FOUR BITS: Texas A&M, Haden, Schutte, Paco

1 » With the Florida Gators’ game against the Texas A&M Aggies under 48 hours away, now is as good of a time as ever to check on ESPN College GameDay’s promotional video for the contest set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

2 » Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren announced on Tuesday that cornerback Joe Haden has indeed been suspended by the NFL for failing the league’s banned substance policy (testing positive for Adderall); however, he is set to play in the team’s season opener on Sunday and every game from that point forward until his already-filed appeal is ruled on by the league. Haden’s suspension, should it be enacted after the NFL reviews his appeal, will be for four games. He would at that time become the second former Gators player in the last three years to receive a suspension for violating that policy as New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes missed the last four games of his rookie season in 2010 after testing positive for an ingredient that was contained in his ADHD medication.

3 » Florida catcher Brittany Schutte, who missed most of the 2012 season after suffering a broken jaw early in the campaign, has decided to skip her final season with the team in order to move on and coach softball at the Oak Hall School in Gainesville, FL. According to Oak Hill, Schutte recently informed Gators head coach Tim Walton that she will not return to the team and “is shifting interest in her academic career with hopes of becoming an educator.” Her departure is a major loss for a Florida team that saw a huge star graduate and suffered three other major defections last season. The Gators lost senior centerfielder Michelle Moultrie and saw sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle as well as sisters Kasey Fagan and Sami Fagan leave the program after Walton suspended all three during the opening portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. In her first two years with the team, Schutte hit .335 with 41 home runs, 128 RBIs, 118 runs, 83 walks and 82 stolen bases. She also slugged .751 and fielded her position at a .989 clip. Schutte’s departure, coupled with Moultrie’s graduation and the three transfers, leaves the Gators without five of their best players heading into the 2013 season.

4 » Former Florida left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez, selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the No. 82 overall pick in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft, became the first player from that draft to be called up to the majors when Los Angeles brought him into the fold on Wednesday. Rodriguez, who was always thought to be a player who might be in this situation, was dominant in the minors, posting a 0.92 ERA with 32 strikeouts and six walks in 19 2/3 innings over 21 games. “Everybody here’s been great to me,” he told MLB.com this week. “Now I’ve got to perform. I’ve got to get over it. But on the mound, looking up at all the decks, the biggest place I’ve ever played before was Omaha and they only have two decks.”

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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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Patriots ink TE Hernandez to huge extension

When tight end Rob Gronkowski received a contract extension from the New England Patriots this offseason, it became apparent to many that the team was going to try to get the most they could out of former Florida Gators TE Aaron Hernandez without signing him to a similar extension that would lock him up long-term.

That widely-held opinion was proved worthless on Monday when New England and Hernandez agreed to a five-year extension worth a maximum value of $40 million including a $12.5 million signing bonus and $16 million in guaranteed money.

What helped get the deal together was Hernandez’s willingness to play out the final two years of his rookie contract without having his salary increased. He is set to earn $644,000 in 2012 and $1.523 million in 2013 (including all guaranteed and non-guaranteed monies). The Patriots agreed to enhance his earnings those years by paying out his signing bonus over three seasons ($6 million immediately, $3.25 million in 2013, $3.25 million in 2014), giving him major compensation for being willing to compromise.

Hernandez will then earn $1.7 million in 2014 (not including his signing bonus), $3.3 million in 2015, $6 million in 2016 and $7 million in 2017 and 2018. Those numbers include $500,000 in annual offseason workout bonuses and $500,000 in annual roster bonuses (2015-2018). He will also receive an additional $500,000 every season he is named to the Pro Bowl.

Once he signed the extension, Hernandez immediately donated $50,000 to owner Robert Kraft’s charity while at a gala on Monday.

“One of the touching moments since I’ve known the team — knowing that this is our charitable gala tonight — Aaron came into my office, a little teary-eyed and presented me with a check for $50,000 to go to Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund,” Kraft told ESPNBoston.com. “I said ‘Aaron, you don’t have to do this, you’ve already got your contract.’ And he said ‘No, it makes me feel good and I want to do it.'”

Hernandez spoke with multiple outlets about his donation and relationship with Kraft.

“He changed my life,” Hernandez said of Kraft. “Now, I’m able to basically have a good chance to be set for life and have a good life and I have a daughter on the way [Nov. 12], and I have a family that I love.

“It’s just knowing that they’re going to be OK, because I was happy playing for $250,000, $400,000. But knowing that my kids and my family will be able to have a good life, go to college, it’s just an honor that he did that for me. He gave me this opportunity. So the $50,000 to help his foundation, obviously it’s basically saying ‘thank you’. […]

“He didn’t need to give me the amount that he gave me, and knowing that he thinks I deserve that, he trusts me to make the right decisions, it means a lot. It means he trusts my character, and the person I am, which means a lot, cause my mother, that’s how she wanted to raise me.”

Hernandez’s extension may not be as rich as Gronkowski’s (six years, $53 million), but he was not in the same situation as his teammate, who was selected two rounds and 71 picks ahead of Hernandez in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Gronkowski had one of the best seasons for a tight end in NFL history in 2011, catching 11 more passes than Hernandez (90-79), registering 417 more receiving yards (1,327-910) and hauling in 10 more touchdowns (17-7) on the same team.

Word out of training camp this offseason, however, is that those numbers could wind up switching around very soon as Hernandez is quickly becoming quarterback Tom Brady’s top target in the passing game.

He is also being used more extensively by New England, taking handoffs in the backfield and even being used rarely as a punt returner on special teams.

That is why Hernandez is actually due more money (and will receive more guaranteed money) in the first four years of his contract than Gronkowski, according to the Boston Globe’s Greg A. Bedard, who also reports that the extension is “the second-richest for a tight end in league history, and the signing bonus is the highest ever at the position.”

Hernandez told MassLive.com that he’s thrilled to be a member of the Patriots for life and that he is appreciative of the organization for turning his life around.

“This is a place that not only did change my future from them paying me, but it just changed me as a person,” he said. “You can’t come here and act reckless and do your own stuff. I was one of the persons that I came here, I might’ve acted the way I wanted to act, but you changed by Bill Belichick’s way. You get changed by the Patriots’ way. Now that I’m a Patriot, I have to start living like one, and making the right decisions for them.”

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FOUR BITS: Patriots, WWE, Fallon, Tebow

1 » New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose team now has six former Florida Gators on its roster after signing running back Jeff Demps last week, explained Thursday why he has picked up so many players from the team over the years.

Via the Boston Herald.

“First of all, obviously, Florida has a lot of good football players. It’s a great football state. The University of Florida has great athletes and great players at their school, as do a lot of the other Florida schools. I had a good relationship with Coach [Urban] Meyer, as I do with Coach [Will] Muschamp, so maybe we had a little more insight or opportunity to evaluate or whatever. And we felt like those particular players that we drafted there fit our system and what we were doing. Now, not everybody worked out. Some worked out better than others. But that particular class — the [Jermaine] Cunningham, [Brandon] Spikes, [Tim] Tebow, [Aaron] Hernandez, [Percy] Harvin the year before that, [David] Nelson, the receiver [Riley] Cooper — those guys in those couple years there. For whatever reason, [Meyer] asked me to speak at a clinic. Charlie [Weis] was there last year.

“So I just had a little more opportunity to interact with those players in that school, and they were available at the particular times that we were drafting and so forth. Some of it was coincidence. Some of it was maybe a little more homework in a player like Aaron Hernandez, that talent-wise obviously should have been drafted a little higher than what he was, but we were comfortable with Aaron and taking him the time we did. That’s worked out pretty well for us, so sometimes that little bit extra getting to know the player, the person and so forth can come into play. You never know in the draft process. You just never know how it’s going to go.

“Certainly, coincidence is a part of it. Demps, we didn’t really — the guy was running track, so the way it turned out this year, a lot of that was coincidence. It wasn’t that big of a plan, but we’re happy we have the opportunity to work with Jeff and see how it goes.”

2 » On the latest edition of the WWE’s YouTube program Outside the Ring, former Florida defensive end Thaddeus Bullard (known by his wrestling name of Titus O’Neil, one half of The Prime Time Players) takes tag team partner Darren Young on a tour of UF. The duo check out some major sites on campus, visit the athletic facilities, meet with Muschamp and Billy Donovan and do some Gator Chomps along the way.

3 » Model-turned-television host Tyra Banks was a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday and participated in a skit called Brainstorm in which one person (Banks) gives an answer and another (Fallon) provides the humorous question afterward. The first two answer-question segments on the skit had to do with former Gators, namely Tebow and Olympian Ryan Lochte.

4 » Speaking of Tebow, he was a guest on the WFAN radio show co-hosted by former New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason on Thursday but did not get the verbal beat down in person that Esiason has previously provided him with over the airwaves. Esiason previously said that, if he were a member of the Jets front office, he would cut Tebow because he does not benefit the team in any way. On Thursday, however, he was mostly complimentary of Tebow while lobbing him some softball questions that the player, of course, knocked out of the park.

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FOUR BITS: Demps, Haden, Beal, Smith

1 » Now a member of the New England Patriots after signing with the team last week, former Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps told reporters Wednesday that “getting back into football shape” is going to be the toughest part of his return to the game. “I’m a football player first,” he said. “I’m used to jumping right into it, coming off of track season. It was basically like the same transition [as it was at Florida], but guys were a lot bigger.” Demps said that working with former Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was a plus because some of the Patriots’ playbook is familiar to him though he still has a ways to go. He noted Wednesday that he has not picked up a football since the 2012 Gator Bowl on Jan. 1 and that the presence of tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham on the team helped make his decision easier. “It played a good role,” he said. “I knew some of the faces. They took me in like they did when I was at Florida. It was a good thing.”

It was reported on Tuesday by NFL.com’s Bryan McIntyre that Demps received an $11,000 signing bonus from New England as well as a first-year salary of $390,000 of which $200,000 is guaranteed. “The total of $211,000 in guaranteed money is the second-largest sum given to a 2012 undrafted free agent,” he explained. His salary in years two and three of his deal has not been reported.

2 » Already mired in controversy regarding a potential four-game suspension for his alleged use of Adderall in the offseason, Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden was “removed from practice” on Wednesday after getting in a heated exchange with head coach Pat Shurmur. According to ESPNCleveland.com, the website for the city’s local ESPN Radio affiliates, Haden was “too rough with rookie [wide] receiver Travis Benjamin” during practice. “Haden had been warned about pulling jerseys” and got into an argument with Shurmur after “[dragging] down Benjamin in the end zone during a red zone drill.” The coach refused to talk about the situation afterward, simply saying that he has “a great deal of respect for Joe” who he called “a great competitor” who he appreciates for his work ethic and character on and off the field.

3 » Washington Wizards first-round draft choice and No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal is set to begin practicing with his team in five weeks but told the Washington Post on Wednesday that he is not heading into training camp expecting anything in particular as it pertains to his role on the team. “I want to just come in and try to earn everything,” he said. “I don’t want anything given to me. I want to earn everything and show these guys that I’m a hard worker and I’m a winner. You know we have a young team, but we have a few vets as well and I just want to come in and try to set the tone and try to get this team back on a winning pace.”

4 » Former Florida running back Emmitt Smith, despite feeling healthy as of press time, told SportingNews this week that he is worried about winding up where so many former players are health-wise, potentially suffering dementia or other serious brain problems due to being concussed so often while playing in the NFL. “Knowing what has started to come out in terms of the evidence of guys having mental issues right now, it concerns me, especially when you’ve carried the football more than anybody in the National Football League and have more yardage than anybody in the National Football League,” he said. “That means I probably got hit more than anyone in the National Football League, so why shouldn’t I be concerned?”

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Gators RB Jeff Demps set to sign with Patriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press

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FOUR BITS: Brown, Dunlap, Hernandez, Caldwell

1 » Out of the NFL last season, former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown decided to call it quits and will make it official on Thursday when he signs a one-day contract with the Chicago Bears and retires from the league. Brown, who will sign his final contract on the day of Chicago’s first preseason game, was the No. 104 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Bears and became a start defender for the team. He registered 411 tackles, 45.5 sacks, five interceptions, 43 pass defenses and 17 forced fumbles over his nine-year career, the first eight of which he spent in Chicago. “This is pretty special,” Brown told the Chicago Tribune of the Bears offering him a one-day contract to retire. “It shows a level of respect. I appreciate the club and I think they appreciate what I was able to do while I was here, representing the team and their brand as far as the Chicago Bears. I did it and I did it proudly. I tried to play football the right way. I hope people always felt I played my butt off and played the game the right way and kept my nose clean off the field.”

2 » Another former Gators defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, has been coming on strong in his third training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals. Dunlap is looking to have a breakout year in his third NFL season and is putting all he can into camp this time around. “As a pass rusher you want to be at the top. I haven’t done that yet,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Whoever is at the top is not always the same, but I want to be up there with the best of them and crack that 10 [sacks] number. I was coming off the bench before and now I’m going to be a starter. That should help me get in a rhythm during the game.” Dunlap is being tasked with remaining healthy and being an every-down player; he has been showing the coaching staff that he can be exactly what they need going forward. “So far he’s been very good and done everything right,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “Last year it took him about four days before he got started going down. Right now he’s still going in the right direction, so that’s a good sign.”

3 » The New England Patriots may have just re-signed tight end Rob Gronkowski to a huge contract but it is TE Aaron Hernandez whose role the team is desperately trying to expand. According to ESPNBoston.com, Hernandez has been “on fire” and “explosive” to start training camp. Not only is he hauling in plenty of passes, Hernandez has been used as a punt returner by the Patriots and is also staying late after practice to take hand-offs from quarterback Tom Brady. Hernandez is even receiving love from often frosty head coach Bill Belichick, who kissed him on the elbow (picture) last Friday. “I had a little bruise on my elbow and I was whining about it, and he was just showing me the love of a father figure and gave me a kiss on the elbow,” he told the Boston Globe. The love Hernandez truly wants to see is in the form of millions of dollars handed to him as a contract extension, though that may not be coming for quite some time.

4 » One former Florida offensive star may no longer be with the Denver Broncos but that is not stopping one of the team’s newest acquisitions, wide receiver Andre Caldwell, from shining. According to the Denver Post, Caldwell is getting along famously with new QB Peyton Manning thanks to his speed and sure hands; he may even be in line for a starting job. “There’s a place for me in this offense to make big plays to help this team win,” he said. “When Denver made that move at quarterback, this spot became a No. 1 priority.” Caldwell had some great moments but was never a consistent producer with Cincinnati, something that he hopes he can become in Denver now that a lingering injury is no longer a problem. “I mean, two years went by. I kept getting treatment. It kept not getting better and finally the pain got so bad I couldn’t even really sleep through the night,” he explained. “So I finally went to see a specialist, and he checks me out and said, ‘You’ve got a sports hernia, and it needs to be taken care of.’ Right then, I just felt that relief, like a huge weight was off. I know I can be one of those impact guys and now my body’s right. I’m with this team, with this quarterback. This is big.”

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SIX BITS: Lochte, Andrews, LaCaze, Beal, Spikes

1 » American swimmers Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will be seeing plenty of each other in the pool during the 2012 London Olympics, but according to the Associated Press they are also sleeping under the same roof. Lochte and Phelps are two of six swimmers in one four-bedroom suite in the athletes’ village, the AP reports, with Phelps staying in the only single-bed room.

2 » FOX Sports announced Wednesday that the Fox College Football Pregame Show, set to air each Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and be hosted by Erin Andrews, will also include former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington as co-stars. The network also detailed some of Andrews’s other duties for FOX Sports. She will serve as a dugout reporter for the MLB’s National League Championship Series and World Series as well as a sideline reporter for some of the network’s top NFL games including on Thanksgiving and during the playoffs.

3 » It took an appeal to get her into the Olympics but now that she is there Australian steeplechase runner Genevieve LaCaze plans to make a name for herself – starting with competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase heats on August 4, her 23rd birthday. “I want to run in the high 9:20s and that should definitely get me to the final and I’ll be up against the top women in the world,” she told the Herald Sun. “I don’t think anything will stop me if I get to that point. How long is it – nine minutes of pain. How hard can it be?” And if she doesn’t medal in London, England? “The fact that I’ve made London 2012 is only going to make me keep going to Rio [2016],” she added.

4 » Named to the “All-Summer League Team” after posting averages of 17.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the Washington Wizards last week in Las Vegas, NV, former Florida Gators guard Bradley Beal was still hard of himself, noting that he must improve his shooting efficiency and be more aggressive on the court (he’s right on both counts). “Honestly, if I feel as though I’m open, coach is going to tell me to shoot it. It’s times I was open and passed and coach got all on my head [telling me to shoot], so I mean, certain situations, I’m an unselfish player,” Beal told the Washington Post. “I’d rather get somebody else going. I’ll eventually get going myself. That’s just my mentality. But it’s really just staying focused and staying within the flow of the game, actually.”

5 » The New England Patriots pulled linebacker Brandon Spikes off the active/physically unable to perform list on Wednesday after he passed his physical following offseason knee surgery. Spikes missed eight regular season games in 2011 but played great in the NFL Playoffs, recording 26 tackles and sack, nabbing an interception and forcing a fumble in three postseason games.

6 » Below are player profiles for former Gators striker Abby Wambach and defender Heather Mitts, two members of the U.S. Women’s National Team competing in the Olympics. Team USA won its first game on Wednesday 4-2 over France; Wambach’s header at 19’ cut an early 2-0 deficit in half and gave the Americans the momentum they needed to pull out the come-from-behind victory.

For full coverage of Gators in the Olympics, be sure to visit and bookmark OGGOA‘s dedicated and constantly updated page.

Photo Credit: Michael Dodge/Herald Sun

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