4 BITS: Tebow, Starks, Schottenheimer, Speights

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow set a number of football records on Sunday, but he also wound up making headlines in some off-the-field statistics, too. According to the Sports Business Journal, the Denver-Pittsburgh games registered a 25.9 overnight rating for CBS, which slates it as the largest-viewed AFC Wild Card game since 1988. Additionally, the final quarter-hour of the game (8-8:15 p.m.) pulled in a whopping 31.6 overnight rating. Tebow also made history on Twitter, setting a new sports tweets-per-second record with 9,420. CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell points out that Tebow’s tweets-per-second on Sunday shattered the previous sports record, which had the 2011 Women’s World Cup final game at 7,196 tweets/second. Other comparisons Rovell provided were Steve Jobs’s death (6,049 t/s), the Osama Bin Laden raid (5,106 t/s) and last year’s Super Bowl (4,064 t/s).

2 » Another happening from Sunday night’s game, albeit an unfortunate one, is that the injury to Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks knee appears to be a bad one. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Starks has an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that is believed to be a tear. If he did indeed suffer a torn ACL, Starks will begin the 2012 season like he did this year – unemployed – and will have to try and work his way onto a NFL roster as he begins to heal. Starks was a free agent heading into the 2011 season but was signed by the Steelers as the team’s offensive line became decimated with injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey, who was named to his second Pro Bowl this year and earned his first Associated Press All-Pro honor, missed Sunday’s game with a high-ankle sprain.

3 » Before NFL action began Sunday, a tweet from ESPN insider Adam Schefter got some Gators fans buzzing: “Brian Schottenheimer never withdrew his name from consideration for the Florida OC job.” Schottenheimer, the current offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, was previously thrown around as a name to consider for UF’s opening. However, the New York Daily News reported last week that he had withdrawn his name from consideration and was not a possibility for Florida. At the time there were no reports that the school had even reached out to him as a potential candidate. A former backup quarterback for Danny Wuerffel with the Gators under head coach Steve Spurrier, Schottenheimer has very little college coaching and recruiting experience (1999-2000). He has worked mostly as a NFL coach since 1997 and has been a quarterbacks coach since 2011, holding the role of offensive coordinator for New York since 2006.

4 » Maybe playing time really will do new Memphis Grizzlies center Marreese Speights well. Traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to Memphis on Jan. 4, Speights saw six minutes of action in his second game with his new team. However, the Grizzlies put Speights in for 29 minutes on Sunday and he responded with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. It remains to be seen how Speights will perform the rest of the season, but he said last year that consistent minutes are what he needs to take his game to the next level.

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Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Wild Card

With the 2011 regular season complete, six Florida Gators participated in Wild Card action during the first round of the 2011-12 NFL Playoffs over the weekend. A total of 11 former Florida players were on the rosters of five of six teams that played, but a number were either inactive or 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.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
QB TIM TEBOW, Denver Broncos^: 10/21 for 316 yards, two touchdowns (QB rating: 125.6); 10 carries for 50 yards, touchdown

Continue Reading » Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Wild Card

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Tim Tebow’s game-winning touchdown in OT leads Broncos to first NFL playoff win since ’05-06

Tebow Time looked like it was going to get an early start on Sunday but actually took place seconds after regulation ended as Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow threaded an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demarius Thomas to lead his team to a 29-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round of the 2011-12 NFL Playoffs in Denver, CO.

Tebow’s 316 yards on Sunday were both a season- and career-high, and his 80-yard strike to Thomas at the start of overtime marked both a career-long and the longest overtime touchdown in NFL history. He finished the day 10-for-21 with two touchdowns through the air and also carried the ball 10 times for 50 yards with a rushing score.

Things began to open up for Denver in the second quarter after the Broncos’ offense gained just eight yards in the first quarter and the team found itself down 6-0 to Pittsburgh on the back of two field goals. The Steelers’ defense continued put a heavy emphasis on containing the run, allowing Tebow to find some open passing lanes and gain 185 yards on 5-of-9 passing in the quarter.

He threw a 58-yard completion to Thomas and also had deep passes of 51 yards to Thomas, 30 yards to WR Eddie Royal for a touchdown, and 40 yards to tight end Daniel Fells. Tebow even ran in a touchdown from eight yards out, giving his team a 20-6 lead at the half as the team also knocked in two field goals.

Prior to Sunday, Tebow had not thrown for more than 45 yards in a second quarter and had just 123 yards combined in all of his second quarters this season.

Pittsburgh answered with a touchdown in the third quarter and the teams traded field goals in the fourth as Denver took over with a seven-point lead with under 10 minutes to play. Tebow began leading the Broncos down the field again with both his arm and legs, but running back Willis McGahee fumbled the ball after crossing midfield, giving it back to the Steelers with less than eight minutes left in the game. Pittsburgh took advantage of the miscue as QB Ben Roethlisberger tossed a 31-yard touchdown to WR Jericho Cotchery to tie the game at 23 with 3:48 remaining.

Regulation ended without either team scoring again and the game headed into overtime, which marked the first non-sudden death overtime game in NFL history.

As it turned out the new overtime rules would not be needed. Following a touchback on the kickoff, Tebow stood poised in the pocket and threw a strike across the middle to Thomas, who sprinted down the right sideline as Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium celebrated the Broncos’ first playoff victory since 2005-06.

Tebow’s postgame comments to ESPN’s Ed Werder:

Denver vice president John Elway reacts to Tebow’s game-winning play:

Photo Credit: ESPN

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FOUR BITS: Bell, tennis, Tebow, The Swamp

1 » With Jacksonville Dolphins head coach Kerwin Bell a hot name amongst fans to fill the offensive coordinator role with the Florida Gators, The Florida Times-Union reports that he is mulling an offer from the team but not to serve in that capacity. According to the paper, “multiple sources familiar with Florida’s interest” in Bell says the former Gators quarterback is being offered the quarterback coach role with the team. OGGOA was told weeks ago by a person close to Bell that he would only leave Jacksonville if Florida offered a role more substantial than position coach (such as passing game coordinator or co-offensive coordinator at a minimum) because the move would otherwise come with a great reduction in responsibilities and no increase in pay. If he was hired for one of the other positions, Bell would still have fewer responsibilities but could offset that with a return to Gainesville, FL and a higher salary.

2 » The ITA on Tuesday released its preseason national rankings and the defending national champion Gators can be found all over the organization’s lists. Florida as a team comes in at No. 1 to start the season while Stanford, the squad UF defeated for the title, will begin 2012 in the No. 2 spot. The Gators also have five singles competitors in the top 41 nationally: junior Allie Will (No. 3), senior Joanna Mather (No. 4), junior Lauren Embree (No. 25), sophomore Sofie OyenAlex Cercone (No. 41). Stanford’s Mallory Burdette, who Embree defeated in the final match of the national title event, is listed as the preseason No. 1 player in the country. Burdette, along with Nicole Gibbs, also holds recognition as the No. 1 doubles team. Two Florida pairings, however, are ranked in the top 15: Oyen/Will (No. 10) and Embree/Mather (No. 15). The men’s team is ranked No. 8 preseason with three singles competitors and three doubles pairs also listed.

3 » The Beaver County Times recently spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, asking each about their time with Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow while in Gainesville. Both said plenty of kind things about Tebow, though Pouncey took a bit of an issue to only being asked about him and not the other Florida players he faces throughout the year. “How come nobody asked me about Brandon Spikes when we played the [New England] Patriots?” he quipped. “I’m tired of answering all these questions about Tim Tebow.” Fair enough. Pouncey and Gilbert both agreed that Tebow was a great teammate and somebody they liked on a personal level as well. They each also said he was a crazy competitor in the weight room. “They actually had to calm him down at times,” Pouncey told the paper. “He was trying to do things quarterbacks shouldn’t do. He’d go in there and try to bench press all this weight and do stuff quarterbacks shouldn’t’ do, and he’s the guy who was to throw the ball on Saturdays.” “Yeah, he’s an animal in the weight room,” Gilbert added. “He was a big guy with a lot of energy in all aspects of football, whether it was in the weight room, in the meeting room or on the football field. He was so passionate about the game. That’s what you want from your leader. He was the kind of guy you want on your team. Just being around him drove me to become a better player.” Pittsburgh and Denver go head-to-head in the first round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday.

4 » The University of Florida announced Thursday that demolition and renovations to the West Concourse portion of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium began one month ago on Dec. 5, 2011. According to UF, the renovations will provide new features “including enhanced restroom facilities, better overall lighting, improved crowd circulation, and winder concessions with more points of sale, including new food items not previously offered in the stadium.” There will also be “flat screen televisions, new graphics and new way finding signage, redesigned ceilings, and the use of high-end finishes along with brighter colors.” Florida expects the work to be completed before the 2012 season begins, and you can find out more about the project by clicking here.

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Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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Pouncey named to second-straight Pro Bowl

Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey became the third Florida Gators player in as many seasons to be named to the primary NFL Pro Bowl roster.

He was selected as a starter for the AFC this year after being picked as the backup for Nick Mangold of the New York Jets last season.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin and Pouncey earned Pro Bowl nominations 2009 and 2010, respectively. Harvin started for the NFC as a kick return specialist, while Pouncey did not play due to being on a Super Bowl team.

Pouncey is the 20th former Florida player to be picked for the Pro Bowl; his nomination in 2010 made him the fifth to receive the honor in his rookie season (Cris Collinsworth, Jevon Kearse, Emmitt Smith, Harvin). Former Gators have made a total of 57 appearances in the game and have participated in 35 of 42 total Pro Bowls.

The Denver Post reports that former Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is a second alternate for the AFC. Should two of New England’s Tom Brady, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego’s Philip Rivers not participate in the game, Tebow would get the nod and take the trip to Honolulu, HI.

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is the primary alternate behind New England teammate Rob Gronkowski and San Diego’s Antonio Gates.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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4 BITS: Larson avoids jail, Pouncey gets fined

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson will not serve any jail time in South Dakota even though his 120-day suspended sentence was revoked earlier this week by Minnehaha County Judge John Schlimgen due to Larson’s arrest in Florida on April 10. According to KSFY ABC, Judge Schlimgen re-invoked Larson’s suspended sentence due and gave him two more years of probation. Larson’s jail sentence will remain suspended as long as he stays out of trouble and follows a number of terms and conditions set forth by the Minnehaha County State Attorney’s Office. If he violates his probation again, chances are the judge will not be as lenient next time. Larson remains indefinitely suspended from the Gators basketball team because his legal status had not yet been decided until Friday. Head coach Billy Donovan will likely reinstate him soon, as he did with junior F Erik Murphy after his case was settled.

2 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was fined $7,500 by the NFL on Friday due to an unnecessary roughness call he got Sunday against Houston. Pouncey was fined for what the NFL determined was a late hit, though Pouncey said he did not hear the whistle and will not let the fine affect him. “I’m not changing how I play,” he said.

3 » Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap was praised by Pro Football Focus as the second-highest rated player at his position in the league. Dunlap does not have a sack yet this season after registering 9.5 in 2010 (including 8.5 in the final six games). He does, however lead Cincinnati with eight quarterback pressures, which is a great sign for the player. “Once you get one usually you get on a roll. Right now though the first one is the toughest,” Dunlap told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m getting quarterback hits and pressures. Eventually they are going to turn into sacks.”

4 » On the injury front, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (sprained MCL) returned to practice for the first time on Thursday since getting hurt in Week 2. He is considered “on track” to play. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy, who has yet to play this year due to a sports hernia/groin injury, resumed practicing this week but was limited. Murphy, a starter in 2010 who was looking like Oakland’s most promising receiver, has fallen on the depth chart due to his absence and will have to work his way back up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham was injured during practice on Thursday. Graham hurt his hamstring and is questionable to play on Saturday. Though he may not be raking in the scores, he has been an integral part of Tampa Bay’s offense up to this point.

Updating the item above, Hernandez is listed as questionable on the Patriots’ injury report, Murphy will miss one more week, and Pittsburgh’s new left tackle Max Starks has earned the starting role for Sunday’s game.

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FOUR BITS: Larson faces jail, Starks returns to Steelers, Noah spotted, Hill arrested

1 » Florida Gators redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson may have had his legal matter settled in the state of Florida (he accepted deferred prosecution for his misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges) but how his actions will impact his legal status in South Dakota is another story. According to Keoland.com, Larson’s 120-day suspended jail sentence may be invoked due to him violating the law. “Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan filed a motion this week asking a Sioux Falls judge to drop the suspended sentence and consider jail time on the prescription drug charges from last year,” the website reports. “A court date has been set for Friday. That’s when it will be up to a judge to decide if Larson serves any or all of those 120 days.”

2 » After nearly three months away from football, former Gators offensive tackle Max Starks has officially been re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the same team that cut him shortly after the lockout ended due to concerns over his weight and status following offseason neck surgery. Starks, a favorite of the front office but reportedly a problem for the coaching staff, returned Wednesday and found his old No. 78 jersey hanging in his locker. “It was good to see everybody and everybody was happy to see me,” he told the Steelers’ website. “It was like old times. There are a lot of old faces and some new faces. It’s comfortable and it’s home. I am happy to be back.” OGGOA spoke with Starks a few weeks ago in an exclusive interview that will be published on the website in the coming days. He hopes to returns to the NFL gridiron as soon as Sunday.

3 » Back in Gainesville, FL working out with fellow former Florida forward Al Horford while the NBA lockout continues, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was caught by TMZ on Tuesday…having some fun in a pool. No, not that kind of fun. If you care to see two pictures of Noah playing beer pong, you can click here.

4 » Former Gators power forward Dametri Hill was arrested on Tuesday for not paying child support and for two previous charges of marijuana possession. According to the St. Petersburg Times, police caught up with Hill at the Tampa International Airport booked him with a warrant for contempt of court. After leaving Florida, Hill played with the San Antonio Spurs for a short time before pursuing professional basketball in seven countries over a 14-year period. He has recently participated in basketball camps as a coach and had hoped to continue living around the game.

Extra BIT » The University of Florida announced Wednesday that the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut spring game will take place on April 7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. It will be a busy day on campus at UF with a track and field meet, baseball game and softball game also taking place.

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