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: Calathes, Hernandez, Noah, Tyus, Beal

1 » Following up on a story from May in which the Dallas Mavericks head of international scouting said that point guard Nick Calathes will have an opportunity to play in the NBA this season is word that he may actually get that chance. According to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon, Calathes “had discussions with the Mavericks [last] week indicating that he wants to play in the NBA” but continues “to be heavily recruited by European teams” now that his three-year contract with Panathinaikos has officially expired. MacMahon notes that should Dallas bring Calathes in for summer league action, he would be signed to a nonguaranteed contract.

2 » Now that the New England Patriots have locked up 2010 first-round pick tight end Rob Gronkowski long term with a six-year, $53 million contract extension, the focus has turned to what the team will do with fellow 2010 draft picks second-round linebacker Brandon Spikes and fourth-round TE Aaron Hernandez. As noted by the Boston Herald, New England signing Gronkowski to the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history could pose problems for Hernandez’s future. Hernandez remains under contract with the team through the 2013 season and is set to earn less than $1 million in salary each season. Should the team decide to give him a franchise tender, it would only cost them around $6 million, making there no immediate need for the Patriots to extend Hernandez as they would be able to avoid tying up a ton of money into one position. A No. 1 tight end in most NFL offenses, Hernandez is basically No. 2 at that position for New England despite also seeing time in the backfield and out near the sideline as a wide receiver. He most likely feels that he deserves money equal to or surpassing Gronkowski, which means his long-term future may have him wearing a different uniform.

3 » Only two of the seven former Florida Gators that participated in first-round action in the 2012 NBA Playoffs remain in contention for a title. Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem and guard/forward Mike Miller both advanced to the NBA Finals over the weekend; Haslem is looking for his second ring while Miller is still pursuing his first.

4 » Speaking of the playoffs, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (who severely sprained his ankle during the first round) has yet to recover from his injury. “I’ve tried to play a little basketball, but it’s still a little sore,” he told French-language website Catch and Shoot. “My left leg is not at its best. I can’t push off it; I can’t run well. I’m not ready at all.” Noah has been saying all offseason – since the Bulls were eliminated – that his No. 1 priority is healing and improving the strength of his ankles and lower body so he can compete with the French National Team in the 2012 London Olympics. There is a way to go until the games begin, but Noah obviously has plenty of progress that he must make before being able to participate.

5 » Former Gators forward Alex Tyus, who has spent his first season out of college playing professionally for Maccabi Ashdod in Israel, learned recently that the country has granted him temporary citizenship, which will allow him to train and likely compete with the Israeli National Team in the 2013 European Qualification games. Tyus averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his rookie season and helped lead Ashdod to their league finals (where the team fell 83-63 to Maccabi Tel Aviv). He and his wife converted to Judaism prior to leaving for Israel last summer.

6 » According to his agent Mark Bartelstein, who spoke with CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman over the weekend, Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal has already scheduled three more workouts over the next seven days. Beal is set to work out for Washington (No. 3 overall) on Thursday, Cleveland (No. 4 and No. 24 overall) on Saturday and Charlotte (No. 2 overall) a week from Monday. The 2012 NBA Draft is set for June 28 giving Beal just over two weeks from press time to win over coaches and front office executives.

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FOUR BITS: Rainey, Butler, Tebow, Hernandez

1 » Now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back Chris Rainey expressed on Tuesday how smooth the transition has been already to the NFL – and it is not because he has two former Florida Gators teammates and friends on the squad in center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Marcus Gilbert. “Well, this isn’t a new offense,” Rainey told WPXI in Pittsburgh, PA. “I’ve been in this offense at Florida because Charlie Weis and Coach [Todd] Haley coached together. It’s the same offense so it’s easy to me. It’s definitely an advantage. I can just go in here, see what it is and be like: I know this. I don’t even have to study. I’m right there. I’m ahead of everybody.” He is similarly not concerned about the speed of the NFL because of his five years in the Southeastern Conference. “I don’t think there’s a transition because I came from the SEC, so it’s basically the same thing the work wise,” Rainey told the station. “The hard work and all that kind of stuff [is the same]. Offense and everything [is the same], so I’m just out there doing my job.”

2 » Florida announced Wednesday that head women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler had her contract extended through the 2016-17 season after five years at the helm of the Gators. “I like the direction our program is headed,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a school release. “We know Amanda will be our coach for a long time. We’re excited about the future of the Gator women’s basketball program.” Butler is 98-67 in her five years at Florida, where she played as a guard from 1990-94 and served as an assistant coach from 1994-97.

3 » Panini America announced on May 31 that, as part of the company’s 2012 Prestige Football series, they will be including a 15-card insert devoted to now-New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The cards will be released on June 20 and numbered to a maximum of 1,500; there will also be 15 special versions of the 15th card (featuring him in a Jets uniform) that are autographed by Tebow. Below are small previews put together by OGGOA of the fronts of the 15 cards (each back includes a paragraph on Tebow):

4 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was scheduled to attend one of his teammates’ and fellow Connecticuter’s youth football clinic on Sunday but was delayed and showed up late for the event. When he did arrive, however, Hernandez was peppered with questions by the kids in attendance (the first of which was about the Gators); he also signed “roughly 100 autographs and [took] nearly as many pictures,” according to the New Britain Herald, before ending his appearance. In unrelated team news, recently signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney may not wind up on New England’s final roster if he cannot beat out fellow veterans Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth. The three are all competing likely for a pair of roster spots, which is strange for each of the players consider all three joined the league together when selected in the 2002 NFL Draft by different teams.

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Patriots set to bring back WR Jabar Gaffney

Less than 48 hours after being released by the Washington Redskins following the most productive season of his career, former Florida Gators wide receiver Jabar Gaffney has agreed to a two-year deal to return to the New England Patriots, according to NFL Network‘s Jason LaCanfora.

Gaffney, who spent three years with New England from 2006-08, never caught more than 38 passes or amassed more than 468 yards in a single season as a member of the Patriots. He did, however, catch five touchdowns in 2007 when the team advanced to but eventually lost Super Bowl XLII.

The last two years have been the most productive of Gaffney’s career. He had 65 receptions for 875 yards and two touchdowns with Denver in 2010 and eclipsed all of those numbers by registering career- and team-highs in receptions (68), targets (115), yards (947) and touchdowns (5) for Washington.

Selected with the No. 33 overall pick in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Gaffney spent the first four years of his career with Houston (2002-05) before moving on to New England, Denver (2009-10) and finally Washington.

He came under fire in early April for a epic rant emanating from his Twitter account that he later claimed he did not participate in. It is unknown if that incident contributed to his release from the Redskins though the team beefed up its receiving corps in the offseason and claimed Gaffney’s 2012 salary to be cost prohibitive.

Gaffney will return to the Patriots as the fifth former Gators player on the team’s roster. In addition to tight end Aaron Hernandez and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham, New England also plans to re-sign defensive tackle Gerard Warren for the 2012 season.

Photo Credit: Keith Nordstrom/New England Patriots

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FOUR BITS: 2013 draft, Warren, Rainey, Gaffney

1 » NFL Network’s Chad Reuter recently came out with his preseason rankings of the top five prospects by position for the 2013 NFL Draft. Reuter lists three Florida Gators on his groupings though only one is all but guaranteed to be eligible following the 2012 college football season. Ronald Powell (No. 5 defensive end) and Sharrif Floyd (No. 3 defensive tackle) are both entering their junior seasons; neither has had a full-season campaign that would lead to them leaving early and whether either will accomplish that this year remains to be seen. Powell is expected to miss at least the first month of the season (if not longer) with a torn ACL, and Floyd has yet to receive the majority of snaps at his true position of defensive tackle after playing end most of the time in 2011. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis, however, is listed No. 2 overall among specialists (though most kickers and punters go undrafted and are signed as free agents).

2 » Former Florida DT Gerard Warren signed one-year deals with the New England Patriots both before the 2010 season (16 games played, 10 starts) and four games into the 2011 season (12 games played). According to Comcast SportsNet, Warren will do the same in 2012 as he is set to re-sign with the team soon once terms of a new deal (likely the veteran’s minimum plus incentives) are agreed to by the team and his agent.

3 » The Pittsburgh Steelers took a minimal risk by selecting former Gators running back Chris Rainey on Saturday, one the team lessened by asking plenty of people about Rainey’s character and coming away confident that he would not be an issue going forward. Perhaps one endorsement in particular, from Florida running backs coach Brian White who labeled him the “steal of the draft,” also helped motivate the team to draft Rainey. “I’ve been coaching 26 years and had as much fun coaching him as anyone I’ve ever coached,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s an incredibly infectious guy. He loves football and he really is an electric athlete. His change of direction is the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been around anyone who can change direction and accelerate like him. He’ll make a ton of dynamic plays in a lot of different areas for the Steelers and people will enjoy watching him play. He’ll bring enthusiasm and excitement to practice and the stadium that people will enjoy.”

White added that Rainey “doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, nothing” and that he has learned from “the one blemish” on his career. Lisa Webster, the mother of Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, also discussed the texting incident in which Rainey sent a message reading “Time to die” to his old girlfriend. “People say stupid stuff when they get in arguments,” Webster said. “Rainey texted it. I got on him. I told him I’d drive to Gainesville and beat him if he called her again. The boys called him. We know he wouldn’t do anything like that, he was just mad at the time. It wasn’t even her who called police. She knew he wouldn’t do anything like that.”

4 » Former Florida wide receiver Jabar Gaffney was released by the Washington Redskins on Monday after posting career-bests while with the team in 2011. In his 10th season in the NFL, Gaffney caught 68 passes for 947 yards with five touchdowns but will not be welcomed back to a team that made serious upgrades in its passing game over the last few months and did not want to spend $2.65 million on a reserve. Instead he will look to catch on with his fifth NFL franchise following Houston (2002-05), New England (2006-08), Denver (2009-10) and Washington (2011).

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FOUR BITS: Herndon, Harvin, Spikes, Demps

1 » The Florida Gators may have lost a number of tough recruiting battles on and after National Signing Day in February but the team picked up a second running back on Sunday albeit a walk-on. Mark Herndon, a 5’9” 188 lbs. rusher out of Forest High School in Ocala, FL, has decided to accept a preferred walk-on spot with the Gators football team in 2012 rather than take a scholarship to play at Lindenwood University. “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do since I began playing, to play Division I football and continue my dream,” Herndon said of playing for his hometown team. “Going to Lindenwood I felt like I would’ve had to give up on what I really wanted to do, and that’s just not the type of person I am.” Because Herndon already committed to Lindenwood and signed his national letter of intent, the school will have to release him from his scholarship. He is ineligible to play in 2012 (which was unlikely to happen even if he was eligible) but will be able to join the team in practices and meetings. Herndon will eventually try to earn a scholarship at Florida by showcasing a great work ethic and willingness to do whatever is asked of him by the coaching staff.

2 » Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin announced Monday on Twitter that he will be having arthroscopic shoulder surgery in the coming days but that he will not miss any major practice time heading into the 2012 season. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune confirmed his assumption as head coach Leslie Frazier explained that the procedure will help mend a sprained AC joint and that he should only miss some organized team activities before returning to the team in May.

3 » Speaking of NFL injuries, New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes is already walking without crutches or even a limp after undergoing knee surgery a few weeks ago. He told the Boston Herald on Sunday that everything is “going well” after his “first surgery ever” and that he’s “just rehabbing, trying to get better, staying on top of it” so he can be healthy for practice and the 2012 season.

4 » Gators senior sprinter Jeff Demps was named the SEC Co-Men’s Runner of the Week on Tuesday after posting a 10.01 (+2.9)-second time in the 100-meter dash at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays over the weekend. The time was the fastest in the world this season under any conditions and the third-fastest in his career. Demps is looking to build on his great indoor season as the track & field team competes in four more events before going to the SEC Championships and NCAA Championships from May-June.

Extra BIT » Despite vehemently stating that the team did not trade for quarterback Tim Tebow for publicity or money-making reasons, the New York Jets have not dismissed the possibility of being featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks documentary series in 2012. The Jets were on the show in 2010 but said last year that they had no intention of being on the program again. However, general manager Woody Johnson recently said that the team is more than open to the idea of returning to HBO in 2012. Funny how that works. It also comes on the heels of a report that New York is trying to “limit some of Tebow’s ‘outside’ endeavors,” according to the New York Daily News.

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SIX BITS: practice, Leonard, baseball, Spikes

1 » The Florida Gators announced Monday that spring football practice will begin on Wednesday, March 14 and conclude as always with the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on April 7 at 1 p.m. Unlike the 2011 season, when all of Florida’s spring practices were closed, the Gators will open two sessions to fans this year on Friday, March 16 (4:25-6:35 p.m.) and Saturday, March 17 (12:55-3:00 p.m.).

2 » Florida freshman tight end A.C. Leonard, arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery on Feb. 15 and indefinitely suspended from the team by head coach Will Muschamp one day later, entered a “not guilty” plea in Alachua County court on Monday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Being represented by Gainesville, FL attorney Huntley Johnson, Leonard is not allowed to have any contact with the woman he allegedly hurt by judge’s orders and had to find a separate place to live at least until the court makes a final judgment on his case.

3 » No. 1 Gators baseball (3-1) pulled out a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory at home on Tuesday, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (2-2) 8-6 at McKethan Stadium. Florida threw a trio of freshmen pitchers over the first 6.2 innings, beginning with right-hander Johnny Magliozzi who earned the first start of his career. Magliozzi allowed three earned runs on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts in 3.2 and was followed up by left-hander Bobby Poyner and RHP Justin Shafer. The duo gave up three earned runs combined on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts in 3.0 innings. By the time Shafer left the hill, the Gators were down 6-5 after previously having leads of 4-1 through three innings and 4-3 through four innings.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second to get Florida on the board, and the Gators rallied in the bottom of the third and fourth as four more runs crossed the plate. Zunino (2-3, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB) led off the seventh the same way he did the second, with another solo shot to tie the game 6-6. With junior RHP Austin Maddox (1-0) taking over to hold Bethune-Cookman to six runs, Florida again rallied in the eighth and took the lead with a RBI single by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-5). Junior first baseman Brian Johnson (1-4) had a two-RBI night for the Gators, and both senior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, RBI, 2 R, BB) and freshman catcher Taylor Gushue (2-5, RBI) knocked in runs on Tuesday.

4 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes underwent surgery on Monday. The Boston Herald reports that the surgery was performed on his right kene and done in order to “clean out some cartilage.” A source told the paper that the procedure “went very well.” Spikes, who returned late in the season after spraining his MCL, was a tremendous contributor for New England on defense in 2011 (when he was on the field).

5 » Florida is attempting to secure a sixth year of collegiate eligibility for offensive lineman James Wilson, ESPN reported on Monday. Wilson, who has broken his foot twice and had four knee surgeries in the last five years, has played in 38 games for the Gators and is talented enough to potentially start for Florida in 2012 if he is able to return. What may hurt his chances at a NCAA waiver is the fact that he played in 11 games in 2011, his redshirt senior season. ESPN notes that the Gators expect to have an answer sooner than later.

6 » North Texas Mean Green head coach and former Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney was released from the hospital on Feb. 16 after suffering a stroke and being rushed to the emergency room four days earlier. McCarney has since returned to work and is expected to continue coaching the team beginning with spring practice in March.

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Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Super Bowl XLVI

Five former Florida Gators were on the rosters of the two teams that participated in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday but only one – New York Giants defensive end Justin Trattou – left Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN with a ring.

Only three former Gators participated in the Super Bowl; Trattou was inactive and another was forced to sit out due to injury. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished Sunday.

Super Bowl XLVI was the 10th consecutive NFL championship game to feature a former Florida player. It is the third time in the last four seasons that one has won a ring.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
LB BRANDON SPIKES, New England Patriots: 11 tackles [game-high] (eight solo), forced fumble
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots: Eight receptions [team-high] for 67 yards (targets: 14, long: 12), touchdown

THE REST
DT GERARD WARREN, New England Patriots: Two tackles (one solo)

INJURED / INACTIVE
LB JERMAINE CUNNINGHAM, New England Patriots: Hamstring (season)
DE JUSTIN TRATTOU*, New York Giants^: Inactive

^ Team won Super Bowl XLVI.
* Rookie

2011 WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | WC | DV | CC

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