SIX BITS: NFL, Rainey, Beal, Rosario, track

1 » In addition to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey (who is expected to be released from his contract) and Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson (a restricted free agent), six other former Florida Gators currently under contract with NFL teams will be unrestricted free agents the day after the Super Bowl. Those players include Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Louis Murphy, Kansas City Chiefs LB Brandon Siler, Oakland Raiders guard Cooper Carlisle, Pittsburgh tackle Max Starks and Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman.

On rosters for Super Bowl XLVII are San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald and Baltimore Ravens WR Deonte Thompson. The end result and may very well come down to which quarterback stands out and makes as few mistakes as possible.

2 » Speaking of Rainey, the former Gators running back had his recent simple battery charge reduced to disorderly conduct by Alachua County Judge Walter Green after the State Attorney’s Office decided it did not have enough evidence to pursue the more serious offense. The judge withheld adjudication and fined Rainey $200 to go along with court costs of $300 for the offense, effectively ending the legal issue, according to Florida Today. The alleged victim in the case denied that Rainey hit her the day after his arrest and contradicting statements from witnesses made the state’s case inconclusive. The Steelers announced the day of Rainey’s arrest that they had decided to waive him; however, NFL transactions made during the postseason cannot be completed until after the Super Bowl. With the charges being significantly reduced, Pittsburgh could theoretically have a change of heart or consider bringing Rainey back on a cheaper free agent contract.

Check out four more BITS of Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: NFL, Rainey, Beal, Rosario, track

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FOUR BITS: Freshman All-SEC, Harvin, Siler, UA

1 » Four Florida Gators football players were named to the 2012 Freshman All-SEC Team on Thursday. Left tackle D.J. Humphries was the only player from the offensive side of the ball to be honored, but the Gators cleaned up on the defense with three placements – Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., defensive end Jonathan Bullard and LB Antonio Morrison. Florida was one of three teams (Alabama, Texas A&M) with four players selected to the Freshman All-SEC Team.

2 » The Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday placed wide receiver Percy Harvin on injured reserve, abruptly ending his season. Harvin had not played since injuring his ankle in Week 9 but up to that point was a candidate for Most Valuable Player consideration. He led Minnesota in receptions in virtually every game he played, racking up 677 yards and three reception touchdowns to go along with a rushing score and return touchdown. Harvin reportedly suffered a grade-three ankle sprain (torn ligament) on Nov. 4 and has been unable to get healthy enough where team doctors would clear him to return to the field. The offseason was a rough one for Harvin, who appeared to get over his career-long migraine issues but was unhappy with how little the Vikings organization was using him on the field, reportedly noting privately that he wanted more touches in order to prove his worth and value. Minnesota and head coach Leslie Frazier heeded his request and used him plenty through the first nine weeks of the season. Harvin will enter the final year of his rookie contract in 2013. He was hoping to sign a new deal in the upcoming offseason though those plans may be on hold as the franchise could wish to wait and see how he performs next year.

3 » Kansas City Chiefs LB Brandon Siler has been relegated to reserve duty all season long. After being signed by the Chiefs prior to the 2011 season, Siler was expected to start for the team but tore his Achilles’ in the preseason and missed the entire year. Kansas City re-signed him to a one-year deal before 2012 got underway with it being known that he would likely be a backup who would see relatively limited action during games. That all changed last week when the player in front of Siler, Jovan Belcher, was involved in a murder-suicide that rocked the team, the NFL and the country as a whole. Siler moved back into the starting lineup in place of Belcher on Sunday. “All I know is there are two families out there, and there’s a little baby girl out there who is going to get my prayers every day for the rest of my life,” he told the The Kansas City Star. “That’s what’s really important to me.” Siler said he handled the situation his “own way” without the assistance of grief counselors but just wishes there was something he could have done. “I went through it a hundred times in my mind, and I couldn’t think of anything,” he said. “There are a lot of what-ifs, it drives you crazy. You have to cope with it and deal with it. It’s real and it happened.”

4 » Six Gators commitments have been named to the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game, which will take place on Jan. 4 and air live on ESPN. All playing for the black team, the Florida pledges that will suit up include four-star wide receiver Alvin Bailey (Seffner, FL), four-star running back Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL), five-star defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa, FL), four-star DB Marcell Harris (Orlando, FL), four-star DB Keanu Neal (Bushnell, FL) and four-star defensive tackle Caleb Brantley (Crescent City, FL).

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FOUR BITS: Siler, Starks, Cunningham, Boynton

1 » Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler participated in a team practice for the first time since tearing his Achilles during the last play of a practice last August and missing the entire 2011 season. According to the team website, Siler only worked during individual drills but said it was good to be back in a helmet for the first time in nine months. “It was a lot of fun and it was football again,” he said. “All the [rehab] stuff that you do is meant to get you back playing football. When you get out there and put your helmet on – and I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve had my helmet on – it feels really good.” He continued, “I’ve wanted to light somebody up since I went down.” Siler did not get that chance on Tuesday as it was a non-contact, non-padded practice but will have that opportunity soon enough.

2 » For the second time in as many offseasons the Pittsburgh Steelers have begun organized team activities and minicamp without offensive tackle Max Starks. Also for the second time in as many offseasons, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has begun minicamp wearing Starks’s No. 78 practice jersey instead of his own No. 7. Roethlisberger entered the NFL along with Starks in the 2004 draft and the two have been extremely close friends ever since. Starks was unsigned heading into the 2011 season due to a neck injury he suffered late in 2010; however, after injuries plagued nearly the entire offensive line he was brought back and started almost immediately for the remaining half of the season. Last year Starks tore his ACL in the last game of the season – a playoff loss to Denver; he remains at least two months away from returning to action but is not under contract. Some have deemed it unlikely that he return to the Steelers, which is what was said last offseason as well, but Roethlisberger will undoubtedly pine for him to come back and protect him even if it is in a reserve role. (h/t Justin C.)

3 » New England Patriots outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham barely played in 2011…and it had nothing to do with his health. A notable absence from the field for the vast majority of the season (ESPNBoston.com notes that he only played 3.6 percent of the snaps in 2011 compared to 50.9 percent as a rookie in 2010), Cunningham reportedly had problems adjusting to the team’s switch to a 4-3 defense (he was a defensive end in college but was moved to linebacker upon being drafted) and may have been hurt a bit towards the end of the season though that was not the reason he missed so much time up front. According to head coach Bill Belichick, things have turned around for Cunningham and his playing time should be on the rise if he stays on the right track. “Jermaine’s had a great offseason,” Belichick said on Tuesday, noting that includes “physical improvement,” “overall mental grasp of what we’re doing,” and improvements to his “reactions and technique.” He continued, “He’s really worked hard. He looks good.” As for how much playing time he could see? “It will be up to him, and how he performs, relative to the other players at his position.”

4 » Florida Gators junior guard Kenny Boynton has needed to learn how to be a true point guard for at least two years now. If he has a future in the NBA, he is going to have to learn how to handle the ball and create both for himself and his teammates rather than just spotting up on the three-point line and taking shots. However, due to the presence of Erving Walker and the decision-making of head coach Billy Donovan, Boynton had been relegated to a shooting guard role even though giving him time at point had been a topic of discussion and consideration over the last two seasons. This time it appears that Donovan is ready to make sure Boynton gets that opportunity. “The three years he’s been here, he’s played some point,” Donovan told The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. “I think we’re going to need him to play some point. I think Scottie [Wilbekin] is the next logical guy in line. We signed Braxton Ogbueze who is a freshman. Kenny is a senior, so I don’t think there’s any question that Kenny is going to have to play some extra point because I think that’s best for our team.”

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SIX BITS: Larson, Siler, Beal, Harvin, Mather

1 » Florida Gators senior right-handed pitcher Greg Larson became the ninth member of his team selected in the 2012 MLB Draft when he was chosen on Wednesday with the No. 631 overall pick in the 20th round by the Boston Red Sox. Larson is the third Florida thrower to be picked by Boston in the draft after the Red Sox chose junior lefty Brian Johnson with the No. 31 overall pick in the first round and junior righty Austin Maddox with the No. 118 overall pick in the third round. It is the second time in team history that Boston has picked three players from UF (1979).

2 » Former Gators linebacker Brandon Siler signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 with hopes of proving that he could be the full-time starter and deserved a multi-year contract. Unfortunately for Siler, he tore his Achilles and never stepped on the field for the team in a regular season game; fortunately Kansas City decided to give him a second chance and signed him to a one-year extension in January. “It’s been frustrating,” Siler told the team’s website following the Chiefs’ seventh organized team activity practice. “My momma brought it to my attention that I haven’t been out of football this long since I was seven years old and that kind of puts everything in perspective. Football is what I do. [...] It’s my job to go out there and do what I do, and I can’t do that right now, so I shouldn’t be talked about. I plan on getting back out there and showing what I can do. [...] I’m just going to keep working with the trainers and follow what they have me doing. I want to get back out there immediately, of course, but they have a plan for me and I’m just going to follow that.”

Read four more BITS (and watch a video interview)…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Larson, Siler, Beal, Harvin, Mather

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Verducci out, Davis in as Florida OL coach

When former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left the Florida Gators to take the head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks, it was assumed that offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who worked with Weis at Notre Dame, would soon follow.

Verducci instead stayed put in Gainesville, FL for the time being has now moved on “to pursue other interests,” according to a Florida release, as the Gators announced Monday that the Utah UtesTim Davis will take over for him in 2012.

The Gainesville Sun reports that Verducci was fired after pursuing jobs in the NFL (including one with the Kansas City Chiefs). A source close to the team tells OGGOA that head coach Will Muschamp was not properly informed about the job search.

A veteran coach with more than two decades in the business, Davis has worked on the offensive line with Walla Walla (1988), Idaho State (1989), Utah (1990-96, 2011), USC (2002-04), the Miami Dolphins (2005-06) and Minnesota (2009-10).

He was also a volunteer, student assistant and graduate assistant at Utah, Wisconsin and Arizona for seven years (1981-87) and served double duty as offensive coordinator at Walla Walla and tight ends coach at Utah (1994-96).

Following his time as assistant offensive line coach under Nick Saban at Miami, Davis spent a year as Saban’s director of player personnel with Alabama (2008). He added the role of running game coordinator when he took the Minnesota job in 2009.

Davis and Muschamp are connected through Saban, both having served on the Dolphins’ coaching staff during the 2005 season. Muschamp spent just one year in the NFL before returning to college the following season.

“He was a guy that brought energy and passion to the job every day,” Muschamp said of Davis’s attitude while with Miami. “He is going to bring toughness. I thought he did a great job with our offensive line [with the Dolphins]. Everywhere he has been and he’s coached they have been able to run the football and create the play-actions of it, be able to spread the field, understand the protections and do what you’ve got to do to be able to keep the quarterback upright.

“You look at some of the guys he has worked for and you talk about Barry Alvarez, you talk about Nick Saban, you talk about Pete Carroll. You talk about those guys and what they have accomplished. He knows what it takes to be successful.”

Davis actually pursued the offensive line coach job with Florida when Muschamp took over in 2011, but Weis’s relationship with Verducci obviously took precedent.

“It wasn’t available then,” Davis said. “I told [Muschamp], ‘Well, I’m going to be persistent. I’m going to keep trying.’ I always wanted to work and coach in the SEC, especially with guys I know and have coached with.”

Though Davis has been a part of three BCS bowl teams and two national championships as a member of USC’s coaching staff, he has never coached alongside new Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

He did, however, work on staffs with current Florida running backs coach Brian White and tight ends coach Derek Lewis. Davis spent his four-year tenure at Wisconsin with White, three years of which White also served as offensive coordinator. Lewis, an assistant with Minnesota from 2007-10, worked with Davis for two years.

“It was easy [to make the move] because of Will and Dan and Brian and D-Lew,” he said. “You don’t make a decision like this – leaving your home state and everybody you know – without having somebody you know. That’s one of the things in coaching you can’t do. You have to be able to connect yourself with the guys you work with.

“The SEC is the premiere conference in the country, and you get a chance to work with guys you’ve worked with who are very successful, very motivated, they want to be the best. You’re working in a great environment and a great program like Florida. It’s everything that you dream about.”

Photo Credit: Mike Terry, Deseret News

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TWO BITS: Siler re-signed, Warren loves playing; EXTRA: Wambach, Lochte in Gatorade spot

1 » Despite missing the entire 2011 after rupturing his Achilles, linebacker Brandon Siler was re-signed by the Kansas City Chiefs over the weekend to a one-year deal with a total compensation of $750,000 that will keep him off of the market in 2012. Siler agreed to a one-year contract with Kansas City in the 2011 offseason, his agent David Canter told OGGOA, in order to prove that he was deserving of a multi-year deal with another team. He never had that opportunity, however, due to being injured before a single down of the regular season was ever played. Siler joined the Chiefs after spending four years with San Diego where he amassed 123 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. After playing solely as a reserve in 2007 and 2008, Siler started seven games in 2009 and five in 2010. He only played in 12 total games in 2010 due to injury.

2 » New England Patriots defensive tackle Gerard Warren loves football and so far the NFL has loved him back. Participating in his 11th season this year, Warren took a look back at much of his career this week with the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport. In his feature, Rapoport covers a story about Warren knowing C.J. Spiller when he was just a water boy at Florida, his giving back to the community, and how much love he has for his fellow players. Warren, who said he does not plan to retire “until they tear [the uniform] off me,” said, “The game is my life. This is my life. Sixty minutes, overtime, you can have hatred. Once the game is over with, you come back to being human beings again.”

Extra BIT » Former Gators striker Abby Wambach and former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte are featured in a new Gatorade commercial set to debut during the 2012 Rose Bowl. The duo are two of a number of athletes shown in the advertisement, which promotes a variety of the company’s products while introducing a new tagline: Win From Within. Lochte’s portion of the commercial, which features him in a Gators cap for one shot, was filmed at the pool at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

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Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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Charlie Weis in a great situation at Florida

When he made the tough decision to leave the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the 2010 season and transition back into college football as offensive coordinator of the Florida Gators, Charlie Weis was questioned by everyone as to the reasons why he ultimately decided to rejoin the collegiate ranks rather than continue working in the NFL.

At the time, Weis explained that it was a fantastic opportunity for his family. His son would be a student assistant with the Gators, his wife would be pleased with a 10.5-acre estate in Reddick, FL with plenty of horses, and his special needs daughter could get the assistance she needed with her condition.

During a media availability on Tuesday, Weis expressed that college football is also a better family environment than the NFL, something he appreciates as a family man.

“The one biggest difference between college football and pro football is college football is way more family friendly. Pro football is way more of a business. I’m not saying they’re not both a business, but that’s reality,” he said. “Our families are on the field after the game’s over. I’ve never, other than the Super Bowl, I’ve never seen families on the field in a pro game. You might have the head coach’s kids there but that’s about it. If you’re a family guy, which I obviously am, it’s kind of refreshing.”

There was another factor that drove him back to college – he enjoys the game.

“My approach has always been that I’m a teacher; that’s what I am. I’ve never wavered from that. That’s what I think I do the best,” Weis explained. “Everyone has their personalities and probably the biggest difference is I’m in a different role. Because I’m in a different role, there’s a whole set of problems that I don’t have to deal with. That’s why Coach [Will] Muschamp’s the head coach. There’s a whole slew of issues that you don’t deal with [as a coordinator].

“As far as the kids go, I loved the kids [at Notre Dame], and I love the kids here. I love being around kids that age. My kid is 18-years-old; I’ve been around him and his friends for quite some time. Probably one of the most rewarding things is watching one of these kids come in as an 18-year-old and then leaving as a 22- or 23-year-old young man and watching how they evolved and matured and all that stuff. It’s really kind of fun to see.”

Weis is comfortable in his role with the Gators – rejuvenating an offense that had its share of troubles just one year ago. Even though he’s back to being a college coordinator after leading the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for four years as a head coach (2005-09), he said moving on to that top job is not on his mind whatsoever right now.

“I’m just trying to beat Tennessee. Really, that’s the only thing. The only thing on my mind is trying to beat Tennessee. And if you ask me next week, I’ll be talking about trying to beat Kentucky,” Weis said. “That’s the way I was brought up – the way I was groomed. I was groomed [to believe that] you never worry about what’s happening down the road. Alls you worry about is your next game, and Tennessee is the one that’s up.”

Should anyone think money is an issue for him going forward, Weis joked that it is not at all in his mind. In actuality, his three-year, $2.625 million contract should suffice. However, if money was a serious consideration, he said he could be paid better elsewhere.

“Look it, I can make a lot more money in the pros than I can in college. If you’re making your decision just based off of money [there is no comparison],” he said with a smile. “A lot of guys have talked to me about going to the pros. I said, ‘Heck yeah, you’ll make more money, and then you can be miserable.’ There’s some give-and-take in that now. Money in college is going up a whole bunch from where it was a decade ago right there. Although I wouldn’t call it exactly competitive, it’s a way better situation than it was 10 years ago.”

With his family by his side, a job he is excited about, players that are enthusiastic about learning his offense and a fan base that is excited to see what he brings to the table, Weis’s situation is pretty good right now by any number of standards.

Photo Credit: Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post

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