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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Legacy Kelvin Taylor commits to Florida Gators

Eighteen years after his father first donned an orange and blue uniform and ran out onto Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, four-star running back Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL) announced that he would follow in his dad’s footsteps by committing to play football for the Florida Gators in 2013.

The son of University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame running back Fred Taylor, he has been around both football and the Gators his entire life. And like his father, his immensely successful high school football career earned him a scholarship offer from Florida, which he chose over Alabama on Saturday.

Kelvin Taylor (5’10” 205 lbs.) actually began playing as an eighth grader, starting for the Glades Day High School varsity team and running for 1,692 yards and 27 touchdowns. He followed that up by amassing 2,691 yards and 47 touchdowns as a freshman, breaking former Gators running back Emmitt Smith’s career Florida high school record of 8,804 yards two years later at the end of his junior season in 2011.

With 9,698 career yards to his credit (only 8,114 of which count nationally), he has an opportunity to break the all-time record of 11,232 yards, which was set back in 1953. He has also produced 148 touchdowns in four years of playing high school football.

Taylor undoubtedly has his sights set on the NFL and can only hope to be as successful as his father, the No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fred Taylor rushed for 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns (adding 2,384 receiving yards and eight receiving scores) over 13 seasons as a professional.

His name can also be found throughout Florida’s record books as he still holds the Gators’ single-season record for yards per carry (6.0 in 1997), led the team in rushing in both 1994 and 1997, has the sixth-most attempts in school history (537) and is fourth in both career (3,075) and single-season (1,292) rushing yardage.

Even with a strong love for the Gators, Fred Taylor never pushed his son to commit to Florida and said that he just wanted him to be happy no matter which school he chose.

And just because he will be playing for the Gators, do not expect Kelvin Taylor to think the starting job or anything else for that matter will be handed to him.

Reidel Anthony, a former teammate of his father’s and the offensive coordinator at Glades Central, told ESPNU that Taylor is a hard worker who makes his own way.

“Kelvin plays hungry and there’s no sense of entitlement there,” he said. “He doesn’t expect to just walk in and dominate because he’s Fred Taylor’s son. He wants to be a player that earns what he gets.

“And he’s just a humble young man, real quiet like Fred was. He’s not going to tell you that he’s going to run for 350 yards on you, he’s just going to do it. He has the respect of his teammates, his coaches, other coaches and his opposition because of the way he plays the game.”

Florida wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, also a former teammate of Fred Taylor’s and still a close friend of the family, was Kelvin Taylor’s primary recruiter with the Gators throughout the entire process.

With his commitment now out of the way, the younger Taylor no longer has to endure the rigors of recruiting and can instead concentrate on the things that matter the most.

“I’m gonna keep my grades up, work very hard, run track, lift weights and just focus my mind on high school football and trying to get another state title,” he said earlier in the week, according to The Gainesville Sun.

The No. 111 ranked player nationally according to Rivals and a five-star recruit listed as one of ESPNU’s top 100 prospects in 2013, Taylor gives Florida their second big-time running back commitment in the 2013 class. He joins four-star Adam Lane (Winter Haven, FL) as two of the Gators’ five pledges as of press time.

He is currently attending Florida’s second Junior Day this weekend in Gainesville, FL and intends to enroll at UF in January (as does Lane).

Taylor’s commitment was first reported by Andrew Spivey of Gator Country.

RELATED: 2013 LB Powell chooses the Gators at Junior Day | WR Rodney Adams makes the call for Florida

Photo Credits: Stuart Browning, Unknown

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Dillman, gym, Jenkins, Powell

1 » Appearing Monday on WKOV 690 AM in Jacksonville, FL, new Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan responded to a caller who was wondering if he would consider trading for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow should he be made available. “You know something? I think I can tell you this. I had a long chat with Wayne [Weaver] that year. Obviously the Rams drafted Sam Bradford, and I was talking to Wayne then on what they ought to do,” Khan said. “I should have an offline conversation with you, OK? I’m going to absolutely talk your ear off. Some of the stuff might not be politically correct, but I share your sentiment. I think, when is the next time Jacksonville is going to have an athlete like Tim Tebow? Coming from being raised in Illinois, I couldn’t see Red Grange playing for anybody other than the Bears or Dick Butkus playing for anybody other than the Bears. I don’t want to get into 20/20 hindsight, and God help us, the draft record has not been the best with the Jaguars.”

Khan was then asked by the host if he would have drafted Tebow had he been owner of the Jaguars at the time. “100 percent I would have. Absolutely,” he said. “The first Jaguars game I came to was in ’10, we played Denver here. There were a lot more Tebow jerseys in the Jaguars stands than the teal jerseys for any player, let’s face it. You hate to get into 20/20 hindsight and finger pointing, but certainly [I would have] if I had anything to do with it. We probably won’t have a chance like that again.”

2 » Even though his team is not participating in Super Bowl XLVI, Tebow will be in Indianapolis, IN for festivities over the course of the week. He will also be a guest on NBC‘s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Wednesday along with actor/comedian Tracy Morgan and musical group All American Rejects. Tebow’s name has been a hot topic on Fallon’s show recently as the host as done a parody character of him and David Bowie and also used him in a number of jokes over the last few weeks.

3 » The Florida Gators have put together an introductory video featuring the team’s new strength and conditioning staff including most notably director Jeff Dillman and assistant Jesse Ackerman. The duo discuss their mental and physical approach to strength and conditioning over a video featuring a number of Florida players lifting weights and working out. You can check it out by clicking here.

4 » No. 8 Gators gymnastics (6-0, 2-0 SEC) put together an unbelievable performance on Friday, registering the fifth-highest total in team history and the top score in the nation this season, 197.775, to defeat the No. 1 Arkansas Razorbacks (8-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 24 Maryland Terrapins (4-4) and Bridgeport in a quad-meet at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Four Florida gymnasts won events with sophomore Mackenzie Caquatto winning the uneven bars (9.95), junior Marissa King taking the balance beam (9.95), junior Ashanée Dickerson capturing the all-around (39.60) and both Dickerson and freshman Kytra Hunter tying to win the floor exercise (9.95). According to UF, Friday was the first time the Gators had defeated a top-ranked team at home since 1989.

5 » North Alabama and former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins put together a solid performance in the 2012 Senior Bowl on Saturday and is in the process of working his way into the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. As part of this journey, he quit smoking marijuana, which he was arrested for three times and ultimately got him dismissed from UF. “I learned as a young man, you can’t smoke weed; it don’t get you where you want to go,” Jenkins told The Florida Times-Union. “As a kid I had to learn for myself. I learned for myself when I found out the hard way. I just thank God for letting that happen to me early and not late. […] I tell everybody now if you’re going to come around me and smoke weed, I can’t hang around you,” he said. “We’re friends, but while you’re smoking marijuana, I can’t hang around you.”

6 » With National Signing Day less than 48 hours away, the Gators are hoping to haul in a number of top prospects that still have them high on their list. As it turns out, Florida may actually end up losing a commitment due to his grades and a potential learning disability. Four-star linebacker Jeremi Powell (Largo, FL), who committed to the Gators almost a year ago, recently visited the Marshall Thundering Herd and enjoyed his trip. According to HerdNation.com, it has become a legitimate landing spot for him because of the school’s H.E.L.P. Program which provides “educational support, remediation and mentoring to individuals” with specific learning disabilities or disorders like ADD/ADHD. Powell must pass one more high school class and improve his ACT score in order to get into UF, obstacles that could have him instead decide to commit to Marshall.

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FOUR BITS: Jacobs, Pouncey, den Dekker, Tebow

1 » Florida Gators incoming junior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, joining the team as a JUCO transfer out of East Mississippi Community College, had minor but successful surgery on a finger Thursday but should be available for the start of spring practice. He enrolled early at Florida and is expected to make an impact on the team right away considering his size (6’3” 295 lbs.) and experience.

2 » Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on Thursday at a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Center, which helps impoverished and underprivileged children in Southwest Florida. “We sponsored a couple games for the guys to come to and gave away tickets,” he said. “I love giving back to kids. I remember growing up in their shoes always wanting somebody to look up to.” While at the event, Pouncey spoke to the News-Press about a number of topics including his team’s coaching search, his brother’s recovery from ankle surgery and the fact that both of them own a condo together in Tampa, FL where they are currently spending time together. Pouncey is working out and staying in shape while his brother is doing post-surgery rehab work.

3 » A fifth-round pick of the New York Mets in the 2010 MLB Draft, former Gators centerfielder Matt den Dekker has been invited by the team up to their spring training camp. He spent the last two years playing for four different Mets organizations, ending the 2011 season with the AA Binghamton Mets in the Eastern League. For his short career, den Dekker is hitting just .278 with an .807 OPS over 171 games played with 17 home runs, 88 RBI, 126 runs, 62 walks and 27 steals.

4 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow crossed over from football player to celebrity this season, which in part means that his every move will be traced by media outlets like TMZ. The gossip website reported Thursday that Tebow was in Las Vegas, NV taking in a Cirque du Soleil show (“O”) with a few friends while hiding the relevant note of the story which is that he was in town to do a new photo shoot and/or commercial for Nike. Tebow was signed by Nike prior to the start of his rookie season and has already been a part of television commercials and magazine ads for the company. Though he does not have a clothing line per se, Tebow did release a limited edition sneaker and T-shirt through Nike last year.

Extra BIT » As OGGOA mentioned this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made it a priority to re-sign their free agents including breakout defensive end and former Florida player Jeremy Mincey. However, according to The Florida Times-Union, Mincey will not be giving the team a hometown discount so the Jaguars will likely have to ward off other suitors with a solid offer in order to keep him in North Florida. Mincey’s eight sacks in 2011 were the most since former Gators DE Bobby McCray had 10 in 2006.

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Beal, Patriots, Mincey, Matthews

1 » A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow “tore cartilage on his first rib where it attaches to the sternum, bruised his lung and had fluid buildup in his pleural cavity” at the beginning of the third quarter of Saturday’s game against New England. If you were watching the game, you may remember Tebow being hit hard and backup Brady Quinn warming up on the sidelines. Tebow stayed in the game even though his team wound up being routed 45-10. “Because of the severe pain, Tebow had trouble sleeping over the weekend, then had an MRI on his chest Monday to determine the extent of the damage,” Schefter reports. “He has been undergoing rehab throughout the week.”

UPDATE: The Denver Post confirmed Tebow’s chest injuries but added that he also hurt his “right, non-throwing shoulder” during the game. Additionally, the injuries are bad enough where “Tebow in all likelihood would not have been able to play in the AFC championship game this week” if the Broncos had won last Saturday. The Post goes on to say that should Tebow be selected as a Pro Bowl alternate, “he is not likely to be able to play” in that game either even though no surgery is required and he is expected to be 100 percent for the start of conditioning workouts in April.

2 » Despite a request from CBS inviting Tebow to join the network’s NFL Today program on Sunday to preview and discuss the conference championship round of the NFL Playoffs, he has instead to spend some time away from football and not appear on the show, telling the Denver Post’s Mike Klis on Tuesday, “I’m not doing it.”

3 » In a new feature from ESPN, Dana O’Neil takes a look at Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal and his siblings, which includes two other former scholarship athletes – one a tight end at Northern Illinois and the other an offensive lineman at Alabama State. Beal lucked out when it came his turn to be recruited as his parents “Bobby and Besta learned from their own mistakes with their older boys” and were more prepared for the circus, “shepherd[ing] him through the heady experience by keeping him humble, reminding him that being a good teammate was as important as being a good player,” O’Neil writes. His selflessness is one thing that Florida head coach Billy Donvoan has praised him about since day one. Having apparently worked through some early struggles, Beal is focused on helping the Gators and doesn’t need his mom or his coach criticizing him to know what he does wrong on the court, even though he’ll happily listen and accept their advice. “I’m my own biggest critic, but now I try to go back to my room and contemplate my mistakes,” he said. “I watch film and try to learn from them. I’m trying to understand I need to embrace the adversity.”

4 » While Tebow was defeated on Saturday, the three former Gators playing for the New England Patriots will be advancing to the next round of the playoffs. Tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the Patriots’ biggest contributors all game, appeared to suffer a concussion during the contest but told reporters Wednesday that he is good to go for Sunday’s game. “I feel great,” he said, “Ready to play.” Knowing head coach Bill Belichick, Hernandez (even if cleared to play Wednesday) will be listed as questionable all week heading into the game. Linebacker Brandon Spikes had some kind words for New England fans, praising the home crowd for being loud during Saturday’s game. However, according to Patriots.com writer Erik Scalavino, he laughed and said it was still nothing like playing in The Swamp.

5 » Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith made it clear when speaking Tuesday night that signing the team’s free agents – including veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey – will be his first priority in the offseason. Mincey had a career year in 2011, starting all 16 games for Jacksonville and totaling 57 tackles, eight sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. In somewhat related news, former UF head coach Ron Zook is interviewing for the special teams coach job with the Jaguars. Mincey replied to OGGOA‘s tweet about Zook interviewing, throwing his support behind his former coach and saying, “I hope he gets it.”

6 » Nease High School – where Tebow got his start as a youngster in Jacksonville, FL – has hired none other than former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews as the team’s new head coach. A former assistant at Gainesville High School, Matthews has never been a high school head coach before but told The St. Augustine Record that he is excited about the opportunity. “I felt Nease had a lot to offer,” Matthews said. “It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it had to be the right fit and I feel like this is.” He plans to run a balanced but fun offense and said that his former head coach Steve Spurrier’s teachings will undoubtedly be an influence in everything he does.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Parsons, PGA, Caldwell

1 » In his season-ending meeting with the media, Denver Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway gave quarterback Tim Tebow his biggest endorsement thus far even if it was not completely what Tebow’s fans may have wanted. “Tim is the starting quarterback going into training camp,” Elway said Monday, according to the Denver Post, failing to go further than that designation. “He made great strides. He has earned the right to be the starter going into training camp next year.” Elway also admitted, as expected, that Denver will look to add some competition for Tebow at the quarterback position because the Broncos’ “passing game was not where we want it to be.” As he mentioned during the season, Elway plans to work with Tebow in a number of areas including in the film room and on his footwork, drops and timing with receivers. He expands on these comments in the video below:

2 » Continuing his stellar play this year Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons had yet another solid game Monday, again earning the start and scoring eight points (on 4-of-7 shooting) with eight boards (three offensive), four assists and two blocks in 29 minutes. He also had two impressive plays in the game including one put-back slam and another dunk over Washington’s 7’0″ center JaVale McGee, which you can see below:

In related NBA news, center Marreese Speights had his best performance with his brand new team the Memphis Grizzlies, registering a double-double of 16 points and 12 boards. Speights went head-to-head with Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah, who has been struggling with a hand problem this season and had just two points and five rebounds. Memphis beat Chicago 102-86 on Monday.

3 » Former Gators golfer Matt Every, who led the 2012 Sony Open for two days, wound up finishing tied for sixth in the event…with fellow former Florida golfer Brian Gay and two other players. Every and Gay (-10) each ended the tournament three strokes back of the leader (Johnson Wagner, -13) and were two of three former Gators in the top-13 with Chris DiMarco finishing -8 over four rounds. As OGGOA mentioned over the weekend, Every recently opened up about a marijuana arrest. This video provides more on that and includes a discussion he had while leading after the second round.

4 » According to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, it is not likely that former Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell will be back with the Cincinnati Bengals next season. Caldwell, who brought in 37 receptions for 317 yards and three touchdowns last season, is now a free agent and is unlikely to be retained by the team. Caldwell himself is probably looking for a better opportunity as well and may find that with the Jacksonville Jaguars as the Bengals’ former offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, has taken that same position with the Jaguars.

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