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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FOUR Super Bowl XLVI BITS: Spikes, Hernandez, Warren, Cunningham and Trattou

1 » On a lighter note than the story from Thursday about Super Bowl XLVI being a dream come true for New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and his mother comes this story about Spikes’s preplanned attire for the occasion. As he did before the 2009 BCS National Championship, Spikes donned his all-pink suit as the team left New England and may very well rock it again on Sunday before the game. “Brought the lucky suit out again!” Spikes tweeted, adding that it is his lucky championship game suit. Below are a handful of pictures Spikes has taken over the weekend while in Indianapolis, IN including two with teammates and fellow former Gators tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Gerard Warren.

2 » Spikes is not the only one taking in the special occasion. Hernandez told Katherine Smith, in a special for Florida’s website, that being able to play in the Super Bowl is something he will never forget. “I was with Spikes the other day and we were just sitting there in the car and we were like, ‘Wow, we are really playing in the Super Bowl.’ I know it will really hit me when we walk into the game and all those cameras will be flashing and we’ll notice this is the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is a dream come true. I never thought I would be in this position or have this experience, but I’ll definitely take it all in and hold this for the rest of my life.” With Rob Gronkowski seeing most of the touches at tight end this year for the Patriots, Hernandez’s role has been altered. Not only does he play a true tight end role, he also splits out as a wide receiver and takes handoffs in the backfield, too. With Gronkowski nursing a high-ankle sprain and undoubtedly limited heading into the contest, Hernandez may be counted on more than ever on Sunday. “You dream of stuff like this since you’re a little kid,” he continued. “You never really actually see yourself in this position because obviously it’s always a dream, but to be here seems surreal. I remember doing the media day in college. I was looking around then just thinking how crazy that was, and now I’m in the Super Bowl and thinking how crazy this is. It’s crazy.”

3 » Lost with Spikes and Hernandez in the spotlight is the path of Warren, an 11-year NFL veteran still searching for his first Super Bowl ring. After being selected with the third overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Warren was labeled a bit of a bust, something that saw him see time in two more stops at Denver and Oakland before finally arriving in New England in 2012. Since joining the Patriots, Warren has been the consummate team player. He’s done the dirty work in the trenches and even began this season off of the team’s roster when the coaching staff promised they would bring him back after veteran contracts were no longer guaranteed. They did. “Gerard has been very professional,” head coach Bill Belichick said of him on Tuesday. “He’s been with us for two years, and his career has had its own path. But I really feel like he’s settled into our team and our program. He’s one of the most respected guys on the team. He works hard. He’s tough. He wants to be on the field. Gerard’s not a big-ego guy. He just wants to do his job and help us, and I have a lot of respect for that. I really do.”

4 » Spikes, Hernandez and Warren may be the big names Florida fans recognize on Sunday but there are two other Gators also involved with the teams competing. Jermaine Cunningham, a linebacker with New England, is out for the season with a hamstring injury and listed on the team’s injured reserve. He did see the field this year but just sparingly. For the New York Giants, rookie defensive end Justin Trattou in on their roster though he has been inactive recently, last seeing action in Week 16. No matter which team wins, a former Florida player will be going home with a ring.

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Sunday a dream come true for Spikes and his mom

For a young kid growing up in certain areas of Shelby, NC, dreams of playing college football – let alone someday in the NFL – can seem entirely impossible.

Throw in the fact that his brother was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison without parole on first-degree murder charges stemming from a drug deal gone wrong in 2001 and many expected Brandon Spikes to go down with the ship.

“There was a lot of negative people who said, you won’t do this, you won’t do that because he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that,” Spikes told USA Today in 2008 about his neighborhood growing up. “You won’t ever get a scholarship, you won’t go to Florida and play as well as you did. My whole career has been about proving people wrong.”

He started on that path during his time in Gainesville, FL with the Florida Gators. Spikes went from five-star recruit and the No. 13 prospect in the nation to a player who looked like he might be underwhelming after the Gators’ defense struggled mightily in 2007.

Months after the season ended, Spikes sat down with then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer, shed some tears, and told him he had no choice but to succeed going forward.

“I let him know this is my life. Without this, I don’t know where I would be. Football has been everything. It was my way out; it was my way here,” he said. “I just told him this is what I do. I wake up in the morning and I breathe, and this is the first thing on my mind.”

Spikes became the defense’s leader that season, the parallel to quarterback Tim Tebow and what he did for the Gators’ offense.

His hit on running back Knowshaun Moreno at the start the 2008 Florida-Georgia game is one of the most famous tackles in school history, and it fueled a 49-10 victory that helped propel the Gators to another win in the 2008 SEC Championship over Alabama and eventually to the 2009 BCS Championship.

Spikes promised when leaving for college that he would make his mother proud. His second national title in three years undoubtedly put a smile on her face, but his decision to stay a fourth year and graduate rather than leave early for the NFL likely made that smile grow exponentially wider.

Continue Reading » Sunday a dream come true for Spikes and his mom

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TWO BITS: Hamilton’s commitment, Tebow out

1 » One of two schools vying for the services of five-star defensive end Darius Hamilton (Ramsey, NJ), the Florida Gators were thought to be behind the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in contention for his commitment. The New Jersey boy was expected to stay in-state and play for Rutgers but his thoughts may be in the process of changing when it was reported Thursday morning that the Scarlet Knights’ head coach, Greg Schiano, is on his way to take the same job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hamilton has said that Florida and Rutgers were his final two and planned to make an announcement sometime before National Signing Day on Feb. 1. He was supposed to meet with Schiano on Wednesday, but it is unknown if that visit took place.

Should the Gators miss out on Hamilton and/or five-star athlete Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, GA), Florida could offer a scholarship to three-star DE Junior Gnonkonde (Lakeland, GA). According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, UF has been calling about the former Georgia Tech commitment but will only have room for him in their class if they miss out on one or both of Hamilton and Harvey-Clemons.

2 » Originally scheduled to participate in the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been forced to withdraw from the event due to the multiple injuries he suffered against the New England Patriots in the second round of the NFL Playoffs. Though Tebow does not need surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, he will not be able to participate in the event from Feb. 9-12. An avid golfer, Tebow was undoubtedly looking forward to the event, and the tournament’s directors were certainly hoping he would be able to play as well.

Extra BIT » No. 5 Florida lacrosse will begin its 2012 campaign with an exhibition match Thursday against England at 6:30 p.m. The Gators are looking to build on consecutive impressive years and hope to win their first national championship in the program’s third season of existence.

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