’ve worked hard both on and off the field. They’re extremely well-coached by Coach Meyer and his staff, so it’s a lot of fun to sit down and talk football with them.”

Extra Bit » Former Gators cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis has been given a tryout with the New York Giants and will attend the team’s mini camp hoping to earn a contract, according to the Naples News.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Gators WR Riley Cooper falls to fifth round of 2010 NFL Draft, picked up by Eagles with pick No. 159

Round 5 – No. 159
Riley Cooper, WR
Philadelphia Eagles


Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 222 lbs.
Age: 22 – Class: Senior

His solid showings at the 2010 Senior Bowl, 2010 NFL Scouting Combine and University of Florida‘s Pro Day left many believing he would be taken in the second day of the 2010 NFL Draft. Instead, former Florida Gators wide receiver Riley Cooper fell until the fifth round before being scooped up by the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 159 overall selection.

Marred with injuries at the beginning of his Florida career, Cooper left the Gators with 81 receptions for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns. He started every game his senior season, hauling in 51 balls for 961 yards and nine scores as the team’s top wide receiver.

The selection of Cooper marks the second-straight year Philadelphia has picked a Florida pass catcher in the fifth round. The Eagles chose tight end Cornelius Ingram (who sat out the season after re-injuring his ACL) with the No. 153 overall pick in 2009.

Cooper was the ninth former Gator selected this year’s draft (tops of any school), and the seventh Florida receiver chosen since 2006.

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Major upgrade for Bears as Wright is only Gators’ player taken in third round of 2010 NFL Draft

Round 3 – No. 75
Major Wright, S
Chicago Bears


Height: 5’11” – Weight: 206 lbs.
Age: 21 – Class: Junior

The Chicago Bears waited patiently for almost two full days before making their first selection of the 2010 NFL Draft, using the No. 75 overall pick in the third round to select former Florida Gators safety Major Wright.

He was the first Florida player at his position to be drafted since Reggie Nelson (No. 21, Jacksonville Jaguars – 2007) and goes to a team which hopes he can step in and play right away.

“You hate to talk about rookies being one of the starters right away,” Chicago head coach Lovie Smith said when discussing Wright, “but […] he’s our first pick. We’re expecting big things from him.”

Wright was explosive for the Gators in 2008 but experienced reduced playing time in 2009 when the team decided to utilize three safeties. His decision to declare for the draft was seen as a mistake by many in Gator Nation, but his stock rose with each passing event as he was impressive at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine and Florida’s Pro Day.

He is the first Gators player to be selected by the Bears since the team took three former University of Florida student-athletes in 2003: quarterback Rex Grossman (first round), defensive tackle Ian Scott and safety Todd Johnson (both fourth round).

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DE Cunningham starts second round of 2010 NFL Draft for Gators; picked No. 53 overall by Patriots

Round 2 – No. 53
Jermaine Cunningham, DE
New England Patriots


Height: 6’3″ – Weight: 266 lbs.
Age: 21 – Class: Senior

The Florida Gators tied a team record with three players selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft Thursday evening, but it took over 90 minutes Friday until one of their players received a phone call by a team the second round. That is when the New England Patriots submitted their draft card for defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, making him the No. 53 overall selection in the draft.

Missing the majority of the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine and the Gators’ first Pro Day with an injured shoulder, Cunningham impressed scouts at his semi-private outing and was all but guaranteed to go during the second day of the draft. His versatility as a 4-3 down lineman and 3-4 outside linebacker (where the Patriots will likely use him) made him attractive to a number of scouts.

“It doesn’t matter [what position I play],” Cunningham told OGGOA when we spoke on April 17. “When people ask me, I tell them that when it all comes down to it, I’m a football player. Put me at linebacker. Put me at defensive end. When the ball’s snapped, I’m just going to go for the person with the ball. Whatever position it is that the team [puts me at], all they need to know is that they are going to get a player who is going to go out there and work hard.”

He was called “one of the most polished/productive pass rushers in this draft” and a “real steal” by former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, who OGGOA also interviewed last week.

Unconcerned with projections made by front office personnel, Cunningham remains confident in his ability to succeed at the next level.

“That’s where you go wrong – when you start to worry about what everybody else is saying,” he said. “I’ve heard some things. But, when it comes down to it, you just have to wait until your name is called.”

His name was called Friday by New England head coach Bill Belichick, who has a close personal relationship with Florida head coach Urban Meyer; Belichick would go on to add another former Gators defensive star to his roster later in the night.

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Browns nab Gators CB Joe Haden with No. 7 overall pick in first round of 2010 NFL Draft

Round 1 – No. 7
Joe Haden, CB
Cleveland Browns


Height: 5’11” – Weight: 193 lbs.
Age: 20 – Class: Junior

Months of speculation came to an end Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns selected former Florida Gators cornerback Joe Haden with the No. 7 overall pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. In attendance at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY, Haden’s eyes swelled up when he received the phone call from Cleveland before he took the stage with gusto to take a picture with league commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Browns had been drooling over Haden since at least March 1, with general manager Tom Heckert making his intentions known rather publicly. “I think Haden is a heck of a football player,” Heckert said. “He’s probably one of the top corners, if not the top corner in the draft. He’s played at a big-time program, and they won a ton of games. He’s going to go early.”

Considering Haden has only been playing cornerback for three years (he set Maryland state high school records as a quarterback), his emergence as a shut-down corner in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference became the stuff of legends around the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, which he completed with less than stellar reviews after posting slow 40-yard dash times.

Haden corrected his speed at Florida’s Pro Day, impressing those in attendance including almost the entire Cleveland front office. Team president Mike Holmgren and head coach Eric Mangini met with Haden shortly after his Pro Day for a private workout and invited him to visit the team facility on April 6.

If the team’s comments are any indication, Haden has a legitimate shot to start as a rookie in 2010 opposite CB Eric Wright with veteran Sheldon Brown moving to safety; should he not be ready right away, he could play in nickel and dime packages until he is able to step in to a starting role.

The fourth defensive player from the University of Florida to be drafted in the top 10, Haden is also the highest-selected Gators cornerback of all-time.

WHAT HADEN SAID
Press Conference Transcript
Press Conference Audio
“I am just trying to soak it all up. It’s crazy. Just a dream come true. I feel like this is like a blessing. I definitely had a good idea about that when I talked to [team president Mike] Holmgren. He definitely was telling me that they were really, really interested in taking me at No. 7. And once he told me that, it just made me have a sigh of relief. Then once I left my visit in Cleveland, I really didn’t have contact with anyone from Cleveland, so I didn’t know if they just stopped liking me or what happened so I just came in here didn’t know what was going on.”

WHAT THEY SAID
Press Conference Transcript
General manager Tom Hickert: “Joe was a guy we spent a lot of time with and evaluating. He’s a bigger corner that can really play the run, good cover ability. He’s a smart kid and he’s tough. He’s a guy we liked all along.”

Head coach Eric Mangini: “He did a great job the day he visited. You could feel the intensity, feel the passion, how much he cared about playing football and continue to improve. It was real. I don’t think there was anybody that met him that didn’t feel that way.”

Head coach Urban Meyer: “I’m happy for Joe and his family. He is one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever coached. He came to Florida as an offensive skill player who never played cornerback. He approached the coaching staff about changing positions because he wanted to get on the field. Despite not playing cornerback in high school he developed into one of the best ever to play his position at the University of Florida and is now a first-round draft pick in the NFL.”

THINGS TO READ
– Haden Browns choice at No. 7
– Heckert, Mangini intrigued by Haden
– Cleveland Browns select Florida cornerback Joe Haden in 2010 NFL Draft
– Cleveland Browns don’t get their safety, so they go with the safe pick
– Joe Haden joins Cleveland Browns with strong endorsement from teammate Tim Tebow
– Cleveland Browns find a defensive playmaker, and that decision is hard to argue
– Browns don’t buy buzz, go ahead with Haden pick

VIDEO
Haden on stage at 2010 NFL Draft with Commissioner Roger Goodell

Heckert and Mangini talk about picking Haden

Cleveland Plain-Dealer writers discuss the Browns’ selection of Haden

OGGOA will continue updating this story.

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Ex-pro scout on Gators in 2010 NFL Draft (Part II)

With just under a week to go before the 2010 NFL Draft, OGGOA sat down with former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah of Move The Sticks for a second time pick his brain about departed Florida Gators players eligible to be selected from April 22-24. Jeremiah first spoke with us before the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine on Feb. 24 and was completely candid in our discussion, pointing out qualities he liked in each player while explaining why certain Gators might fall further than some may expect. In addition to his website, Jeremiah also offers comprehensive NFL scouting coverage on Twitter.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us. Things certainly seem to have been going fast for you over the last month or so. Tell us about what you will be doing with ESPN during the draft.
DANIEL JEREMIAH: I’m going to be in Bristol [ESPN’s headquarters] for the entire draft week. I will be helping provide analysis for both First Take and ESPNews.

AS: OK…let’s get into the Gators. In our first conversation, you had cornerback Joe Haden as a top ten pick who many would consider to be top three if he was 6’1” because of his speed, toughness and instincts. He ran slow at the combine but improved at Florida’s Pro Day. Some now see the Cleveland Browns passing on him at No. 7 overall (especially if they trade up) and him falling potentially as low as No. 14 to the Seattle Seahawks. What happened?
DJ: I think this is a very good draft class. When you have so many talented players to choose from, need becomes more of a factor. I can’t see him sliding past 14.

Read more of his thoughts the rest of the Florida Gators after the break!
Continue Reading » Ex-pro scout on Gators in 2010 NFL Draft (Part II)

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