Gator Bites for Monday, June 18

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.

» A rough senior season at the center position made many Florida Gators fans skeptical that Mike Pouncey could play the position as well as his twin brother. But after one year as the starting center for the Miami Dolphins, those questions no longer exist as Pouncey has proven that he can perform at a Pro Bowl level (though he did not make it to the game in 2011). Now he is focused on getting even better and told the Sun-Sentinel it all starts with eating better. “I can get away with [eating fast food], but I changed it up this year just trying to eat more leaner stuff,” he said. “I hired a chef, so it’s been working well for me.” Pouncey also feels the zone blocking scheme the Dolphins will be employing in 2012 and beyond will benefit him and the offense; he expects a breakout season for himself. “They say your second year is supposed to be your best year,” he said. “I’m hoping for big things. I’m coming out as hard as I can. I want to take on more of a leadership role this year.”

» Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan has been working with the United States U18 National Team over the last few weeks and began action in the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship with his squad on Saturday. Donovan’s young squad is already 2-0 in international competition with a 105-42 victory over the Virgin Islands on Saturday and a 110-59 win over Mexico on Sunday. The U.S. will take on Brazil on Monday to conclude first-round action with the semifinals taking place Tuesday and the championship being held on Wednesday. Donovan’s squad needs to place in the top four teams at the end of the event in order to advance to the 2013 FIBA World Championship next summer. “I told them there are three things we want to accomplish. First and foremost, win a gold medal. Second, we’ve got a lot of guys on our team going into college and we want them to get maybe a bit more prepared than some other incoming freshmen for what they’re going to face in college. And third, we want to help them get better as players,” Donovan told the Sporting News before leaving for Brazil.

» Gators linebacker Neiron Ball, who missed the entire 2011 season after a blood vessel burst in his brain and he was diagnosed with a hereditary vascular condition, was officially cleared to participate in all football activities by team doctors on Friday. Ball had previously announced on March 1 that he had medical clearance from doctors to return to action, but head coach Will Muschamp cautioned in April and May that while he had returned to work out with the team that he was not a full participant and was still awaiting an additional clearance. Now that Ball is good to go, he will compete for immediate playing time at Buck linebacker, a position with a major depth issue now that junior Ronald Powell is out until at least mid-October with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

» Florida track & field coach Mike Holloway was awarded his first Coach of the Year honor for the outdoor season by the USTFCCCA on Thursday. He had previously won the award in consecutive years for the indoor season (2010-11). Holloway’s men’s team swept the 2012 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships this season.

Read six more Gator Bites…after the break!

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FOUR BITS: Leak, Harvin, Starks, Gilbert

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has yet to find a permanent team to play with as a professional. After playing only one preseason game in the NFL, he has spent the last four years in the CFL with three different teams. His running around in the great white north has finally coming to an end if a report from the Florida Times-Union is to be believed. According to the paper, the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL are planning to sign Leak to be the team’s new starting quarterback. The ArenaBowl XXIV Champions, Jacksonville will be losing its 41-year-old veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia to another team and is looking for someone to come in and take his place. Should Leak sign with the Sharks, he will be the third former Gators player on the team in as many years, following cornerback Dee Webb and wide receiver Dallas Baker.

2 » After missing one day of practice last week due to a stomach illness supposedly caused by the flu, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin ended up playing in his team’s game on Sunday but did not last the entire contest. After getting hit in the gut during the fourth quarter, Harvin sat out the final five minutes of regulation as well as the overtime period as he watched his team fall to Detroit. Before leaving, Harvin caught three passes for 47 yards, returned two kickoffs for 47 yards and ran the ball twice for 41 yards. He is expected to return to practice this week and should not suffer any further setbacks.

3 » Out of work all season after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers just after the NFL lockout ended, former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks continues to look for a new team. According to 1500 ESPN Radio out of Minnesota, the Vikings met with Starks on Monday as they need to fill a reserve tackle position on their team. Starks, who recovered all offseason from a neck injury that he suffered in November, apparently had weight and conditioning issues when he reported to Steelers camp.

4 » Pittsburgh’s offensive line looked like a MASH unit Sunday evening after a bunch of starters and reserves were injured throughout the course of their game at Indianapolis. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who moved into a starting role with the team due to an injury to another player, hurt his shoulder during the game and was sent to the sideline. When the reserve left tackle was forced to leave the game, an injured Gilbert wound up reentering for the remainder of the contest. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Gilbert “looks like he’ll be OK” to play next week barring any setbacks. Even though the team is in need of another reserve tackle, NBC Sports reports that Starks has been ruled out as a possibility.

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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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FOUR BITS: Crowder, Beal, Young, Baker, Leak

1 » Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, considered by many (including OGGOA) to be one of the most outspoken and honest players in the NFL, has been given his own radio show on 560 WQAM in South Florida until the lockout has concluded. During his first show on Sunday, Crowder touched on a number of topics including his pregnant wife (he’s having a boy), offseason workouts and the realization that he is not a fan favorite. “I know people hate me,” Crowder said. “When people hate on you, you’ve got to be doing something right.” However, the most interesting he said Sunday afternoon relates to quarterback Terrelle Pryor and how he got in trouble at Ohio State. Though he tried to get around admitting it outright, Crowder insinuated that he sold his Florida Gators jerseys at some point during or after his time in Gainesville, FL. “I’ll say hypothetically I don’t have any of my Florida jerseys,” he said. “There were some Jacksonville businessmen who liked my play.”

2 » With the 2011 NBA Draft now in the books, ESPN’s Chad Ford has already released his top 100 for 2012 and two familiar names are at the top of his list. Gators five-star freshman guard Brad Beal comes in at No. 6 on Ford’s list, while sophomore center Patric Young ranks No. 11 out of all NBA Draft prospects who could be available a year from now. Though Beal has made no indications one way or another about his college plans, Young has stated on numerous occasions that he would like to stay three-to-four years and graduate before playing in the NBA. Speaking of Young, he competed with the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Championship Team in an exhibition contest against Lithuania’s U20 team on Sunday, a game that his squad lost 101-72. Young played 25 minutes (third-most on the team) and went 2-for-7 with five points, six boards, an assist and a steal.

3 » Competing in what was basically a tryout during an exhibition game up in Canada, former Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker earned a roster spot with the Montreal Alouettes. Baker, who is ready to continue working hard now that he’s made the team, will play boundary receiver for one of the CFL’s best squads. “This means a lot, but I can’t stop working,” Baker told the Montreal Gazette. “I’ve been in this situation before, where I made the team and got cut.”

4 » On the other end of the spectrum, former Gators quarterback Chris Leak was cut by the Saskatchewan Roughriders when their final dismissals were decided over the weekend. Leak, who spent a few years with Montreal, is on the radar of the Calgary Stampeders, which have already reached out to him.

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TWO BITS: Rainey robbed, Baker in CFL?

1 » The residence shared by Florida Gators redshirt seniors running back Chris Rainey and cornerback Moses Jenkins was burglarized Sunday morning, and both players had expensive items missing upon returning. According to The Gainesville Sun, Rainey’s BCS National Championship Ring was the most prominent item stolen; however, also taken when the house was “ransacked” were a television, PlayStation gaming system, Gucci duffel bag and 10 pairs of Jenkins’s shoes.

2 » Former Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker has found his way to the Canadian Football League and is currently taking part in workouts with the Montreal Alouettes. Though he is not officially on the roster yet, Baker is hoping to make an impression during the team’s exhibition finale on Wednesday and play in the CFL next year. “I feel like my career’s on the line,” Baker told the Montreal Gazette. “I have to go out and do all the details – catch every pass, complete my blocking assignments and give 110 percent every play. Even without the injury you have something to prove every day. No one remembers what you did on your last play. To me, every day is like a job interview.”

The former Pittsburgh Steelers pass catcher just wants a chance to prove he can play, even if it is not in the United States on the big stage of the NFL. “We all have dreams of being a star in the NFL and are prepared to do what it takes,” Baker said. “But I could have played 10 more years on special teams in the NFL and never made a catch, and I would have been able to sleep at night.”

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Week 9: Gators post-game news and notes

Snapping a three-game losing streak, the Florida Gators (5-3, 3-3 SEC) snuck a 34-31 overtime win by the Georgia Bulldogs (4-5, 3-4 SEC) at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, FL, at EverBank Field. With so much to discuss, OGGOA presents some important notes and quotes following the contest.

OH HENRY!

By now everybody knows what happened Saturday – after missing his initial field goal attempt wide left in the first quarter, Florida senior punter Chas Henry nailed two in a row including a 37-yarder in overtime to ice the game. However, what is not known is how much that one kick meant to Henry. “It was the best feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “The main thing that went through my mind was how I let my team down two weeks ago against Mississippi State. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through. I got so much support through the coaches, my family and friends, and my brothers in the locker room. The internal family we have is as strong as you can get. I let them down one time. I was never going to let it happen again. It felt great. Unbelievable.”

Henry’s field goal was so emotional that it caused head coach Urban Meyer to immediately drop to his knees according to those on the scene. Why exactly did he do that? “After he hit that field goal? It was Chas Henry hitting a damn field goal. Think about that for a minute. That’s not easy,” Meyer said. I didn’t realize I did that. It was a good moment.”

Meyer gave Henry three opportunities to kick field goals Saturday because he had confidence in the young man after seeing how he played in practice on Thursday. “He’s got a strong leg; he just has not majored in that,” he said. “We thought we were going to have Caleb [Sturgis]. Caleb came out Wednesday and kicked beautifully. Then his back, he could’ve pushed it but we’re not going to do that – it could hurt him for a long time if he hurts it more. On Thursday, Chas came out and hit every field goal. We always go right-left, right-left, right-left, right-left, and he went right up to 42 yards, I think he was seven-for-seven.”

THRICE IS NICE FOR WILL THE THRILL

Though only two of his three interceptions will count when looking at the box score 10 years from now, senior safety Will Hill’s performance will be remembered for some time. Following in the footsteps of some of the Gators’ other terrifying free safeties, Hill came through when it counted by saving a two-point conversion and starting Florida’s celebration early with an 89-yard interception return (that did not go for a score) in overtime. He had been struggling all season and even failed in protection on an early Georgia touchdown, but Hill got some of his mojo back by the time the whistle sounded.

“[Ahmad] Black had good coverage on A.J. [Green],’’ Hill said of the overtime interception. “He tipped the ball and it just fell in my lap. I just saw an opportunity and made the best of it. I was struggling earlier in the season and coaches never gave up on me, teammates never gave up on me. And for me to come out and playing like this, it’s just like paying the team back.’’

“Big play of the day,” Meyer said of Hill’s overtime pick. “And from what [defensive coordinator] Teryl Austin mentioned in [the locker room], he said it was Will Hill’s best game. We’ve been waiting for that all year. Will Hill played very well tonight.” Austin had his thoughts as well. “You saw it today. He played. He played like a Florida safety plays,” he asid. “He made some wonderful plays out there today. He was physical, he hit guys, he intercepted the ball, he did a great job for us today. Really proud of him.”

FLORIDA FINDS A LONG-LOST “EDGE”

Aside from injuries and execution, one of the main reasons the Gators’ offense has been so vanilla this year is because the team found it difficult to find an edge. Meyer believes Florida found exactly that over the last two weeks and wishes he would have identified it and installed it earlier this year. “I could kick myself for not doing that more this summer,” Meyer said of using a steady two quarterback rotation. “I did not anticipate…Trey Burton’s one of those guys, I didn’t know he was that good as a runner. I thought he was pretty good and then he was dynamic. Jordan Reed did a nice job, came in and gave us some two-plus yardage plays. We’re going to do more of that. We have to find that edge. Florida’s always had the edge.

“In ’05 we really didn’t really have one, and then ’06 we had some edge when we recruited Percy [Harvin] and then Dallas [Baker] came on. Then obviously Tim [Tebow] went crazy in ’07, ’08 you had a bundle of them – there’s edges all over the place. […] We’re just still trying to find what that edge is. You can’t play offensive football without it. You can sit and run between the tackles, you can run perimeter plays or you can throw, and if you don’t have that edge than it’s just a mess. And that’s kind of where we’ve been. We’re looking at tempo as an edge, multiple quarterbacks as an edge and development of players. You want to get that speed back with [Chris] Rainey and [Jeff] Demps, that helps us a lot as well.”

RAINEY’s REDEMPTION

Ask any of his teammates or the player himself, and it is obvious Rainey has had a tough few weeks after being suspended indefinitely following his arrest. In addition to being scolded by the coaching staff, administration and the media, Rainey has been hard on himself and made a concerted effort to turn his life around. Saturday’s game was the first he had played in more than a month, and Rainey made the most of it going off for 241 all-purpose yards including 84 rushing yards.

“Rainey stood up after the game and thanked God for giving him a second chance. He’s taking full advantage of it,” said senior center Mike Pouncey, one of Rainey’s best friends. “He thanked the whole administration – [athletic director] Jeremy Foley and the president [Bernie Machen] – and he thanked God as well. He thanked everyone for giving him a second chance because without Jeremy Foley and President Machen, it wouldn’t be possible for him to play right now. I love Chris like a brother. [...] He’s been living with me since high school, and we have a special relationship. I felt his pain those weeks he was out. He loves football. He’s a great person, and I know that was one of the happiest moments of his life just to be out there with us playing.”

Meyer attributes Rainey’s presence to many of the other big plays made during the game. “The threat of a perimeter issue opens up – the Trey Burton touchdown, that was a lot of the Tim stuff we used to do when you had Percy,” he said. “If you have a threat of this [holds arms out], it sometimes opens that [em>points arms to middle] up. That’s the mix of perimeter and interior rushing. That’s a direct result of having a perimeter.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
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Gator Bites for Tuesday, July 27th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share with our readers. In those instances, we present a special post: Gator Bites. Enjoy.

» Former Florida Gators dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, who spoke exclusively with OGGOA for an interview on Friday, is headed to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to join Congressional sponsors in support of an anti-stalking bill. Andrews, a victim of stalking herself, will appear along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) to introduce the Simplifying The Ambiguous Law, Keeping Everyone Reliably Safe Act (STALKERS).

» With training camps set to begin in just a few days for the Denver Broncos, rookie quarterback Tim Tebow may end up being a hold out – something that is likely beyond his control and is in the hands of his agent. Nevertheless, The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla has put the onus on Tebow, calling a potential holdout a “dire dilemma” and one that is “destined to make folks mad,” whether it be fans or fellow players. Fact is, Kiszla is simply trying to paint Tebow as imperfect in this piece…which is true for everyone. Should he not be at camp on day one, he will be shortly after, as Tebow’s goal is to get on the field. But he does have to listen to his agent in this regard.

» The Gainesville Sun caught up with Gators four-star athlete De’Ante “Pop” Saunders on Monday. Saunders, the team’s very first commitment for the 2011 signing class, reaffirmed his desire to play in Gainesville, FL, after he was recently seen wearing Florida State gear. “They were giving me [a hard time] about wearing a Florida State helmet because I didn’t bring my helmet,’ he said. “That’s all it was. I forgot to bring mine and that’s all they had. I’m still here. I’m still Florida.” Saunders plans to enroll early.

» OGGOA has learned that four-star defensive end recruit Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, FL) is leaning toward Notre Dame and Florida State with Florida now in a distant third place. According to our source, Lynch is concerned about playing time with the Gators and has formed a solid relationship with the staff in South Bend, IN.

Seven more Gator Bites on Corey Brewer, Brad Beal, Houston Nutt, Dallas Baker, Marreese Speights and Udonis Haslem…after the break!
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CHOMPING: Why 2010 will not be a repeat of 2007

The 2007 season was arguably the worst the Florida Gators have played since head coach Urban Meyer took over the program in 2005. That is often what happens when a team’s starting quarterback (Chris Leak) graduates, it loses the majority of its defensive starters to the NFL Draft (defensive linemen Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald, Marcus Thomas and Joe Cohen, safeties Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith, linebacker Brandon Siler) and a few other key pieces leave as well (wide receiver Dallas Baker, running back DeShawn Wynn).

Considering the departures following the 2009 season (QB Tim Tebow, WR Riley Cooper, tight end Aaron Hernandez, center Maurkice Pouncey, cornerback Joe Haden, DE Carlos Dunlap, S Major Wright, LBs Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham) appear eerily similar (if not greater) to those that occurred before 2007 got underway, many might expect the Gators to experience a similar downfall. Perhaps they will go from back-to-back one-loss seasons to a similar 9-4 record, 5-3 performance in the Southeastern Conference and maybe even a bowl game loss?

Here is why those that think the sky is falling may be too reactionary…
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