Cut day a mixed bag for six former Gators

NFL franchises were forced to reduce their rosters to 53 players on Friday as the 2012 regular season draws closer. Six former Florida Gators were impacted by decisions their respective teams made with the results different for each player.

Receiving the good news were New York Giants safety Will Hill and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Deonte Thompson, a pair of undrafted free agents who performed so well in training camp and during a preseason that they earned roster spots on their respective teams.

Hill, who went undrafted in 2011 and did not play in the NFL last season, was signed early in the offseason by the Giants and impressed the coaching staff so much (both on and off the field) that he will not only make the team but also see extensive playing time. He registered 15 tackles (12 solo) and a sack in four preseason games.

Thompson joined the Ravens along with former Gators quarterback John Brantley, who was cut early in the offseason. He led Baltimore in receptions, receiving yards in the first and fourth preseason games (scoring a touchdown in each) and had kickoff returns of 42 yards and 63 yards in the two games in-between.

Dealt the first bit of negative news was New England Patriots running back Jeff Demps, whose season is over after the team placed him on injured reserve. Demps signed with the Patriots two weeks ago and played in the team’s final two preseason games. He took nine carries for 55 yards, caught three balls for 31 yards, returned three kicks for 63 yards and brought back five punts for 65 yards.

He supposedly injured his knee during practice, but it was not at all believed to be serious. New England placing him on injured reserves keeps him under the team’s control (he signed a three-year contract) and gives him the entire season and offseason to get into football shape and learn the playbook. The move is basically a way of stashing a player by circumventing the waiver wire process.

Though New York decided to keep Hill, the Giants chose to part ways with veteran defensive tackle Marcus Thomas on Friday. Thomas signed a one-year deal on Aug. 16 but has now been cut just two weeks later and will look to catch on with another team.

Also looking for new homes now are tight end Cornelius Ingram, who spent the entire offseason with the Denver Broncos but was cut loose on Friday, and linebacker Brandon Hicks, who was hoping to catch on with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Other prominent Florida players who are also currently free agents include Brantley, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, DT Gerard Warren, tackle Phil Trautwein, defensive end Bobby McCray, DE Derrick Harvey, DE Jarvis Moss, DE Justin Trattou and cornerback Lito Sheppard. LB Andra Davis and RB Earnest Graham are close to retirement.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

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. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators defensive end Justin Trattou was cut by the New York Giants on Thursday after missing all of training camp up to this point with a variety of injuries. Trattou was active for a number of games last season and won a ring last season as New York defeated New England 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.

» Speaking of the Giants, the team brought former Gators defensive tackle Marcus Thomas in for a visit Thursday. New York is looking to upgrade the interior of its defensive line and Thomas is one of the biggest names on the free agent market after failing to come to an agreement with the Denver Broncos, where he started 11 of the 12 games he played last season. Thomas recently tweeted that he would be willing to play “for practice squad money.”

» The New York Jets are rumored to be one of a handful of finalists bidding for the services of former Florida running back Jeff Demps, so of course quarterback Tim Tebow was asked about the possibility during training camp on Thursday. As expected, Tebow supported the potential addition of Demps but said he would not pressure him to join him with the Jets. “They asked me about him,” he said according to the Newark Star-Ledger. “Jeff is a great guy and a great player, and he’s someone that I was proud to play with in college. He did a great job for us, and I feel like wherever he goes, he’ll work hard at and do a good job for that team.”

» ESPN’s Andy Katz spoke with Yale head coach James Jones recently about his team getting an unusual visit from the UF basketball team this season. Jones “credited a Yale administrator who once worked at Florida as well as Gators head coach Billy Donovan” for creating the home-away-home series that gets a high-profile team to visit Yale. “Donovan…isn’t adverse to playing home games for players in odd places,” Katz wrote. “He once played at UNH for New Hampshire native Matt Bonner. This is a ‘home’ game for Rhode Island native Erik Murphy.”

Read nine more Gator Bites…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, August 16th

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FOUR BITS: Taylor, Hill, Tebow, volleyball

1 » ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, in a piece published on July 31 and apparently missed by OGGOA, said that Florida Gators field star Christian Taylor (United States) is someone whose name should be remembered by the public heading into the 2012 London Olympics. Needing just one jump on Tuesday to qualify for the finals of the Men’s Triple Jump (set to be held on Thursday at 2:20 p.m.), Taylor explained to Wilbon how he learned the event that he has been so successful in up to this point in his career. “I went to YouTube … and how to DVDs. That was my film session,” he said.

2 » Former Gators safety Will Hill continues to turn heads at New York Giants training camp, so much so that the undrafted free agent who spent a year away from football is said to be “vying for significant time at safety” this season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. Hill was also praised by head coach Tom Coughlin last week for being a standout in the secondary (as well as during special teams drills) and has been taking snaps as a first-team nickel back this week, according to the Associated Press. “I have the mentality, because I wasn’t drafted, [that] I have to prove myself to not only the coaches but also the players that I belong here,” Hill said. “So that’s how I just go out every day and attack it, full-on.” He also admitted that he only had himself to blame. “Me. Me,” Hill said. “Just thinking too highly of myself and thinking, ‘Oh, I am at the top again, nothing can happen to me and I can do whatever I want.’ And I paid for it.”

3 » Speaking on his own WFAN radio show on Monday, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason suggested that the New York Jets should cut QB Tim Tebow.

“You want to know, if I were the Jets, what I would do? Want to know what I would do? I would cut Tim Tebow, I really would. I would. I’m just telling you right now: I would. And I’ll tell you why I would. It’s just not in any way, shape or form, I think, benefitting this team. I don’t see how it benefits…unless one thing that I would say is because you got a bunch of lunatics in that locker room. [...] The fact is, the reason you may want Tim Tebow on this team – specifically for one reason and one reason only – and that’s the character issue.”

Esiason has been critical of Tebow in the past and similarly suggested that the Denver Broncos cut him following a poor performance in a regular season game in 2011. And what did Tebow say when he was asked to respond to Esiason’s comments? “I’ve heard nothing but great things about Mr. Esiason. I know he was a great player here and I wish him nothing but the best in his announcing. God bless him.”

4 » Though most Florida fans may be focused on the upcoming football season, Gators volleyball is set to host the Campus USA Credit Union Invite from Aug. 24-25 in Gainesville, FL against three other teams from the state of Florida. The Southeastern Conference this week polled its volleyball coaches to come up with preseason predictions. The SEC coaches chose Tennessee to win the conference championship with 12-of-13 first-place votes; Florida received the other but was picked to finish sixth in the league standings. The Gators also had just one team member – junior middle back Chloe Mann – selected for the Preseason All-SEC Team. Being an underdog is new ground for Florida under head coach Mary Wise. The Gators won the SEC consecutively from 1991-2008 and also took home a conference title in 2010. Florida finished third in 2009 and second last season. The 2012 team features just five upper classmen along with four sophomores and seven freshman (one redshirt).

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Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

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. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Former Florida Gators pitcher Darren O’Day, currently a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles after spending time with three other MLB teams, was pranked by MLB Fan Cave and his manager Buck Showalter. Watch him get chewed out and completely fall for it:

» Former Gators striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach sat down for an in-depth and informative interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts and discussed a number of topics including the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Wambach became an extremely popular sports figure after leading the Americans to the finals of the 2011 Women’s World Cup with some incredibly clutch goals and is now the face of the sport in the United States.

» Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte spoke with NBC‘s Bob Costas when he was done competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials over the weekend. Lochte speaks about the Olympics, his rivalry with Phelps and learning how to become a better athlete and competitor (Video).

» The Detroit Pistons did not extend a qualifying offer to former Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin over the weekend, officially making him an unrestricted free agent just one year after the team selected him with the No. 52 overall pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Despite not being tendered, Macklin will still play with Detroit’s summer league team in hopes of being re-signed or catching the eye of another squad. He was sent down to the NBA D-League during the season but dominated the competition by averaging 14.5 points and 14.3 rebounds in the games he played. He should be picked up by a team at some point sooner than later.

Read SIX more Gator Bites on Nelson, Cooper, Hill and Beal…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, July 2

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Giants sign former Gators safety Will Hill

Just over a year after leaving school early and going unpicked in the 2011 NFL Draft, former Florida Gators safety Will Hill has signed with a NFL team.

Hill, who has been participating in New York Giants rookie camp since last week, was signed by the team on Monday. He last played football for the AFL’s Arizona Rattlers and spent his offseason working out in the tri-state area.

Originally from West Orange, NJ, Hill has been trying to catch the Giants’ eye since last offseason when he did not receive a single invite to a NFL camp. He participated in a Pro Day in Martinsville, NJ in March and obviously made an impression on New York.

Hill told ESPNNewYork.com over the weekend that he had to come back to Earth and humble himself before moving on with his career.

“When I was in college, I was the No. 1 athlete coming out and then going straight to a team that won the national championship, that had the possibility to win another one, it was just rock star status basically,” he said. “My head got big and I did let my gifts get away and start[ed] acting like a fool, basically. So I did waste my talent in some aspects.

“It’s been a hard time, many nights crying, many night just wondering, ‘When is this going to happen?’ But people were like, ‘Look, you’re a good athlete. Just work on being a better person.’ And that’s something I needed to do. I needed to calm down and sit down, and that’s what I did.”

Among the issues leading NFL teams to shy away from Hill a year ago were the numerous off-the-field problems he had at Florida including failing drug tests due to smoking marijuana, making poor life decisions, posting a number of more-than-questionable messages on Twitter and – as one anonymous scout said in April 2011 – being “ignorant and crazy.”

A spot opened up for Hill with the Giants after former LSU S Chad Jones, who got in a serious car accident in June 2010, was waived by New York for failing a physical while trying to make a comeback this season.

Hill now has his opportunity to prove the 31 other teams that have not paid attention to him wrong and turn his life around for the better by giving it his all for the Giants.

Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press

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SIX BITS: baseball, Guy, Tebow, Lochte, Horford

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators baseball (37-13, 15-10 SEC) got off to a hot start in their final home series of the regular season, taking down the No. 25 Mississippi State Rebels (30-19, 12-13 SEC) on Senior Day at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida won 4-1 behind a strong outing by junior right-hander Hudson Randall, who gave up an earned run in the fifth but otherwise scattered five hits in his 7.0 innings while striking out two. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez (2.0 IP, H, 4 K) was dominant in closing out the game and earned his third save of the season. The Gators rallied to cross the plate once each in the second and third and added a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) hit a two-run homer to left. Five seniors including Pigott, RHP Greg Larson, utility player Jeff Moyer, outfielder Tyler Thompson and right fielder Preston Tucker were honored on Friday though a handful of the team’s juniors may also be playing their final regular season home series at McKethan Stadium.

2 » It was reported back in January that Florida had offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to three-star quarterback Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL), but the player had chosen to take some time to consider his options before deciding where he would attend school in 2012 and beyond. Guy has finally made that decision and announced on Friday that he will turn down scholarship offers from schools like Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan in order to walk on with the Gators. “I”ve always been a Gators fan,” Guy told the Tampa Bay Times. “The opportunity to go up there to Gainesville and play for the Gators got me there.” Guy set his high school’s single season records for passing yards (2,672) and touchdowns (42) in his senior year and put up a brilliant line in the Class 5A region final when he completed 17-of-18 passes and scored two touchdowns (one rushing). At 6’5” and 200 lbs., Guy’s size is exceptional for a signal caller. Should Florida’s roster remain unchanged heading into the summer, he will be the ninth quarterback in camp with only four on scholarship.

3 » E! has decided to air a 30-minute special on New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Unfortunately for Tebow and his fans, the special (which will air sometime in July according to Sports Illustrated), is being created without his participation and therefore is unlikely to include any unique material. “Tebow is a pop culture phenomenon and the interest in his life expands beyond the world of sports. He’s a compelling personality and has a fascinating story,” a network spokesman told SI’s Richard Deitsch.

4 » Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte is ready and raring to go for the 2012 London Olympics this summer and his manufactured feud with Michael Phelps is beginning to pick up steam heading into the games. The two have been going head-to-head all year and will likely be in many of the same events in the Olympics, so SI.com took a look at how the teammates and rivals are fairing with 78 days to go (as of Thursday) until the games begin.

As Phelps peeled back after Beijing, Lochte ramped up. Phelps won five golds and one silver at the 2009 world championships. Lochte won four gold and a bronze. Phelps won another five events at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships. Lochte won six, bettering Phelps for the first time at a major meet.

Then came the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, where Lochte won five golds and one bronze to Phelps’ four golds, two silvers and one bronze. Lochte won both head-to-heads, the 200 free and 200 individual medley, by a combined half-second over Phelps. That was enough to earn Lochte the title of the new world’s best swimmer.

5 » Forward/center Al Horford fought his way back from a torn right pectoral to play in the final three games of the season for the Atlanta Hawks. A major contributor in those three contests, Horford found himself at the foul line with three seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game if he made both free throws. After missing the first one, Horford made the second and Atlanta wound up losing as there was not enough time for them to come back and get another good shot. Many fans wondered whether should have missed that second free throw considering the team was down two with no timeouts remaining. A day after the contest, Horford spoke about that possibility. “I didn’t really think about it. That’s something I probably should have given some thought,” he said. “The first one felt good. I was surprised I missed it. Looking back I should have missed the second one, not realizing we didn’t have any timeouts. I did [realize it] before but there was a lot of stuff going on through the game.” The real question is why none of his coaches relayed it to Horford to do just that following the initial miss.

6 » Former Florida football players quarterback John Brantley, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and defensive end William Green all signed undrafted free agent deals with their respective teams on Friday. Brantley and Thompson were two of 19 players to come to terms with the Baltimore Ravens while Green was inked by the Cleveland Browns. Offensive lineman Dan Wenger continues to participate in Jets mini camp as he hopes to earn a scholarship, and former Gators safety Will Hill, who did not a legitimate look from any NFL team after declaring for the draft a year early in 2011, is currently working out and hoping to earn a job with the New York Giants.

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FOUR BITS: Powell, Jenkins, lacrosse, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut and photographer David Carr happened to capture the moment about one second before the injury occurred. As you can see below, courtesy of InsidetheGators.com, Powell was pulling up from attacking the ball carrier as he believed freshman LB Antonio Morrison had him tackled. However, redshirt sophomore tackle Chaz Green kept playing through the whistle (as he should) and shoved Powell in the back to get him away from the play. Powell planted his left foot at the same time as the push and tore his ACL as a consequence.

2 » Former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, just three weeks before the 2012 NFL Draft, has fired Ben Dogra of CAA and hired Malik Shareef of DSI as his new agent. However, as is tradition with anything Jenkins does, there appears to be two sides to the story. Though Jenkins’s camp claims that he did indeed fire Dogra and bring on Shareef, a report from the Orlando Sentinel notes that it was Dogra who decided to no longer represent Jenkins. “The only reason we decided to move on is because they’re too big,” Jenkins’s “mentor” Sandy Cornelio told NFL.com. “We weren’t getting personal attention, so we decided to move on. That was it. And we told them. We called them professionally and said, ‘Hey, we’re moving on. We came to the conclusion that we honestly believe a smaller agency that pays us more attention will be better for us.’ [Dogra] told us that he understood and he would help in any way he could. At the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that the kid drafts himself by his performance.”

Regardless of which party made the decision, changing agents so close to the draft undoubtedly raises any remaining eyebrows that may not have been previously. And though Jenkins and Cornelio may be justified in feeling they were not getting enough personal attention from CAA, they are undoubtedly incorrect in believing that it is solely Jenkins’s performance that will dictate his draft position. If it was he would be a consensus top-15 pick; instead he’s rumored to fall out of the first round due to character concerns. Shareef previously represented Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden who switched over to Drew Rosenhaus in November.

3 » Gators lacrosse (13-2, 3-0 ALC) took down the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (7-4, 0-2 ALC) on Saturday in the first overtime victory in program history. Florida defeated Johns Hopkins 13-12 in double overtime and extended the game twice by scoring the final goal both in regulation and the first overtime. The only goal of the game for junior attacker Gabi Wiegand came with just seven seconds remaining in the contest, giving UF their first extra opportunity. Junior attacker Kitty Cullen and freshman midfielder Nora Barry combined for seven goals on 11 shots and respectively scored the game-tying goal in the first overtime and game-winning goal in the second overtime. Florida moved up one spot from No. 5 to No. 4 in the country in the latest top 25 poll.

4 » Ranking the top 50 prospects available for the 2012 MLB Draft, ESPN Insider’s Keith Law has given plenty of respect to three junior Gators. Law lists catcher Mike Zunino as the second-best player available, noting that “most scouts seem to think he doesn’t get past Seattle at No. 3.” He also has left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson at No. 24 overall and shortstop Nolan Fontana at No. 26 overall; Law considers both the fifth-best prospect at their respective position.

Extra BIT » Despite neither being drafted nor signed as an undrafted free agent by a NFL team in 2011, former Florida safety Will Hill is “hoping to make a comeback” with the New York Jets and New York Giants “showing interest” according to SI.com NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline. Hill hails from New Jersey and has been training in the area.

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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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