Seattle signs DT Jaye Howard for four years

Defensive tackle Jaye Howard signed a four-year deal (terms currently undisclosed) with the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, according to Pro Football Talk. Howard agreeing to terms means both Florida Gators draft picks are under contract with their respective teams heading into the 2012 season.

The No. 114 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Howard surprised many by being the first former Florida player selected. He was the 12th player at his position chosen in the draft and the first Gators defensive tackle picked since 2007 (Marcus Thomas). Howard has the size (6’3″ 301 lbs.) and upside to one day be a NFL starter but must first prove he can be consistent in a reserve role.

He was the ninth former UF player to be drafted by the Seahawks in franchise history and the first to join the team through the draft since 2000 (wide receiver Darrell Jackson). Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn assisted Seattle in their evaluation of Howard; his endorsement was a key to the Seahawks brining Howard in.

Former Florida running back Chris Rainey, the No. 159 overall pick in the draft, inked a four-year, $2.28 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

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RB Rainey inks four-year pact with Pittsburgh

Running back Chris Rainey signed a four-year, $2.282 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, making him the first former Florida Gators player picked in the 2012 NFL Draft to sign with the team that selected him.

The No. 159 overall pick in the fifth round of the draft, Rainey was chosen later than his talent might have demanded due to concerns about his size (5’8” 180 lbs.) and durability despite proving over his five-year college career that he can be a major playmakers when given the opportunity.

Pittsburgh believes they got a steal with Rainey, who posted the fastest 20-yard shuttle (3.93 seconds), 60-yard shuttle (11.06 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.50 seconds) times at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. He also finished with the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash at 4.45 seconds.

Rainey will likely be a kick returner, special teams performer and offensive specialist (though his official role remains to be determined) for the Steelers, where he joins former Gators teammates center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Marcus Gilbert.

Pittsburgh has selected a Florida player in three-straight and four of the last nine NFL Drafts and could have four former Gators on their team in 2012 should they re-sign injured tackle Max Starks closer to the season.

Rainey received a $181,000 signing bonus as part of his contract along with base salaries of $390,000 (2012), $480,000 (2013), $570,000 (2014) and $660,000 (2015).

Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Steelers

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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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Gator Bites for Monday, April 30

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.

» Florida Gators baseball (33-12, 12-9 SEC) continued to falter over the weekend, dropping two of three games to the Arkansas Razorbacks (31-13, 11-10 SEC). Florida has now lost 10 of their last 20 games (including one each to North Florida and South Florida) while also struggling to put forth consistent performances at the plate and on the mound. For instance, the Gators scored just five runs in 27 innings over the weekend. Florida picked up a 3-2 victory on Friday before falling 5-1 on Saturday and 3-1 in 10 innings on Sunday. The Gators were supposed to get a reprieve with a nine-game homestand but instead went just 5-4 over that span of games. Florida will have three full days off before travelling to Kentucky for a three-game series on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. UF fell to No. 5 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Top 25 and No. 7 in the Baseball America rankings on Monday.

» Gators softball (43-8, 20-5 SEC), also ranked No. 2 heading into the weekend, dropped their final home series of the regular season to the Kentucky Wildcats (26-27, 12-13 SEC) over the weekend. Florida fell 2-0 in the series opener (their second-straight shutout and fourth of the season) before picking up a 5-0 win on Senior Day Saturday and dropping the rubber match 5-1 on Sunday. Freshman right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger picked up a win on Saturday and a loss on Sunday to bring her to 13-4 on the season while sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (25-4) added a loss Friday despite pitching quite well over the weekend. Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) began her Senior Day with a big-time solo homer in her first at bat on Saturday, giving her another nice memory for her career. UF will conclude the regular season with a three-game road series at Alabama over the weekend.

» Florida five-star 2013 point guard commit Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL) threw down a strong dunk over the weekend and followed it up with a Gator Chomp while staring straight into the camera. Think he’s ready for the big time?

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, April 30

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Pittsburgh picks RB Chris Rainey with No. 159 overall pick in fifth round of 2012 NFL Draft

Round 5 – No. 159
Chris Rainey, RB
Pittsburgh Steelers


Height: 5’8″ – Weight: 180 lbs.
Age: 24 – Class: Senior

Arguably the Florida Gators’ most valuable offensive starter in 2011 and one of the most naturally explosive players in team history, running back Chris Rainey was selected Friday afternoon by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 24th pick in the fifth round (No. 159 overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Chosen later in the process due to concerns about his size (5’8” 180 lbs.) and durability, Rainey has proven over his five-year college career that he can be a major playmaker when used correctly and provided with an opportunity.

He posted the fastest 20-yard shuttle (3.93 seconds), 60-yard shuttle (11.06) and three-cone drill (6.50) times out of the entire field at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine and also finished with the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash at 4.45 seconds.

“Chris Rainey is an exciting player,” general manager Kevin Colbert said after making the selection. “He is a small guy but when you watch him run against SEC competition, he was really impressive. He doesn’t run people over but week-in and week-out the kid showed up in probably one of the toughest conferences in the country as a running back. In addition to that, he can do punt returns and kick returns.”

“Chris is a guy that we’re real excited to bring into the mix,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley added. “I think he is a very versatile player that is obviously fast and explosive. He can catch the ball, he can run with it and he can return it. That’s a commodity and we’re really excited to bring him aboard and work with him and put him into the mix.”

Rainey is the first Florida running back to be drafted since DeShawn Wynn was picked with the No. 228 overall selection in the seventh round by Green Bay in 2007. He is the third Gators player to be selected by Pittsburgh in as many years following in the footsteps of center Maurkice Pouncey (2010) and tackle Marcus Gilbert (2011).

He will now join his two former teammates on the Steelers and is the 24th Florida player selected all-time by the franchise (most of any team in the league.

The Gators have had multiple players picked in the draft 32 years in a row.

ADDITIONAL DRAFT CONTENT
» Rainey Conference Call (audio)
» Haley Press Conference on Rainey (video)
» Colbert on if there were any character concerns with Rainey: “Chris Rainey, everybody knows about the texting situation and we were well aware of it as well. We had some unique background on this kid because of his relationship with the Pouncey family. Knowing Maurkice’s mother and father, for them to take a kid in and provide him a home in high school said a lot to us. Those people are great folks they provided a great home for their own children. For them to endorse this kid by letting him live with them for part of his high school career while he went to Lakeland High School as the Pouncey brothers did. It said something to us. Of course Maurkice spoke highly of him as well, but he is a teammate and a friend, so we took that with a grain-of-salt even though we trust his opinion. When his family reached out to provide this kid with an opportunity and he takes that opportunity to go on and graduate, that says something to us.”

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SIX BITS: Macklin, lacrosse, softball, Gilbert, Meyer

1 » Former Florida Gators forward/center Vernon Macklin was recently set down to the NBA Development League for no other reason than that the Detroit Pistons wanted to see him get some in-game action rather than sit stationary on the end of the team’s bench during NBA games. According to M Live, Macklin has been playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and has been dominating. In his first five games with the team, Macklin is averaging 16.6 points and 17.2 rebounds (10.6 on the defensive glass) in more than 36 minutes a game. He will remain with the team through April 7 before returning to the Pistons. “He’s playing with a lot of energy and effort. He’s gotten better each and every game,” Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said. “It’s great for him to get that experience. We see continued development. We see progress in Vernon.”

2 » No. 4 Florida lacrosse (11-2) hit two major milestones on Wednesday, recording their first-ever shutout while registering the highest goal total in school history in a 29-0 beat down of the Fresno State Bulldogs (2-6) at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman midfielder Nicole Graziano scored a game-high and career-high six goals on seven shots, and freshman attacker Nora Barry joined her in dominating on offense with five goals on six shots. The duo also combined for six ground balls and six draw controls in the contest. Junior As Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand combined for six goals and three assists with Bruns becoming the first player in team history to eclipse 200 career goals. In addition to scoring the most goal sand allowing the fewest in team history, the Gators set or tied a number of other records. Florida had the most points (41), assists (12) and draw controls (24) in team history, tied their records for shots (44), first-half points (17) and second-half points (12) and also committed a record five fouls, the fewest in team history. The Gators accomplished all of this without Juniors A Kitty Cullen and M Brittany Dashiell, two of the team’s leading scorers.

3 » Despite falling to a ranked opponent, No. 4 Florida softball (29-3) suffered a tough 4-1 defeat on Wednesday in Gainesville at the hands of the No. 21 South Florida Bulls (30-5). Freshman right-hander Lauren Haeger (9-2) tossed a complete game, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits along with five walks and four strikeouts. In addition to going up arguably the nation’s best pitcher in Sara Nevins, the Gators committed a pair of costly errors that put them in a 4-0 hole through three innings. A solo homer by Haeger (1-3, HR, RBI, R, BB) in the bottom of the fifth was the only run to cross the plate for Florida, which left eight base runners on including three in the bottom of the sixth and two in the bottom of the seventh with the game-tying run at the plate. UF defeated USF 3-2 in extra innings on Feb. 12 but will not have another chance to earn revenge.

4 » Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert will receive a bump in responsibility next season as head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed on Wednesday that he will help protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side as the team’s new left tackle. Gilbert, who played both left and right tackle in college, was drafted to eventually hold down the former role but was relegated to the latter position in 2011 due to experience and depth issues. “We fully expect him to [move],” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I probably had more concerns about him being the right tackle than I did him being at left tackle just because of his college experience.” Gilbert is the second Gators offensive lineman to recently be drafted and become an starter for Pittsburgh as center Maurkice Pouncey won his job out of training camp two seasons ago.

5 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for an interview this week with CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd to discuss a number of topics mostly concerning his return to the sidelines and how the Ohio State program is coming along heading into his first season at the helm. However, Meyer also touched on a few things at Florida including what he called an “awful” team that the Gators fielded for his first season in 2005. “We’re not a good team. As a matter of fact, we’re bad, a really bad football team – not aligned, selfish. We had some really good players on defense. On offense we’re a mess. Chris Leak wasn’t ready. Then we lose to South Carolina,” he recounted. “I remember walking to my radio show and there are some boos. The phone calls were absolutely brutal. I’m looking at [Mick Hubert] and I’m just getting greased. I’m thinking to myself, ‘What are you doing here?'” Meyer said the Florida State win really turned things around both on the field and off the field in recruiting. He also spoke about other issues he faced including “the Spurrier culture” in the SEC.

6 » While the Denver Broncos were in the process of signing quarterback Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow was in Tampa, FL helping open up the new D1 Sports Training facility while working out with, meeting and greeting children, teenagers and adults. Despite so much being on his mind about his NFL future, Tebow was obviously thinking about plenty of other things during this special occasion (photo gallery).

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FOUR BITS: baseball, schedule, Starks, Tebowie

1 » Despite losing their second game of the season over the weekend, Florida Gators baseball (22-2) held on to their No. 1 ranking in both the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Top 25 Poll and the Collegiate Baseball top 25. Florida was the unanimous No. 1 in the former poll, retaining all 31 first-place votes, but UF just edged out Kentucky by five voting points in the latter ranking. OGGOA will offer more comprehensive top 25 coverage for Gators baseball in the upcoming weeks.

2 » Florida announced on the school’s website Monday that the Gators basketball team has already scheduled four non-conference games for the 2012-13 season in addition to the three home-and-homes they are set to complete. Florida will take on Kansas State in Kansas City, MO and host Wisconsin, Central Florida and Richmond in addition to travelling to Florida State, Arizona and Yale. The Gators will also get a home game as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge after travelling to Syracuse last season and are set to compete once again in the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, FL. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports the Florida-Wisconsin game is set for Nov. 14.

3 » After suffering an unfortunate end to his 2010 season, offensive tackle Max Starks went unsigned heading into 2011 until the Pittsburgh Steelers encountered a drastic void on the offensive line and brought him back into the fold. Starks ended last season with yet another injury – this time a torn ACL – and is still out of action as his physical therapy will not officially begin until the summer. However, both Starks and Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert have mutual interest in continuing their working relationship. Colbert told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently that the team has not ruled out re-signing Starks for the 2012 season.

4 » On the day Peyton Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos and the team all but announced it would be trading quarterback Tim Tebow, NBC‘s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon once again did a spoof combining Tebow with David Bowie in a character they call “Tebowie.” You can watch the video below:

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SIX BITS: Wuerffel, Tebow, Pouncey, women

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel has been added to the ballot for induction as part of the 2012 class for the College Football Hall of Fame. Wuerffel is one of 76 players on the candidate list, which also includes eight former coaches. Should he be nominated for induction, he would be the seventh Florida player and 10th representative of the Gators (three coaches) to be placed in the hall of fame. The National Football Foundation will announce the 2012 class on May 15 and induct it at an awards dinner on Dec. 4, 2012.

2 » Speaking at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine last Friday, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway had some positive comments to throw the way of Tim Tebow, who will enter the team’s training camp as the starting quarterback. “Hopefully, he can be the franchise guy for a long time, but those are things we don’t know at this time,” Elway said, according to NFL.com. “He made tremendous strides last year, and that’s without an offseason. He’s our starter going into training camp, and we have great expectations for him.” Denver will bring in two more quarterbacks to compete with Tebow but how they acquire them should give some insight into their thoughts on Tebow. If the Broncos draft a signal caller high or sign a high-profile free agent like Matt Flynn, it could be an indication they have not bought in, whereas should they sign a lower-tier free agent and draft a quarterback in the later rounds, it could speak to the opposite. Elway is confident in Tebow’s intangibles but plans to work with him on his footwork and ability to read coverages in the offseason.

3 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey missed another critical playoff game this year with a high-ankle sprain after reaggravating the injury he suffered one year ago that caused him to out of the 2010-11 Super Bowl. He had surgery on the injury after the season and is expected to make a full recovery going forward. “The reports we got and the last time we saw him, he was progressing just fine,” team general manager Kevin Colbert said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “High-ankle sprains, they’re a different injury and then when you re-injure it sometimes you’ve got to do some procedures to shore that joint up.” Pouncey is no longer wearing a cast on his foot/ankle but is in a boot for the time being. He and his brother were at the NFL Combine this past week to support running back Chris Rainey, their close friend and former teammate.

4 » No. 4 Florida lacrosse (4-1) extended their winning streak to four games with consecutive victories over Siena (23-5 on Friday) and Detroit (22-3 on Sunday). Junior attacker Ashley Bruns scored a school-record eight goals against Siena, helping the Gators post their highest total in program history. One of the eight was Bruns’s 100th career goal, making her the second player in school history to reach that mark. Bruns scored four more on Sunday (12 for the weekend), leading the way for Florida in both contests and helping earn her the ALC Offensive Player of the Week award on Monday. Junior attackers Kitty Cullen (seven goals, three assists) and Gabi Wiegand (six goals, three assists) joined her in the scoring party.

5 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (9-1, 5-1 SEC) tore through the league this year and took down the No. 3 Georgia Gym Dogs (5-3, 4-2 SEC) in exciting fashion at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Friday. Florida, which defeated Georgia 197.525-196.825, had two gymnasts win a total of five events. Freshman Kytra Hunter, named SEC Gymnast of the Week on Monday, took the vault (9.95), floor exercise (9.95) and all-around (39.675), while junior Marissa King won the uneven bars (9.925) and balance beam (9.95). UF swept UGA in the meet and is set to take on Nebraska and Utah over the next three weeks before participating in postseason action.

6 » After earning a season-highlight win on Senior Day in the O’Dome, Gators women’s basketball (18-11, 8-8 SEC) concluded the 2012 regular season by falling 75-59 at the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4 SEC) due in part to 20 costly turnovers. Though Florida was unable to continue their magic against Tennessee, eight-seeded UF will hope to make a splash in the 2012 SEC Tournament, which begins for them against Auburn on Thursday at 1 p.m. The Gators also got some good news on Tuesday when it was announced that junior forward Jennifer George (first-team All-SEC) and senior guard Deana Allen (SEC Co-6th Woman of the Year) earned awards from the conference’s coaches.

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