FOUR BITS: Tebow, Wambach, Beal, Johnson

1 » A rash of quarterback injuries has shaken the NFL over the first half of the season, and there are also a number of floundering teams in serious need of a boost, but former Florida Gators signal caller Tim Tebow nevertheless remains a free agent. Sunday night, NFL.com‘s Mike Silver reported that the St. Louis Rams had “at least internally discussed the possibility of signing” Tebow though nothing was imminent and it was unlikely to happen. This report came after starting QB Sam Bradford was knocked out of Sunday’s game with a knee injury (he will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL). CBSSports.com‘s Jason LaCanfora later tweeted that the Rams have “no desire” to bring in Tebow and that head coach Jeff Fisher “would not consider it.” Instead, St. Louis will go with Kellen Clemens, a career 51.8 percent passer with seven passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions over eight seasons (including 12 starts). The biggest news story involving Tebow over the last few weeks included some shirtless pictures taken while he was on vacation with his family in Hawaii.

As Tebow hopes to have a future in football, it may be another sport entirely where he can make the greatest impact. According to TheMMQB.com, USA Rugby is extremely interested in having Tebow join the program and compete on behalf of the United States in the Olympics (assuming he picks up the sport well). Writer Jenny Vrentas crunches some numbers, with some help from a company named Atlantic Standard, and notes that Tebow’s athleticism is simply off the charts, which makes him a player the rugby community would covet.

Check out three more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Tebow, Wambach, Beal, Johnson

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15 Gator Bites for Friday, June 21

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Texas Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a die-hard Florida Gators fan, does the Gator Chomp after hitting a double off St. Louis Cardinals left-handed pitcher Randy Choate, a former Florida State player, on Friday night. [Special thanks to OGGOA reader Mitchell M. for sending this in.]

» Sports Illustrated soccer columnist Grant Wahl penned a terrific column on former Florida striker Abby Wambach, who passed Mia Hamm and set a new career international goals record on Thursday.

» A total of 21 Gators (10 former and 11 current) are presently in Des Moines, IA, competing in the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships and USA Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Athletes participating in the event from June 19-23 have the opportunity to qualify for the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Moscow, Russia from Aug. 10-18.

Omar Craddock and Will Claye became the first two Florida representatives to qualify on Thursday when they finished one-two in the men’s triple jump. Craddock took the American title with a mark of 17.15m/56-4.25, while Claye finished second with a 17.04m/55-11 jump. Also advancing to Moscow was Ugonna Ndu, who participated at the All-Nigeria Athletics Championships, winning the 100-meter hurdles in 13.4 seconds. Numerous other Gators advanced in their respective disciplines, and OGGOA will provide updates as each event finishes.

» Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, still sidelined with a stress fracture in his right fibula, is finally expected to return to the court in just over a week. According to the Washington Post, Beal will likely be cleared by doctors on July 1, three months after his injury was initially diagnosed. The Wizards were originally hoping Beal would be able to participate in the NBA Summer League games, but it is unlikely that the team takes the risk of putting him into action so soon after he returns from injury. It is more likely that Beal will next play meaningful basketball alongside Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons during 2013 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Mini-Camp from July 22-25 in Las Vegas, NV.

Check out 11 more bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!

Continue Reading » 15 Gator Bites for Friday, June 21

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TWO Video BITS: Brown on Saints, Noah on Fela

1 » Former Florida Gators, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Brown appeared on ESPN2’s Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable on Tuesday to discuss playing for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who he said was “wrongfully suspended”) and bounties in the NFL (among numerous other topics like the worst thing he did as a child and his first kiss). “It’s football. It’s not golf now. That’s what we have to understand: That it is football and it was built around hits and that’s what we do.”

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, currently on the bench while nursing a serious ankle sprain while his team competes in the 2012 NBA Playoffs, was featured in a video by OkayAfrica on Tuesday. In the clip, Noah discusses Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti, how his music has impacted his life and how he shared a bond with President Barack Obama over Fela one year ago.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, McCray, violations, Macklin

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (11-1) continued their early season dominance, thrashing the visiting Florida Atlantic Owls (8-5) on Tuesday evening at McKethan Stadium. Florida topped FAU 16-1 in the contest, taking a 9-0 lead through two innings and cruising the rest of the way. Freshman left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner got the spot start and picked up the first victory of his young career, striking out three batters while allowing one run (unearned) on three hits in four innings. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (3/3, 5 RBI, 2 R) smacked two home runs in the game, hitting a two-run shot in the first and a three-run bomb in the second. Senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2/4) added a homer of his own and matched Zunino with five RBIs and two runs. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, 2 RBI, 3 R) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (2/3, RBI, R) were also efficient from the plate, adding to the Gators’ impressive total. Florida will step back on the diamond Wednesday night when they host Florida A&M at 7 p.m.; the game will air live on Sun Sports (check your local listings).

In other baseball news…freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. Gushue hit .400 with two homers, four RBIs and three runs over the weekend in Coral Gables, FL.

2 » The New Orleans Saints are currently under investigation by the NFL league office for maintaining a bounty for hard hits and knockout plays maintained by former defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Williams, a member of the team’s coaching staff from 2009-11, was with the squad for their Super Bowl XLIV season. Also on the team that year was former Gators defensive end Bobby McCray, who had incredible postseason and wound up hitting a pair of veteran quarterbacks – Minnesota’s Brett Favre and Arizona’s Kurt Warner – exceptionally hard in their respective matchups during the playoffs. The NFL fined McCray $25,000 for some of his hits on Favre, including one which caused an eruption on the Saints’ sideline. According to Sports Illustrated, “an on-field microphone directed toward the sideline caught an unidentified defender saying, ‘Pay me my money!’” following the play.

3 » Florida has self-reported a total of 12 secondary violations to the Southeastern Conference since April 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Tuesday. Spread amongst the football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming programs, 10 of the 12 violations included some form of impermissible contact with four instances being incidental pocket dials. Most punishments, whether mandated by the school or convergence, included lengthened non-contact periods with the particular recruits. One notable exception was the women’s basketball team taking part in an “off-campus, team-building exercise” with each player forced to pay $12 for participating and coaches losing two hours of instruction per student.

4 » Power forward Vernon Macklin has not seen much court time this season with the Detroit Pistons as he stuck depth-wise behind four/five other players, but he told the Detroit Free Press this week that he has kept a positive disposition in spite of his not being able to play on a nightly basis. “It’s tough, but it’s not hard to stay focused because I got guys like Ben Wallace and Greg [Monroe] and those guys talking to me a lot and telling me to get my work in,” he told the paper. “It’s not really hard to stay focused. I just got to understand that I’m going through a bump in the road right now. But I’m going to get better and keep on learning, and one day I will be able to play.”

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4 BITS: Taylor retires, volleyball, Baker, Brown

1 » Former Florida Gators running back Fred Taylor, a 13-year NFL veteran who spent the majority of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, will sign a one-day contract with the team on Friday and officially announce his retirement. Taylor – who has rushed for 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns while catching 290 passes for 2,384 yards and eight touchdowns – was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 2007 who is only one of 30 players in league history to have rushed for more than 10,000 yards. He was a three-time Southeastern Conference champion (1994-96) and one-time national champion (1996) at Florida and was named as a first-team All-American and first-team All-SEC member in 1997. A member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, Taylor spent his first 10 years in the NFL with Jacksonville before playing his final two seasons with the New England Patriots. The No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, he is Jacksonville’s all-time leader in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns.

OGGOA will have more on Taylor’s retirement on Friday. Stay tuned.

2 » Looking to avenge a come-from-behind victory by the Gators in the Sweet 16 of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, No. 25 Florida State Seminoles volleyball strode into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on a mission Tuesday evening. Fortunately for No. 9 Florida (3-0), the Gators were able to push back their opponents and sweep the Seminoles 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-22) in front of a school-record 1,901 students (total attendance: 4,631). Florida has won all nine sets in which they’ve played this season and continues to claw their way to victory each match. Senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy notched a triple-double in the contest with 12 kills, 10 digs and 17 assists. The trio of senior middle-back Cassandra Anderson (eight), senior outside hitter Stephanie Ferrell (seven) and senior OH Kristy Jaeckel (six) combined for 21 kills on the evening as the Gators improved to 28-2 against FSU under head coach Mary Wise.

3 » Former Gators wide receiver Dallas Baker is set to make his debut with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL on Sunday and is excited for his opportunity to get back on the field. Baker, who was signed by the Montreal Alouettes in April but traded to Saskatchewan in August, only played in three games with the former team and caught just three balls for 28 yards. He found himself on the bench with the Roughriders and now, after a teammate got injured, he will finally get back on the field. “I’ve always been a guy who’s been in a situation like this, so [waiting] really wasn’t tough at all,” Baker told The Regina Leader-Post. “It was all about being patient and that’s something that I was used to.” Baker also spoke to the paper about his uncle and fellow former Florida star Wes Chandler. “When I got drafted, he was like, ‘Hey, that’s the easy part,’” he recalled. “I thought it was the hard part. He told me the things to do to be a professional athlete. He told me to never get complacent. He also told me, ‘Watch and learn. If you see a vet do something, that doesn’t mean you can do it – especially if you know it’s wrong. [...] But if you see a vet do something like staying late watching film, pick up on that.’”

4 » Though he was released by the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, former Gators defensive end Alex Brown has already heard from at least three teams who are interested in his services this year. “I talked with my agent, and three teams have made contact,” Brown said on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for my family and what’s a really good situation for me to go in. I would love to go play in a 4-3, so there are a lot of teams out there that still run a 4-3 that could use a defensive end that still has a little bit left. So hopefully I can find a good place that my family and I can feel comfortable with.” One possible destination? The team that drafted him – the Chicago Bears. “It would be crazy to do another Gator Chomp in Soldier Field. That would be nuts,” he said.

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4 NFL BITS: Brown, Lemmens, Spikes, Black

1 » In a surprising move on Tuesday, the New Orleans Saints released former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown. A nine-year NFL veteran who spent the first eight years of his career with the Chicago Bears, Brown was signed by New Orleans as a free agent in 2010 and notched 39 tackles (32 solo) with a forced fumble and two sacks as a 16-game starter. He held the same position through the first three preseason games and worked with the first-team defense in every practice this offseason. “It saddens me to say that I have been released from the Saints because [they're] a first class organization and I will miss it,” he wrote on Twitter. “Good luck to the guys and Who Dat Nation keep roaring… My family and I had a blast here.. Thanks.” Brown joins DE Bobby McCray and offensive tackle Max Starks as big-name free agents currently available with Florida ties.

2 » Also receiving bad news was former Gators linebacker Duke Lemmens, an undrafted free agent who found out Tuesday that his contract with the Arizona Cardinals had been terminated. Lemmens played in the team’s first three preseason games and made a number of tackles but was one of many players the team released in this round of cuts.

3 » New England Patriots LB Brandon Spikes had not practiced or played with the team since Aug. 4 but finally returned to the field on Tuesday according to reports from numerous media outlets. Spikes has been dealing with a nagging ankle injury but is expected to see some time in the team’s preseason finale at home on Thursday. He played in 12 games with eight starts during his rookie season and was fifth on New England with 71 tackles (41 solo) and an interception. He was suspended for four games in 2010 for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

4 » Another player out for an extended period of time was former Florida safety Ahmad Black, a fifth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2011 NFL Draft. Black suffered a high ankle sprain in the team’s preseason opener and has missed numerous practices and both subsequent preseason games since. There are rumors that Black could be cut soon because the team is only planning to keep four safeties and he has not had much of a time to make an impression, but head coach Raheem Morris has said previously that he believed Black was one of the steals of the draft. “I know he’s going to try to go this week,” Morris said, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “But it’d be hard right now for him to go out there and do some things, especially with the way Larry Asante’s playing, and Corey Lynch. Those guys played their butts off this preseason, not to mention our starters. It’ll be tough. You’d like to see him out there.” Black could always be a candidate for the practice squad in a worst-case scenario.

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Gators undrafted free agents agree to deals

Updated July 27 at 3:30 p.m.

The end of the NFL lockout sent the league into a frenzy Monday evening as teams were officially allowed to contact and agree to contracts with undrafted free agents who were not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. With only four Florida Gators picked in the seven-round draft back in April, a number of well-known players remained available heading into one of the most questionable offseasons in pro football history.

With contracts now being signed as names continue to roll in, a number of former Gators have already been picked up to join NFL squads this year.

Everything started Monday evening as linebacker Duke Lemmens chose to stay out west and play for the Arizona Cardinals, defensive tackle Terron Sanders got a call from the Baltimore Ravens, and running back Emmanuel Moody decided to join 2010 undrafted free agent wide receiver David Nelson with the Buffalo Bills.

On Tuesday, punter Chas Henry chose to team up with wide receiver Riley Cooper and tight end Cornelius Ingram on the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive end Justin Trattou decided to play close to home with the New York Giants, and offensive lineman Carl Johnson joined up with DE Alex Brown on the New Orleans Saints.

Wednesday brought two more signings as LB A.J. Jones found a spot with the Denver Broncos and LB Brandon Hicks [unconfirmed] signed with the Bills. Jones joins quarterback Tim Tebow in Denver, while Hicks teams up with Moody and Nelson in Buffalo.

Safety Will Hill was originally reported to have agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins; however, it surfaced Tuesday that those reports were premature and the two sides have not spoken about a contract.

OGGOA spoke with Sanders early Tuesday morning, and he related to us that former Florida defensive coordinator now Baltimore defensive backs coach Teryl Austin had a lot to do with him getting this opportunity with a top-tier franchise.

“Coach Austin, he’s up there now, and he put in a good word for me and told them that I can plug the hole and knock people back,” Sanders said. “He convinced them to take a shot at me. They called my agent, my agent called me and asked me if I’d be interested in going to Baltimore. I told them, ‘Yeah,’ and the deal is done.”

Though he has been hoping the lockout would end and has been keeping in shape, Sanders also kept himself busy with a regular job until his future was known.

“I haven’t put on a pair of shoulder pads in a while,” he said. “I’ve been working out, doing some running, and I started working at U-Haul about two weeks ago just to get some money in my pocket until this was decided.”

Other players who could be signed include WR Carl Moore and defensive lineman Brandon Antwine and Lawrence Marsh.

OGGOA will update this post as additional signings are announced.

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DE Lynden Trail goes on a planking spree

Most of the stories one hears about athletes and their usage of social media are negative in nature. The headlines are usually outlandish things they have said, inappropriate pictures that have been taken and fights they have started with others.

However, services like Twitter and Facebook can also be used for other things. Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden sponsored a little league team because a fan asked him to. He has also taken groups of fans out to lunch and happy hour simply because he can. Other former Gators have raised money for charity (Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson), given away free stuff to fans (Atlanta Hawks power forward Al Horford) and even had open discussions about Florida’s Ring of Honor qualifications (New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Brown).

So when Florida Gators redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail started tweeting pictures of himself planking on various surfaces and objects late Monday evening, Gator Nation undoubtedly noticed – and laughed.

“Planking,” for those of you uninitiated to the recently popular practice, is defined by Wikipedia as “an activity […] consisting of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location. The hands must touch the sides of the body, and having a photograph of the participant taken and posted on the Internet is an integral part of the game.”

Trail, who himself was subject of what turned out to be false claims about his persona due to picture uncovered on the Internet during his recruitment, has been an active tweeter for quite some time. He took his game to another level on Monday with the planking pictures you can view by expanding the post.

All pictures above are courtesy of Trail’s Twitter account.

A married man, Trail is already more responsible than most college-aged students and, though the activity may not necessarily hit everyone’s funny bone, it is some good-natured, harmless offseason fun that is nice to see for a change.

He also offered up an open challenge to the rest of the University of Florida. “Planking just got real,” he wrote, “I challenge my fellow gators to participate lol.”

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