Florida Gators in the NFL: Preseason Week 3

With the 2012 NFL regular season just a few weeks away, a number of former Florida Gators football players participated in preseason action, many of whom had an impact on their team’s performance. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished during the third week of 2012 preseason action.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Not awarded for preseason games.

Check out how the Gators in the NFL played…after the break!
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Gators RB Jeff Demps set to sign with Patriots

Former Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps is set to sign with the New England Patriots on Friday, ending his three-day run as an NFL undrafted free agent.

Demps, who decided on Jan. 12 to give up football in order to concentrate on his career as a sprinter, filed paperwork this week to become a free agent and was able to sign with any team he wished after not being selected in the 2012 NFL Draft back in April.

Though a dozen teams were seriously interested in Demps’s services, he and agent Daniel Rose narrowed down the player’s list to a handful of teams on Wednesday. Demps visited New England on Thursday and flew back to Orlando, FL on Friday to officially sign his contract.

Demps was technically considered an undrafted free agent under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement so the parameters of his rookie contract will be limited. He can sign for up to three years though the monetary terms of his deal were not necessarily as important finding the overall best fit, his agent told OGGOA late Wednesday.

“Every team has a different idea of how to use him and basically every team has given us an idea of what they want to do with him,” he explained. “We’re going to look at what teams have, what they want to do with him and take all of that into consideration. We’ve really done our homework.

“Just because a team offers him the most money does not mean they will be the team that gets him. Obviously money is great – and we’ll definitely get a nice deal – but it’s not like a team can come in, offer ‘X’ and all of a sudden they’re the right fit.”

Demps reportedly has been planning to make this move after failing to initially qualify for the 2012 London Olympics in July. He wound up being selected as an injury replacement and won a silver medal as part of the first round team for the United States in the Men’s 4×100 Meter Relay, delaying his football plans by a few weeks.

Rose also told OGGOA on Wednesday that Demps will join his new team as soon as possible as is very much behind the eight ball at this point in time. Training camp began two weeks ago and playbooks were handed out months ago.

Demps will be the sixth former Gators player on the Patriots’ current roster, joining linebacker Brandon Spikes, tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, defensive tackle Gerard Warren and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.

Tampa Bay and the New York Jets were also in serious contention for his services.

Demps’s decision was first reported by FOX 13 out of Tampa, FL and confirmed to OGGOA shortly thereafter by his agent.

Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press

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Patriots set to bring back WR Jabar Gaffney

Less than 48 hours after being released by the Washington Redskins following the most productive season of his career, former Florida Gators wide receiver Jabar Gaffney has agreed to a two-year deal to return to the New England Patriots, according to NFL Network‘s Jason LaCanfora.

Gaffney, who spent three years with New England from 2006-08, never caught more than 38 passes or amassed more than 468 yards in a single season as a member of the Patriots. He did, however, catch five touchdowns in 2007 when the team advanced to but eventually lost Super Bowl XLII.

The last two years have been the most productive of Gaffney’s career. He had 65 receptions for 875 yards and two touchdowns with Denver in 2010 and eclipsed all of those numbers by registering career- and team-highs in receptions (68), targets (115), yards (947) and touchdowns (5) for Washington.

Selected with the No. 33 overall pick in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Gaffney spent the first four years of his career with Houston (2002-05) before moving on to New England, Denver (2009-10) and finally Washington.

He came under fire in early April for a epic rant emanating from his Twitter account that he later claimed he did not participate in. It is unknown if that incident contributed to his release from the Redskins though the team beefed up its receiving corps in the offseason and claimed Gaffney’s 2012 salary to be cost prohibitive.

Gaffney will return to the Patriots as the fifth former Gators player on the team’s roster. In addition to tight end Aaron Hernandez and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham, New England also plans to re-sign defensive tackle Gerard Warren for the 2012 season.

Photo Credit: Keith Nordstrom/New England Patriots

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FOUR BITS: 2013 draft, Warren, Rainey, Gaffney

1 » NFL Network’s Chad Reuter recently came out with his preseason rankings of the top five prospects by position for the 2013 NFL Draft. Reuter lists three Florida Gators on his groupings though only one is all but guaranteed to be eligible following the 2012 college football season. Ronald Powell (No. 5 defensive end) and Sharrif Floyd (No. 3 defensive tackle) are both entering their junior seasons; neither has had a full-season campaign that would lead to them leaving early and whether either will accomplish that this year remains to be seen. Powell is expected to miss at least the first month of the season (if not longer) with a torn ACL, and Floyd has yet to receive the majority of snaps at his true position of defensive tackle after playing end most of the time in 2011. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis, however, is listed No. 2 overall among specialists (though most kickers and punters go undrafted and are signed as free agents).

2 » Former Florida DT Gerard Warren signed one-year deals with the New England Patriots both before the 2010 season (16 games played, 10 starts) and four games into the 2011 season (12 games played). According to Comcast SportsNet, Warren will do the same in 2012 as he is set to re-sign with the team soon once terms of a new deal (likely the veteran’s minimum plus incentives) are agreed to by the team and his agent.

3 » The Pittsburgh Steelers took a minimal risk by selecting former Gators running back Chris Rainey on Saturday, one the team lessened by asking plenty of people about Rainey’s character and coming away confident that he would not be an issue going forward. Perhaps one endorsement in particular, from Florida running backs coach Brian White who labeled him the “steal of the draft,” also helped motivate the team to draft Rainey. “I’ve been coaching 26 years and had as much fun coaching him as anyone I’ve ever coached,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s an incredibly infectious guy. He loves football and he really is an electric athlete. His change of direction is the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been around anyone who can change direction and accelerate like him. He’ll make a ton of dynamic plays in a lot of different areas for the Steelers and people will enjoy watching him play. He’ll bring enthusiasm and excitement to practice and the stadium that people will enjoy.”

White added that Rainey “doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, nothing” and that he has learned from “the one blemish” on his career. Lisa Webster, the mother of Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, also discussed the texting incident in which Rainey sent a message reading “Time to die” to his old girlfriend. “People say stupid stuff when they get in arguments,” Webster said. “Rainey texted it. I got on him. I told him I’d drive to Gainesville and beat him if he called her again. The boys called him. We know he wouldn’t do anything like that, he was just mad at the time. It wasn’t even her who called police. She knew he wouldn’t do anything like that.”

4 » Former Florida wide receiver Jabar Gaffney was released by the Washington Redskins on Monday after posting career-bests while with the team in 2011. In his 10th season in the NFL, Gaffney caught 68 passes for 947 yards with five touchdowns but will not be welcomed back to a team that made serious upgrades in its passing game over the last few months and did not want to spend $2.65 million on a reserve. Instead he will look to catch on with his fifth NFL franchise following Houston (2002-05), New England (2006-08), Denver (2009-10) and Washington (2011).

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Reggie Nelson, Rex Grossman re-sign with teams

A pair of former Florida Gators football players followed in the footsteps of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and re-signed over the weekend with the teams they played for in 2011.

Safety Reggie Nelson turned down overtures from the New York Jets to return to the Cincinnati Bengals on a four-year contract worth $18 million including $6.5 million in the first season, and quarterback Rex Grossman agreed to rejoin the Washington Redskins for one year with the knowledge that he will not be the team’s starter.

Nelson had a career year for Cincinnati in 2011, registering 85 combined tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 12 pass defenses and a pair of sacks. It was the best he had played since his rookie year in Jacksonville, and the team obviously expected his resurgence to continue in 2012 and beyond.

Grossman started off hot for Washington but reverted to his mean as the season went on. He completed a career-high 57.9 percent of his passes for 3,151 yards with 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and went 5-8 as the Redskins’ starter. With Washington trading a boatload of draft picks for the opportunity to select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft, Grossman will be relegated to backup duty in 2012.

Though three Gators are now off the market, 11 other notable former Florida players are currently listed as free agents including: wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati), linebacker Channing Crowder (DNP/retirement), LB Andra Davis (Buffalo), running back Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay), defensive end Derrick Harvey (Denver), DE Jarvis Moss (Oakland), LB Mike Peterson (Atlanta), cornerback Lito Sheppard (Oakland), offensive tackle Max Starks, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (Denver) and DT Gerard Warren (New England).

Photo Credits: Rich Lipski/Associated Press, Cincinnati Enquirer

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FOUR BITS: Muschamp speaks, NFL free agency

1 » Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp sat down with Sporting News recently for a question-and-answer session about his first season in Gainesville, FL. Below are a few choice selections from the piece, which can be read in full here.

SN: On a scale of 1-10, what’s your excitement level going into spring practice?
MUSCHAMP: An 11. I’m more excited now than the day I was hired. We’re not building a team, we’re building a program. We recruited well last year, and we’re recruiting well again this year. We’re building our roster back as far as the line of scrimmage. This is a line of scrimmage league. If you don’t have quality depth, you’re going to struggle

SN: You were at 66 scholarship players at one point last fall. How could a program like Florida get to the point where it is nearly 20 scholarships from the NCAA minimum?
MUSCHAMP: We were short on numbers to begin with, and there have been 12 guys who left the program since we took over. We signed 19 players (in 2011), and instead of going out and signing guys just to sign the maximum, we banked them and said we’ll take it in the shorts this year. In the SEC, recruiting is different than anywhere else in the country. If you’re not on for one year, you’ve got no chance.

SN: Your best day at Florida in the last 14 months?
MUSCHAMP: Signing Day this year—Signing Day and the bowl game. They’re together. You springboard into offseason with some momentum, and then we had a great year recruiting.

SN: How hard is it for you to admit you were a soft team?
MUSCHAMP: It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever said. But you go back and look at it, and we didn’t consistently stop the run and we weren’t able to run the ball. You can attribute it to multiple factors. We’ve tried to address that with our strength program, recruiting and overall numbers at multiple positions.

2 » NFL free agency is set to begin Tuesday at 4 p.m., but the Cincinnati Bengals met with safety Reggie Nelson anyway on Sunday to gauge his potential interest in resigning with the team. Nelson’s career had a resurgence in 2011 under Cincinnati defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. With Miami also expected to be looking for a safety in the offseason, Nelson may have an opportunity to reunite with Coyle in South Florida. The Bengals have more cap space than any team in the league but are not necessarily to be a front-runner for a player who is considered the No. 2 free agent available at his position.

3 » Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey also had a breakout season in 2011, setting career-highs in tackles, sacks and forced fumbles. Like Nelson, Mincey and Jacksonville have not been engaged in serious talks and he is also expected to hit the free agent market at 4 p.m. The Buffalo Bills are one team that is expected to pursue him when the floodgates open on Tuesday.

4 » There are 12 other notable former Gators players set to reach free agency: wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati), linebacker Channing Crowder (DNP), LB Andra Davis (Buffalo), running back Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay), quarterback Rex Grossman (Washington), defensive end Derrick Harvey (Denver), DE Jarvis Moss (Oakland), LB Mike Peterson (Atlanta), cornerback Lito Sheppard (Oakland), offensive tackle Max Starks (Pittsburgh), defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (Denver) and DT Gerard Warren (New England). It will be particulary interesting to find out where four of the players wind up if they decide to continue their careers. Crowder missed the entire 2011 season by taking a mini “retirement” after the birth of his child and release by Miami; Graham tore his Achilles and missed the final eight games of the season; Harvey was inactive for 13 of Denver’s 18 games; Peterson barely played as a reserve for Atlanta; and Starks tore his ACL in a playoff loss and was set to miss up to nine months.

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Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Super Bowl XLVI

Five former Florida Gators were on the rosters of the two teams that participated in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday but only one – New York Giants defensive end Justin Trattou – left Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN with a ring.

Only three former Gators participated in the Super Bowl; Trattou was inactive and another was forced to sit out due to injury. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished Sunday.

Super Bowl XLVI was the 10th consecutive NFL championship game to feature a former Florida player. It is the third time in the last four seasons that one has won a ring.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
LB BRANDON SPIKES, New England Patriots: 11 tackles [game-high] (eight solo), forced fumble
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots: Eight receptions [team-high] for 67 yards (targets: 14, long: 12), touchdown

THE REST
DT GERARD WARREN, New England Patriots: Two tackles (one solo)

INJURED / INACTIVE
LB JERMAINE CUNNINGHAM, New England Patriots: Hamstring (season)
DE JUSTIN TRATTOU*, New York Giants^: Inactive

^ Team won Super Bowl XLVI.
* Rookie

2011 WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | WC | DV | CC

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FOUR Super Bowl XLVI BITS: Spikes, Hernandez, Warren, Cunningham and Trattou

1 » On a lighter note than the story from Thursday about Super Bowl XLVI being a dream come true for New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and his mother comes this story about Spikes’s preplanned attire for the occasion. As he did before the 2009 BCS National Championship, Spikes donned his all-pink suit as the team left New England and may very well rock it again on Sunday before the game. “Brought the lucky suit out again!” Spikes tweeted, adding that it is his lucky championship game suit. Below are a handful of pictures Spikes has taken over the weekend while in Indianapolis, IN including two with teammates and fellow former Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Gerard Warren.

2 » Spikes is not the only one taking in the special occasion. Hernandez told Katherine Smith, in a special for Florida’s website, that being able to play in the Super Bowl is something he will never forget. “I was with Spikes the other day and we were just sitting there in the car and we were like, ‘Wow, we are really playing in the Super Bowl.’ I know it will really hit me when we walk into the game and all those cameras will be flashing and we’ll notice this is the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is a dream come true. I never thought I would be in this position or have this experience, but I’ll definitely take it all in and hold this for the rest of my life.” With Rob Gronkowski seeing most of the touches at tight end this year for the Patriots, Hernandez’s role has been altered. Not only does he play a true tight end role, he also splits out as a wide receiver and takes handoffs in the backfield, too. With Gronkowski nursing a high-ankle sprain and undoubtedly limited heading into the contest, Hernandez may be counted on more than ever on Sunday. “You dream of stuff like this since you’re a little kid,” he continued. “You never really actually see yourself in this position because obviously it’s always a dream, but to be here seems surreal. I remember doing the media day in college. I was looking around then just thinking how crazy that was, and now I’m in the Super Bowl and thinking how crazy this is. It’s crazy.”

3 » Lost with Spikes and Hernandez in the spotlight is the path of Warren, an 11-year NFL veteran still searching for his first Super Bowl ring. After being selected with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Warren was labeled a bit of a bust, something that saw him see time in two more stops at Denver and Oakland before finally arriving in New England in 2012. Since joining the Patriots, Warren has been the consummate team player. He’s done the dirty work in the trenches and even began this season off of the team’s roster when the coaching staff promised they would bring him back after veteran contracts were no longer guaranteed. They did. “Gerard has been very professional,” head coach Bill Belichick said of him on Tuesday. “He’s been with us for two years, and his career has had its own path. But I really feel like he’s settled into our team and our program. He’s one of the most respected guys on the team. He works hard. He’s tough. He wants to be on the field. Gerard’s not a big-ego guy. He just wants to do his job and help us, and I have a lot of respect for that. I really do.”

4 » Spikes, Hernandez and Warren may be the big names Florida fans recognize on Sunday but there are two other Gators also involved with the teams competing. Jermaine Cunningham, a linebacker with New England, is out for the season with a hamstring injury and listed on the team’s injured reserve. He did see the field this year but just sparingly. For the New York Giants, rookie defensive end Justin Trattou in on their roster though he has been inactive recently, last seeing action in Week 16. No matter which team wins, a former Florida player will be going home with a ring.

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