Cut day a mixed bag for six former Gators

NFL franchises were forced to reduce their rosters to 53 players on Friday as the 2012 regular season draws closer. Six former Florida Gators were impacted by decisions their respective teams made with the results different for each player.

Receiving the good news were New York Giants safety Will Hill and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Deonte Thompson, a pair of undrafted free agents who performed so well in training camp and during a preseason that they earned roster spots on their respective teams.

Hill, who went undrafted in 2011 and did not play in the NFL last season, was signed early in the offseason by the Giants and impressed the coaching staff so much (both on and off the field) that he will not only make the team but also see extensive playing time. He registered 15 tackles (12 solo) and a sack in four preseason games.

Thompson joined the Ravens along with former Gators quarterback John Brantley, who was cut early in the offseason. He led Baltimore in receptions, receiving yards in the first and fourth preseason games (scoring a touchdown in each) and had kickoff returns of 42 yards and 63 yards in the two games in-between.

Dealt the first bit of negative news was New England Patriots running back Jeff Demps, whose season is over after the team placed him on injured reserve. Demps signed with the Patriots two weeks ago and played in the team’s final two preseason games. He took nine carries for 55 yards, caught three balls for 31 yards, returned three kicks for 63 yards and brought back five punts for 65 yards.

He supposedly injured his knee during practice, but it was not at all believed to be serious. New England placing him on injured reserves keeps him under the team’s control (he signed a three-year contract) and gives him the entire season and offseason to get into football shape and learn the playbook. The move is basically a way of stashing a player by circumventing the waiver wire process.

Though New York decided to keep Hill, the Giants chose to part ways with veteran defensive tackle Marcus Thomas on Friday. Thomas signed a one-year deal on Aug. 16 but has now been cut just two weeks later and will look to catch on with another team.

Also looking for new homes now are tight end Cornelius Ingram, who spent the entire offseason with the Denver Broncos but was cut loose on Friday, and linebacker Brandon Hicks, who was hoping to catch on with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Other prominent Florida players who are also currently free agents include Brantley, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, DT Gerard Warren, tackle Phil Trautwein, defensive end Bobby McCray, DE Derrick Harvey, DE Jarvis Moss, DE Justin Trattou and cornerback Lito Sheppard. LB Andra Davis and RB Earnest Graham are close to retirement.

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SIX BITS: Brantley, Donovan, Moss, Tebow, Rainey

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback John Brantley was cut by the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday after being signed by the team as an undrafted free agent in April. It was unlikely that Brantley would have made the team to begin with though he likely would have remained in training camp longer had Baltimore not needed to sign a free agent tight end as an injury replacement. He could rejoin the Ravens at any time, be added to their practice squad after the preseason or be picked up by another team. Former Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson, also signed as an undrafted free agent, remains with Baltimore despite recently “displaying shaky hands,” according to Carroll County Times reporter Aaron Wilson.

2 » One of the hot conversation pieces ongoing as some of the NBA’s brightest stars compete in the 2012 London Olympics is if the league’s owners will get their wish that all Olympic basketball competitors will have to be 23 years of age or younger starting in 2016. CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman took a look at what a U23 team might look like in 2016; he believes that Gators guard Bradley Beal would be featured on the squad and that Florida head coach Billy Donovan could be one of two choices to replace Coach Mike Krzyewski, citing his success with the U18 team this summer.

3 » Former Florida forward Adrian Moss informed OGGOA on Wednesday that he has signed a one-year contract with EESM Le Portel of the French Pro B league. Moss averaged 15.4 points on 53.3 percent shooting (35.6 percent from downtown) and grabbed 6.1 rebounds per game last year in Spain. He has also previously played professional basketball in Israel and Germany.

4 » New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow may have had a rough start to training camp with his new team, but ESPN’s Ron Jaworski remarked on SportsCenter early this week that he saw improvement from the player in one very important area. “The one thing I’ve noticed about Tim Tebow – and it’s a small sampling thus far – is his [throwing] stroke is much better,” he said. “It’s cleaner. It’s not as elongated. He’s not dropping the football [down to his hip]. That means the ball will come out quicker.” Jaworski did see some room for improvement, however. “I’d still like to see Tebow drive off his back leg a little more,” he added. “Sometimes he has that dead leg and he loses energy at the end of the throw on the deeper throws. It’s fine in the short to intermediate area. But downfield those throws, when they hang in the air, will get knocked down or batted down by the very athletic secondary players in this league.”

5 » Though Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey is already coming on strong with his new team, some of his teammates and coaches are noticing that he needs to be pushed hard during practice. According to Scout.com, Rainey has been ragged on by everyone including good friend center Maurkice Pouncey. “He probably needs it. Heck yeah,” he said. “Oh, [the coaches] love him. They really, really love him. I hope it stays that way. I hope he stays here with me as long as he can.” The ribbing Rainey is taking may be good-natured, but head coach Mike Tomlin has reportedly been using a version of the unfortunate text message that got Rainey arrested as part of that motivation. “OK, 22, time to die!” he apparently yelled during the first full-contact practice. “I hear it every day, about five times a day,” Rainey said. “It’s all good. I made a bad mistake in the past but I moved on. It’s funny now. I’m glad I’m here.”

6 » Three members of the Gators lacrosse team were awarded training team spots with the U.S. National Team over the weekend. Seniors midfielder Brittany Dashiell and goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, along with assistant coach (and MF) Caitlyn McFadden, will join the 36-player pool that will eventually be whittled down to 18 (in February 2013) before the United States defends its title at the 2013 FIL World Cup. McFadden was a member of Team USA in 2009 and helped bring home the championship.

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Matthews thrilled with Gators coaching staff

Former Florida Gators quarterback Shane Matthews has been quite vocal about his displeasure with his college team over the last few years, so much so in fact that it even earned him a spot (at least temporarily) in head coach Urban Meyer’s doghouse.

With Meyer now at Ohio State and head coach Will Muschamp at the helm in Gainesville, FL, Matthews told host Dan Hicken of Sports Radio 1010XL in Jacksonville that he sees a bright future ahead for his Gators.

“This coaching staff at Florida is the best we’ve ever had at that school – hands down from top-to-bottom – when you go from position-to-position and see where they’ve coached, what they’ve done,” he said. “I love the staff. It’s going to take time because we just don’t have the athletes that the other big boys in the conference do.”

Matthews, who took over as head coach of Nease High School in January, said his appreciation for the coaching staff begins at the top with Muschamp.

“I love him. I love him. I’ve known him for a long time,” he said. “I played for Nick Saban. His last year [2006] at Miami was my last year [in the NFL]. [Muschamp is] a combination of a little bit of [Steve] Spurrier and a lot of Nick Saban. I like the guy. He was dealt a bad deck of cards. I don’t think people realize how bad that situation is and was.”

Though Florida has brought in highly-ranked recruiting classes over the last few years, Matthews believes Meyer and company failed in their talent evaluations and relied on speed more than overall football talent toward the end of his tenure.

“We ain’t put anybody in the league the last couple of years, so that shows you how we were recruiting. They missed big-time,” he said. “We had a track team, which track teams don’t play on Sunday. You better run like a track player but be able to play football.”

Muschamp’s rocky first season as the man in charge of the Gators may be in the rearview mirror, but Matthews does not believe the coach is out of the woods yet. He said that Muschamp has plenty of tough decisions ahead of him starting with who he will name as Florida’s starting quarterback in September.

Read the rest of Matthews’s thoughts on the Gators…after the break!
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FOUR BITS: transfer, Noah, baseball, Brantley

1 » The Florida Gators announced Wednesday that 6’6” center Vicky McIntyre has decided to transfer to the University of Florida and will be eligible to play in 2013-14 after sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules. McIntyre, who has played at Oklahoma State the last two season and will have two years of eligibility remaining after a year off, decided to transfer after two coaches she was extremely close to perished in a plane crash in Nov. Once she steps on the court for practice, McIntyre will be the tallest player to play for Florida women’s basketball in the program’s 40-year history. “We get a kid with her size and length but now combine that with the experience she gained in [a] Big 12 program, plus the work ethic, attitude and excitement about being a Gator,” head coach Amanda Butler said. “That’s a winning combination.” McIntyre averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds during her freshman season and hopes to regain that form.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was forced to miss the final two games of his team’s first-round playoff series after severely spraining his left ankle during Game 3 and is becoming increasingly frustrated with how often he has been injured over the last two seasons. Noah said on Monday that he plans to strengthen his ankles in the offseason and do whatever he can to ensure he is in tip-top shape heading into next season. “I’m just frustrated because I really feel like I really worked hard on trying to keep my body right,” he told ESPNChicago.com. “I feel like the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think just going full speed onto somebody’s ankle and landing on somebody’s foot – that could have happened to anybody. It’s frustrating but nobody died. You learn from it and move on.” Despite his most recent setback, Noah still plans to participate in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the French National Team. “I’m gunning for it. I’m hoping that I’ll be healthy and be able to play,” he said.

3 » ESPN’s Keith Law released his first mockup for the 2012 MLB Draft on Tuesday and slotted Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino as the No. 5 overall selection in the first round by Kansas City. Zunino is widely believed to be a top-five prospect and the highest-ranked college baseball player. Law has also listed juniors left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (No. 28), shortstop Nolan Fontana (No. 44) and lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez (No. 71) on his general list of top-100 players. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker, and junior righties Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox are also “potential top 200 picks,” according to ESPN’s Jason A. Churchill.

4 » The United States Social Security Administration this week released the country’s most popular baby names for the past year (2011) and noted that the name with the biggest jump in popularity for males is Brantley. From the press release: “For the boys, there could be some controversy over Brantley – depending on whether you are a fan of college football or country music. Arguments could be made that the popularity of the name comes from John Brantley, the quarterback for perennial powerhouse The University of Florida, or from Brantley Gilbert, the singer with the number one country hit ‘Country Must Be Country Wide.’ If you like both football and country music, you’re a winner either way!” Yes, that is from a real government press release.

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SIX BITS: tennis, softball, Hill, Thompson, NBA

1 » No. 12 Florida Gators men’s tennis (16-9) continued its hot play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, completing a 4-0 sweep of the No. 24 Harvard Crimson (23-3) to advance to the round of 16. Florida clinched the doubles point and received singles victories from No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-2, 6-3), No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman (6-4, 6-2) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-1, 6-4) to grab the victory and move on to the round of 16 for the third-straight season. UF will resume play on Friday against No. 5 Ohio State at noon.

2 » Gators softball, one day after falling hard in a bid for a conference tournament title, learned Sunday that they have earned the No. 5 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida (46-11) will open the tournament as hosts of the Gainesville Regional, which will also feature Florida Gulf Coast, Central Florida and South Florida. UF is 2-2 this season against the field with victories over FGCU (5-0) and USF (3-2) and losses to UCF (2-0) and USF (4-1). The Gators will play their first game on May 18 at 6 p.m. against FGCU. Should Florida be the victor of their regional, they will take on the winner of the Los Angeles Regional featuring No. 12 UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State and Hofstra. UF would likely host the Super Regional in that scenario.

3 » Five-star point guard Kasey Hill, a 2013 Gators’ commitment and the No. 8 player in the country according to Rivals, received high praise from ESPN’s Dave Telep on Thursday. Telep, who has attended five AAU events since March, said Hill stood out as the top performer at the adidas VIP Run and thinks he is one of two players who could be considered the best point guard in the class of 2013. “The most improved player I’ve seen? That would be point guard Kasey Hill,” he wrote. “He’s refined his approach to the point guard slot and in my mind, become an elite player and impact recruit. There’s a difference between being highly rated and being an impact signee. He’s the best point guard Billy Donovan has ever recruited.”

4 » Two NFL writers had some high praise for former Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson based on how he performed in Baltimore Ravens minicamp on Sunday. FOX Sports’ Aaron Wilson said Thompson “had a good day…speed is eye-catching, caught the ball fairly well, too,” while CBS Sports’ Jason Butt noted that Thompson “looked fluid and sharp, and showcased stellar straight-line speed and quick cuts.” Thompson is one of two former UF players (quarterback John Brantley) who signed an undrafted free agent deal with Baltimore this offseason.

5 » Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer became the third former Gators basketball player (and member of the Oh Fours) to be eliminated from the 2012 NBA Playoffs this week after Denver fell 96-87 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Brewer, after having some highlight moments during the series, had a rough outing in Game 7. He scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting (0-for-3 from downtown) with two rebounds and one steal in 13 minutes. Also out of the postseason is center Marreese Speights and the Memphis Grizzlies. Speights also had an admirable series but did not get the opporutnity to contribute much in Memphis’ 82-72 Game 7 loss, scoring just two points on 1-of-2 shooting with two rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes.

6 » Only three former Florida players remain in the playoffs: F Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs and both power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller of the Miami Heat. Bonner is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game this postseason while Haslem is posting averages of 3.8 points and 6.4 boards in 19.0 minutes and Miller is registering 7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 23.2 minutes.

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SIX BITS: baseball, Guy, Tebow, Lochte, Horford

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-13, 15-10 SEC) got off to a hot start in their final home series of the regular season, taking down the No. 25 Mississippi State Rebels (30-19, 12-13 SEC) on Senior Day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won 4-1 behind a strong outing by junior right-hander Hudson Randall, who gave up an earned run in the fifth but otherwise scattered five hits in his 7.0 innings while striking out two. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 4 K) was dominant in closing out the game and earned his third save of the season. The Gators rallied to cross the plate once each in the second and third and added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run homer to left. Five seniors including Pigott, RHP Greg Larson, utility player Jeff Moyer, outfielder Tyler Thompson and right fielder Preston Tucker were honored on Friday though a handful of the team’s juniors may also be playing their final regular season home series at McKethan Stadium.

2 » It was reported back in January that Florida had offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to three-star quarterback Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL), but the player had chosen to take some time to consider his options before deciding where he would attend school in 2012 and beyond. Guy has finally made that decision and announced on Friday that he will turn down scholarship offers from schools like Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan in order to walk on with the Gators. “I”ve always been a Gators fan,” Guy told the Tampa Bay Times. “The opportunity to go up there to Gainesville and play for the Gators got me there.” Guy set his high school’s single season records for passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (42) in his senior year and put up a brilliant line in the Class 5A region final when he completed 17-of-18 passes and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). At 6’5” and 200 lbs., Guy’s size is exceptional for a signal caller. Should Florida’s roster remain unchanged heading into the summer, he will be the ninth quarterback in camp with only four on scholarship.

3 » E! has decided to air a 30-minute special on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow and his fans, the special (which will air sometime in July according to Sports Illustrated), is being created without his participation and therefore is unlikely to include any unique material. “Tebow is a pop culture phenomenon and the interest in his life expands beyond the world of sports. He’s a compelling personality and has a fascinating story,” a network spokesman told SI’s Richard Deitsch.

4 » Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte is ready and raring to go for the 2012 London Olympics this summer and his manufactured feud with Michael Phelps is beginning to pick up steam heading into the games. The two have been going head-to-head all year and will likely be in many of the same events in the Olympics, so SI.com took a look at how the teammates and rivals are fairing with 78 days to go (as of Thursday) until the games begin.

As Phelps peeled back after Beijing, Lochte ramped up. Phelps won five golds and one silver at the 2009 world championships. Lochte won four gold and a bronze. Phelps won another five events at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Lochte won six, bettering Phelps for the first time at a major meet.

Then came the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where Lochte won five golds and one bronze to Phelps’ four golds, two silvers and one bronze. Lochte won both head-to-heads, the 200 free and 200 individual medley, by a combined half-second over Phelps. That was enough to earn Lochte the title of the new world’s best swimmer.

5 » Forward/center Al Horford fought his way back from a torn right pectoral to play in the final three games of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. A major contributor in those three contests, Horford found himself at the foul line with three seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game if he made both free throws. After missing the first one, Horford made the second and Atlanta wound up losing as there was not enough time for them to come back and get another good shot. Many fans wondered whether should have missed that second free throw considering the team was down two with no timeouts remaining. A day after the contest, Horford spoke about that possibility. “I didn’t really think about it. That’s something I probably should have given some thought,” he said. “The first one felt good. I was surprised I missed it. Looking back I should have missed the second one, not realizing we didn’t have any timeouts. I did [realize it] before but there was a lot of stuff going on through the game.” The real question is why none of his coaches relayed it to Horford to do just that following the initial miss.

6 » Former Florida football players quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green all signed undrafted free agent deals with their respective teams on Friday. Brantley and Thompson were two of 19 players to come to terms with the Baltimore Ravens while Green was inked by the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Dan Wenger continues to participate in Jets mini camp as he hopes to earn a scholarship, and former Gators safety Will Hill, who did not a legitimate look from any NFL team after declaring for the draft a year early in 2011, is currently working out and hoping to earn a job with the New York Giants.

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Three Gators sign undrafted free agent deals

Former Florida Gators quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green each signed undrafted free agent contracts hours after the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft on Saturday.

Brantley and Thompson, each of whom had an outside shot of being drafted but were ultimately passed over in the seven-round event, both signed with the Baltimore Ravens. It is the second-straight year that Baltimore penned a former Florida player to an undrafted free agent deal after picking up DE Terron Sanders a year ago (he was eventually released).

“I’m excited,” Brantley told the Ocala Star-Banner. “I was expecting the worst after the last two years (at UF). I just want to get a shot and that’s what I got. The Ravens started showing interest in the middle of the second round. There’s an opportunity there.”

Green will join former Florida cornerback Joe Haden on the Cleveland Browns.

Additionally, center/guard Dan Wenger told OGGOA on Sunday that he has been invited to participate in the New York Jets‘ team mini-camp. He had interest from three others teams but New York ultimately became his destination.

Cornerback Moses Jenkins has yet to sign an undrafted free agent deal or receive/accept any invitations as of press time.

2012 NFL DRAFT
» DT Jaye Howard – Round 4, No. 114 – Seattle Seahawks
» RB Chris Rainey – Round 5, No. 159 – Pittsburgh Steelers
» CB Janoris Jenkins – Round 2, No. 39 – St. Louis Rams

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Florida Gators 2012 NFL Draft viewer’s guide

The Florida Gators may not have a proverbial dog in the race when it comes to the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft on Thursday but a handful of former Florida players still hope to see their childhood dreams come true this weekend.

As fans of the 32 NFL teams look on nationwide, those supporting the Gators may not be as excited about the event this time around considering there will be yet another a significant drop-off from the nation-leading nine players that were selected in 2010 (including a school-record three in the first round and six in the first two rounds). In fact, Florida is not expected to have a first-round pick for the first time since the 2006 draft when Chad Jackson was an early second-round selection by New England.

Few things are certain when it comes to the NFL Draft – trades can occur at any moment and each team views its most pressing needs and what each player brings to the table differently than analysts do. Rather than try to predict the unknown variables and tell you what could happen, we will stick with what likely will happen Thursday-Sunday.

» Cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be the only player with (close) ties to Florida to be selected in the first two rounds – probably in the latter part of round one.

Unless a team falls in love with running back Chris Rainey’s potential, Jenkins is the only name Gators fans can hope to hear on Thursday or early Friday. He has early first-round potential but what many teams apparently consider undraftable off-the-field character concerns. Reports coming out this week state that some teams have removed Jenkins from their draft boards entirely while others recognize that his talent may be too good to pass up. Many analysts even believe he has a higher upside than LSU’s Morris Claiborne, who is expected to be the first cornerback selected (somewhere in the top 10) on Thursday. With such a rush of anti-Jenkins reports, it appears as if a number of teams are trying to create a major smokescreen in the hopes that he falls to them late in the first round. Marijuana arrests and multiple children out of wedlock may matter to some front office executives, but they are not considered to be on the same level with felony arrests, for example. It is likely that someone takes a chance on Jenkins Thursday and does not let him slip into the second round where he would be an absolute steal.

Continue Reading » Florida Gators 2012 NFL Draft viewer’s guide

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