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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TWO BITS: Peterson re-signed, Cunningham

1 » Former Florida Gators linebacker Mike Peterson re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons, continuing his now-14-year NFL career with the team he has played for since 2009. Close with Atlanta head coach Mike Smith, Peterson was brought over to the Falcons when Smith was hired away from the Jacksonville Jaguars (where Peterson played from 2003-08). After amassing 109 tackles (82 solo) with three turnovers and a sack as a starter in 2009, Peterson’s production has trailed off over the last two seasons as he has moved into a reserve role. He had just 24 tackles (18 solo) in 2011. He was re-signed for depth and flexibility purposes as he can play either inside or outside and is also a strong veteran presence in the locker room.

2 » New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a disappointing season in 2011, spending most weekends on the inactive list and officially being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury on Dec. 10. When he did see the field, he mostly played on special teams after registering 35 tackles and a sack in 15 games as a rookie. Head coach Bill Belichick said he was pleased with how hard Cunningham had worked and noted that he had been having a “great offseason” on June 12, but a projection by ESPN Boston just 12 days later said the player only had a 35 percent chance of making the 53-man roster. That has apparently not stopped Cunningham from working his butt off in the gym and taking some fans along for the ride, as noted by Reddit user “dafrizz888,” who recently posted his account of Cunningham selflessly taking him through a tough ab workout a few days ago.

I called over to him and told him thanks again and that I wasn’t expecting to get to work out with an NFL player when I walked into the gym. He responded “hey, we’re all just doing our thing in there man.”

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FOUR BITS: Fulwood, Gal, Raymond, Hernandez

1 » Four-star wide receiver commit Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, FL) was one of a number of Florida Gators commits and targets participating in The Opening, a three-day skills competition run by Nike that took place in Eugene, OR over the weekend. InsidetheGators.com recruiting analyst Blake Alderman was in attendance at the event ($) and tagged Fulwood as the Florida commit/recruit who is “ready to play today.” With wide receiver being a major position of need for the Gators, Fulwood’s frame (6’4, 189 lbs.) and ability to “climb the ladder and catch the ball at its highest point” are major positives that offensive coordinator Brent Pease should be able to utilize as soon as he gets on campus. Fulwood did not see many passes go his way due to the quarterbacks spreading the ball around, according to Alderman, but impressed every time it was thrown to him and made a pair of touchdown grabs over the weekend.

2 » Though she ended the event eight shots off the lead, former Florida golfer Sandra Gal of Germany finished in third place (+1) at the conclusion of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, the best position she has finished in a major in her five-season LPGA Tour career. After a rough start to her career in which she missed numerous cuts and fell well outside the top 25 players in major championship events, Gal has really turned the corner the last two years. In the last 16 months she won her first tour event (the Kia Classic in March 2011) and has registered three top-15 finishes in majors – T-15 in the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, T-12 in the 2012 LPGA Championship and third in this weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open.

3 » Former Gators tennis player Lisa Raymond had a nice tune-up for the 2012 London Olympics by competing in Wimbledon over the weekend. Though No. 1 Raymond/Liezel Huber fell in the semifinals of the women’s doubles tournament to Serena and Venus Williams, she went all the way to the finals of the mixed doubles tournament as the No. 2-ranked team with fellow American Mike Bryan. The duo defeated No. 4 Elena Vesnina/Leander Peas 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. It was the fifth Grand Slam mixed doubles title of Raymond’s career and 11th overall Grand Slam doubles title.

4 » With the New England Patriots extending tight end Rob Gronkowski this offseason, many fans of the team wondered what will become of TE Aaron Hernandez in the near future. Considering the team spent so much money to retain Gronkowski, conventional wisdom is that New England will let Hernandez’s deal expire but keep him in the fold by giving him the franchise tag in consecutive seasons before either allowing him to seek another contract or re-signing him when the time comes. However, according to The Boston Globe, that may not be so easy for the Patriots considering Hernandez could very well throw a wrench in those plans.

“Don’t expect Hernandez to accept the franchise tag number at tight end. The argument is there to be made that in his role, Hernandez is more of a receiver than a tight end,” writes Greg A. Bedard. “And considering that the receiver tag ($9.515 million) is almost double that of tight end ($5.446 million) this year, you can almost bet that Hernandez […] will prepare an argument for the receiver tag. That’s exactly what agent Blake Baratz did in February for tight end Jermichael Finley. It’s not known how much the threat affected the Packers, but they ultimately signed Finley to a two-year contract worth around $15 million.” Read more from Bedard on the subject by clicking here.

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SIX BITS: Haden, Cunningham, Rosario, Horford, Finney-Smith, Larson, Pigott, Bullard

1 » The NFL’s Around the Legaue blog highlighted cornerback Joe Haden as the most likely player from the Cleveland Browns “set for a breakout campaign in 2012.” Despite mentioning that he is “already one of the ten best cornerbacks in football,” a proclamation that would not be doubted by anyone who actually watched Haden play throughout the 2011 season, Gregg Rosenthal notes that Haden is not getting his due because after picking off six passes as a rookie he did not have a single interception in his sophomore campaign. However, he has been fantastic at limiting the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver and is “just hitting his stride” two years removed from playing as a junior for the Florida Gators and going No. 7 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Though Haden can lock down receivers, his reading comprehension (when it comes to the instructions on bottles of bubble bath) probably needs some improvement.

2 » Even though head coach Bill Belichick said New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham had a “great offseason” and looked like a chance man at the start of mandatory minicamp, ESPN Boston only gives him a 35 percent chance of making the 53-man roster. “Last season, the Patriots kept Cunningham on the roster but he rarely saw the field, not having a special teams role in what turned out to be an injury-shortened season for the former second-round pick,” writes Mike Rodak. “Cunningham missed time in minicamp with another injury, an issue to monitor heading into training camp. If he cannot secure a role on defense during the preseason, he will face an uphill battle to make the roster.”

Read four more BITS in this post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Haden, Cunningham, Rosario, Horford, Finney-Smith, Larson, Pigott, Bullard

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