FOUR BITS: Machen, Taylor, Tebow, Beal

1 » University of Florida President Bernie Machen announced Friday that he will conclude his tenure sometime in 2013 after nearly a decade at the helm of the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the state. Machen, 68, made his announcement at the UF Board of Trustees meeting, and the school sent an e-mail to students, alumni and faculty almost simultaneously. “This decision reflects our joint feeling that there’s a time for everything in life and it’s now our time to pursue the next chapter,” said Machen while also referring to his wife Chris, according to The Gainesville Sun. “Of course, it will be pursued here in Gainesville and it will be pursued at the University of Florida.” The Sun notes that his most recent contract extension, signed last year, “establishes a post-presidency role for Machen at the university.” The school expects that it will have a decision on Machen’s replacement in the next six months; a smooth transition will take place with Machen handing over the reins and responsibilities at a time both parties deem to be the most convenient and effective. Read the school’s official announcement on Machen’s decision.

2 » The Jacksonville Jaguars announced Thursday that recently retired running back Fred Taylor would be inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars this season. Taylor, who will join offensive tackle Tony Boselli as the second member of the Pride, is arguably the most talented and popular player in team history. He finished his career in Jacksonville (spanning 11 years) with 11,271 yards (4.6 yards per carry average) and 62 rushing touchdowns along with 2,361 receiving yards and eight reception scores. Taylor is not a member of the Florida GatorsRing of Honor as he is not yet eligible but could become eligible should he be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame and UF Athletic Hall of Fame.

3 » It has been obvious from day one of the trade that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan believes in quarterback Tim Tebow. Though he may have his reservations about him as a signal caller, Ryan continues to be impressed with Tebow’s character and football-playing abilities. He also seems to be infatuated with his strength. “Let me give you a little story about Tim,” Ryan said on Thursday, according to Pro Football Talk. “I saw this in the weight room. A player had challenged him, holding these big huge sledgehammers. They held them doing this big iron cross kind of deal. The big lineman went first. [Tebow] said you want to go first or second. The big lineman said he’d go first. He went for about a 1:04, shaking. Tim went for 1:18. This guy is crazy with how strong he is and the kind of focus [he has]. I see that from him. He’s super competitive.” Ryan also said that he understands Tebow likes to use his athleticism in the pocket and is perfectly with that in the correct situations. “He’s done some things in some previous practices, where it’s like, wow, that’s a football player,” he said. “The defense will start chirping about him, ‘Come on. Throw the ball, stand back and throw the ball.’ Why? If he sees two-man [deep defense], he’s running with it. Someone better go out there and make a tackle. I think everyone sees Tim for what he is. He’s a super competitive guy and a good teammate. I’ve noticed he’s always building guys up. By the way, he’s a talented kid, or young man.”

4 » At the 2012 NBA Combine as a partial participant, Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has been getting plenty of work done off the court. According to the Chicago Tribune (the combine is taking place in Chicago, IL), Beal “had interviews with Detroit, Denver and Sacramento on Wednesday,” several more planned for Thursday and individual workouts scheduled with Charlotte (No. 2 overall pick) and Washington (No. 3 overall pick) in the near future.

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Leak, Tucker, Jaguars

1 » Former Florida Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte, set to be one of the primary faces/athletes representing the United States in the upcoming 2012 London Olympics was announced as the fourth male to ever grace the cover of American Vogue magazine when the June cover was released on Monday. Lochte appears on the cover alongside women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo and tennis phenom Serena Williams. The three men that were previously featured on the cover of Vogue – Richard Gere, George Clooney and LeBron James – each appeared alongside a female model “Cindy Crawford, Gisele, and Gisele again, respectively,” the magazine notes.

2 » Traded to the Orlando Predators recently after falling out of grace with the Jacksonville Sharks, former Florida quarterback Chris Leak will start his first game with his new team on Friday. Leak, who has already appeared in two games for Orlando as a backup and has amassed 78 yards and three touchdowns on 9-of-17 passing, hopes to turnaround the season for a team that has started a paltry 1-7. The Predators hope Leak can be the team’s starter for a long time and have plans for him to be a franchise player as long as he succeeds.

3 » Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker will begin his final regular season series in the orange and blue looking, in part, to set the school record for career hits. Smacking a single on Tuesday, Tucker tied former Florida outfielder Mark Ellis for the career mark with 319 hits; one more and the record is all his. UF is set to face Auburn in a three-game road series Thursday-Saturday before beginning postseason competition.

4 » As part of an outreach program that will attempt to generate “excitement and energy” for the team heading into the 2012 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be visiting Gainesville, FL with a “Jaguars Caravan” including players, coaches, cheerleaders and other team representatives, according to The Gainesville Sun. As part of the event, which will take place on June 6 at Tioga Town Center from 6-8 p.m., Gators fans will be able to see some familiar faces in former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville’s head coach), current Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and former Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor.

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Poised as ever, Tebow says ‘hello’ to New York

Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was introduced Monday as the newest member of the New York Jets at a noon press conference attended by hundreds of media members and covered live on both local and national television.

Lasting more than a half hour, the press conference featured Tebow standing alone at a podium, taking questions about football, faith and his future. He answered most and deflected some but conveyed one general sentiment throughout: excitement about being a member of the Jets organization.

“I want to thank the Broncos for my time in Denver. It was an amazing time. I want to thank my teammates and my fans for being such great teammates and such great fans,” he said in his opening statement.

“I’m looking forward to my time here in New York and my time here as a Jet. I’m so honored and humbled to be a Jet. I’m so thankful that they wanted me, and I’m so excited about me and my teammates. I’ve had the pleasure to meet quite a few already, and I’m looking forward to my future as a Jet. And I’m very excited about it.”

The first order of business was clearing up his exit from the Denver Broncos and whether or not he actually had a choice between New York and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite reports that Denver put the decision in Tebow’s hands, he said it was ultimately the team’s decision and expanded on that greatly on Monday by recounting the events of one week ago.

“When I woke up Wednesday morning, I talked to Coach Fox and they were very gracious the whole time. Coach Fox – I specifically talked to him all throughout the process. He kind of told me some of the opportunities that were out there,” he said. “When I talked to him about it, next thing I know I got a call from Mr. [Mike Tannenbaum] and Coach [Rex] Ryan and they said I was a Jet. So I was really excited about that. ‘When’s the next flight out to new York?’ I was excited about it.

“Then obviously the media circus happened and I found out a few minutes later there was a snag in the contract and I wasn’t a Jet. And so then it was five hours of kind of waiting. Coach Fox was keeping me updated on what was happening. Later on in the day they said they had a few teams that were interested with similar deals. He was very gracious to ask me what I thought. I talked to him very honestly about it, and I told him I would love to be a Jet. I told him also that the Jaguars are my hometown and [to do] whatever was best for them. He said the same for me.

“Ultimately they had my contract there and they had all the power, but he listened to me and what I had to say. It was very gracious of them because they didn’t have to do that. They could have just done whatever. He listened to me and talked to me and I told him I would love to be a Jet. I love the coaches. I had an opportunity to be with Coach [Tony] Sparano at the Senior Bowl. I had an opportunity to get to know Coach Ryan several times. That was exciting for me. I also told them I would love to be a Jaguar. That’s my hometown and that would be exciting for me. Whatever was the best for them. I’m excited to be a Jet and I’m excited to be here.”

Tebow was asked again about the process and not-so-specifically relayed what a lot had already assumed – that he felt the love in New York and not so much in Jacksonville. He also cited his relationship with the coaches as a reason playing for the Jets might be better for him in the long run.

Continue Reading » Poised as ever, Tebow says ‘hello’ to New York

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New York Jets get over stumbling block, acquire Tim Tebow for fourth- and sixth-round picks

Updated at 11:30 p.m.

One day after Peyton Manning officially signed a five-year, $96 million contract with the Denver Broncos, the team has traded third-year quarterback Tim Tebow (along with a seventh-round pick) to the New York Jets for a fourth- and sixth-round pick.

Tebow, who started the final 13 games of the 2011 season (including two playoff games), went 8-5 for Denver, winning four overtime games and two others in come-from-behind style. He only completed 46.5 percent of his passes in the regular season but threw for 12 touchdowns with six interceptions while also carrying the ball 122 times for 660 yards and six more scores. He added 316 yards (on 10-of-21 passing) with two touchdowns against Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs but went just 9-for-26 for 136 yards with no scores in the second round against New England.

One of those come-from-behind victories was a 17-13 win over New York in Denver where Tebow led his squad on a 12-play, 95-yard scoring drive capped by his own 20-yard rushing touchdown with the clock winding down late in the fourth quarter.

Reports broke Tuesday night that the Jets’ interest in Tebow had “intensified” and that New York was legitimately interested in adding him to their roster. Initially it was believed that the Jets wanted to bring him on board to help heal a badly divided locker room, but reports Wednesday morning noted that the team’s interest in him was solely from a football perspective.

New York and Denver agreed to a trade for Tebow early Wednesday afternoon but a snag in Tebow’s contract – an advance payment the Broncos made to him of approximately $5 million that the contract stipulated would be recalled to the team – caused the Jets to stall in finalizing the agreement.

Continue Reading » New York Jets get over stumbling block, acquire Tim Tebow for fourth- and sixth-round picks

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Reports: Four teams at front of the line for Tebow

With Peyton Manning now in a No. 18 Denver Broncos jersey, Tim Tebow’s time in that orange and blue is quickly coming to an end. Now the key is determining where Tebow will wind up and how he will be utilized by his new team.

Numerous media outlets citing a number of anonymous sources reported Tuesday evening that the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and at least three other teams have contacted Denver and “have serious interest” (to quote NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi) in trading for Tebow.

Initial reports noted that the Broncos may not receive much more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Tebow but having a number of teams interested will certainly drive the price up for the organization that eventually lands the former Florida Gators standout.

Jacksonville, according to The Florida Times-Union’s Tania Ganguli, has already had internal discussions about adding Tebow but had not reached out to Denver in any formal sense as of 6 p.m. New York, according to ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini, may be more of a player for Tebow than initially thought.

The Jets were believed to be a “long shot at best” to trade for Tebow, but Cimini reported around midnight that interest among team officials has “intensified.” The New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta added that the team’s interest is “legitimate,” even quoting a source as saying, “We are players in the Tebow race.”

Continue Reading » Reports: Four teams at front of the line for Tebow

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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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Jaguars re-sign DE Jeremy Mincey for four years

Former Florida Gators defensive end Jeremy Mincey signed a four-year deal worth a maximum of $27.2 million with the Jacksonville Jaguars early Wednesday morning, ending his new-found free agency before it even got into full swing.

After putting forth the best performance of his career for Jacksonville in 2011 with career-highs in tackles (57), sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (four), Mincey hit the market at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and had a number of parties interested in his services.

In addition to Jacksonville hoping to re-sign him, Buffalo, Chicago and Cleveland were considering making a serious run at the six-year NFL veteran.

Mincey has turned his career around since being selected in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft by New England and spending most of his rookie season on San Francisco’s practice squad. He played in just nine games over the next two years and was placed on injured reserve by the Jaguars in 2009 after breaking his hand prior to the season.

However, Mincey returned to the team in 2010 and started eight of 15 games he played, registering 31 tackles and five sacks.

He became a fixture on the starting unit in 2011 and proved to the front office that he deserved to hold down that role for the foreseeable future in Jacksonville.

Mincey’s deal was first reported by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.

Photo Credit: Kelly Jordan/Florida Times-Union

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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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