FOUR BITS: Rainey, Butler, Tebow, Hernandez

1 » Now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back Chris Rainey expressed on Tuesday how smooth the transition has been already to the NFL – and it is not because he has two former Florida Gators teammates and friends on the squad in center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Marcus Gilbert. “Well, this isn’t a new offense,” Rainey told WPXI in Pittsburgh, PA. “I’ve been in this offense at Florida because Charlie Weis and Coach [Todd] Haley coached together. It’s the same offense so it’s easy to me. It’s definitely an advantage. I can just go in here, see what it is and be like: I know this. I don’t even have to study. I’m right there. I’m ahead of everybody.” He is similarly not concerned about the speed of the NFL because of his five years in the Southeastern Conference. “I don’t think there’s a transition because I came from the SEC, so it’s basically the same thing the work wise,” Rainey told the station. “The hard work and all that kind of stuff [is the same]. Offense and everything [is the same], so I’m just out there doing my job.”

2 » Florida announced Wednesday that head women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler had her contract extended through the 2016-17 season after five years at the helm of the Gators. “I like the direction our program is headed,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a school release. “We know Amanda will be our coach for a long time. We’re excited about the future of the Gator women’s basketball program.” Butler is 98-67 in her five years at Florida, where she played as a guard from 1990-94 and served as an assistant coach from 1994-97.

3 » Panini America announced on May 31 that, as part of the company’s 2012 Prestige Football series, they will be including a 15-card insert devoted to now-New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The cards will be released on June 20 and numbered to a maximum of 1,500; there will also be 15 special versions of the 15th card (featuring him in a Jets uniform) that are autographed by Tebow. Below are small previews put together by OGGOA of the fronts of the 15 cards (each back includes a paragraph on Tebow):

4 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was scheduled to attend one of his teammates’ and fellow Connecticuter’s youth football clinic on Sunday but was delayed and showed up late for the event. When he did arrive, however, Hernandez was peppered with questions by the kids in attendance (the first of which was about the Gators); he also signed “roughly 100 autographs and [took] nearly as many pictures,” according to the New Britain Herald, before ending his appearance. In unrelated team news, recently signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney may not wind up on New England’s final roster if he cannot beat out fellow veterans Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth. The three are all competing likely for a pair of roster spots, which is strange for each of the players consider all three joined the league together when selected in the 2002 NFL Draft by different teams.

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SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

1 » The Florida Gators’ top 2013 baseball commitment, right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers, is unlikely to ever step on the field at McKethan Stadium as he is projected to be a top selection in the 2012 MLB Draft on Monday. Though he is not yet officially a member of the orange and blue, the slim chance that McCullers spurns pro baseball and decides to spend three years playing in the college ranks should give Florida fans something extra to watch for Monday evening. McCullers was named the 2012 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year on Thursday after posting a perfect 13-0 record with a 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77.1 innings during his senior season (he also batted .280 with two homers, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as a shortstop). He is widely considered to be the best high school baseball player in the country and has received tons of positive press but could very well not wind up going in the first round due to new collective bargaining rules that limit the amount of bonus money teams can pay out to their top picks. Teams may feel that McCullers, represented by agent Scott Boras, would require a certain high-dollar figure in order to sign on the dotted line and not be a wasted pick (he could always choose to go to college instead). This could have him fall out of the first round and perhaps steer him more toward the Gators. “It’s frustrating, the whole draft thing is frustrating,” McCullers told the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve done nothing than get better since I’ve been ranked No. 1 forever, and no one in the country had a better year than me on the hill. If Major League Baseball wants to undervalue me, then I’ll show them what I’m really about three years from now.”

Other Florida commitments that could be picked high in the draft and spurn the Gators for minor league contracts include outfielder Lewis Brinson, infielder Avery Romero, OF Max White and OF Jesse Winker.

2 » Former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks is a free agent hoping to sign with an NFL team while coming off a major injury for the second-straight season. Starks hurt his neck two years ago while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was unsigned at the start of 2011. As Pittsburgh’s depth along the offensive line took severe blows early in the season, Starks got a call, immediately returned as a starter and played out the rest of the year until tearing his ACL in the team’s season finale against Denver in the playoffs. Now trying to make another go of it while recovering from an injury, Starks will likely find a destination at some point though FOX Sports’ Len Pasquarelli reports that it will not be with the Steelers. “A few teams have stayed in contact with veteran offensive tackle Max Starks – who basically rescued the Pittsburgh line last season… – to keep tabs on his rehabilitation. Starks could be a July signing, or a safety net for a club that either suffers an injury or lacks depth at tackle. But he isn’t likely to return to the Steelers again.” Instead Pittsburgh will move second-year tackle Marcus Gilbert to the left side and hope that 2012 second-round pick Mike Adams will be ready to start for the team. Then again, the Steelers also thought that they would not need Starks in 2011 until they desperately needed his services. He has not played for any other team but Pittsburgh, knows the offense and has a great relationship with the rest of the line as well as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: McCullers, Starks, Davis, Hurt, Pouncey

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SIX BITS: Noah, Pouncey, Cooper, Zunino, Embree

1 » Like any good player, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah plans to work extensively on his game over the summer. In order to do just that, Noah will enlist the help of Hall of Famer, six-time Most Valuable Player and six-time NBA Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the player said Wednesday while on a visit at a high school in Chicago, according to RealGM.com. Abdul-Jabbar has worked with a number of prominent NBA big men over the last few years so it is certainly no surprise that Noah would seek his advice. It will be one of the many things he plans on doing this summer as he is also scheduled to play for the French Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics and work with trainers to improve his strength and conditioning heading into the 2012-13 season.

2 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey was a featured guest on NFL Network this Thursday where he discussed new Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, the team’s quarterback competition and the Dolphins’ prospects heading into the 2012 season. He also spoke highly about new Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey when asked if there were any more Pouncey brothers on the back burner who could make an impact in the NFL in the future. “No, but we got a step brother in Chris Rainey who the Steelers selected in the fifth round. We’re hoping for big things out of him up there this year. He’s a great football player, and I think the Steelers made a great selection,” he said.

3 » Another year older, another year wiser and hopefully another year more polished, wide receiver Riley Cooper hopes he can make a major impact for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. “I’ve only had like [five] starts the whole time I’ve been here. It’s just game experience. The more game experience you get the better you get,” he told the team’s website. He also hopes that his first real offseason with the coaching staff will help him make major strides on the field. “I haven’t had an offseason, so it’s helping out a lot. I get one-on-one work with [senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach David] Culley. We’re doing a lot of routes, getting a lot of work in. It’s benefiting me a lot,” Cooper said. “There’s a bunch of things I want to get better at and that’s what the offseason does.”

4 » ESPN’s baseball scouts are not the only ones heaping praise on Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino. Just like the Worldwide Leader, MLB.com has Zunino listed as their No. 3 overall player available in the 2012 MLB Draft and notes that he is both the best bat and best player currently playing college baseball. Just two days after being named a semifinalist for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award, Zunino learned that he is also a semifinalist for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy, presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year. Considered the “Heisman Trophy” of college baseball, the Howser Trophy has never been won by a Florida baseball player. Zunino is one of 35 semifinalists for the award.

5 » ESPNW.com continues its countdown of the top 40 female athletes of the past 40 years following the adoption of Title IX and has added two more former Gators to their list. Following striker Abby Wambach (No. 33), come swimmers Tracy Caulkins (No. 25) and Dara Torres (No. 23). Caulkins is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time NCAA Champion, while Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist (four golds) and three-time NCAA Champion. Torres is also the first United States swimmer to compete in five separate Olympics and is also the oldest swimmer to ever compete for the U.S. There are 20 spots still unannounced as part of ESPNW‘s countdown so there is an opportunity for additional former Florida student-athletes to find a spot on the list.

6 » Gators junior tennis player Lauren Embree, the ninth-ranked woman in the world according to ITA, has been writing a blog for the USTA over the last week. In her latest entry, submitted following Florida’s big round of 16 win over Michigan on Thursday, Embree talks about waiting out a rain delay, pulling out a come-from-behind doubles victory and advancing in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. “I think everyone was really anxious and excited to get things going, and most of us got out to really good starts, which helped the momentum of the team,” she wrote. “I guess it’s good we have the day off [Friday] since we have had such a long night. Our team is also so thankful we have fans that stay up and cheer for us. They really helped us pull through tonight, and we could not have done it without them!”

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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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