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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FOUR Video BITS: Rainey, Tebow, Florida Field

1 » Former Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey is having a preseason to remember with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition to scoring two long touchdowns on offense earlier in the preseason, Rainey found the end zone twice on Thursday as he brought back a pair of punts 90 and 78 yards, respectively, only to have both called back on penalties. The video below, though a little choppy, contains both impressive returns.

2 » Jim Cantore, a reporter for The Weather Channel, was in the middle of Hurricane Issac in New Orleans, LA on Wednesday when he had to take a knee (Watch) in order to ensure that the strong winds from the storm did not push him over. Cantore likened his posture to that of New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow’s and quipped, “For whatever it’s worth, I hope I’m making Tebow proud.”

3 » “Tebowing” was also used this week as a celebration by a Pennsylvania man who assaulted a teenager for accidentally driving his riding lawn mower onto the road and into the path of his vehicle. According to police reports obtained by The Smoking Gun, the assailant pushed the 17-year-old off the lawn mower, “Tebowed” and then drove off. “I turned around to see what was going on. He clotheslined me off the tractor and landed on me and did a ‘Tim Tebow’ before he left and got back in his car.”

4 » UPDATED: In last of three short videos created by the University of Florida, the school’s turf management team explains how Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium gets prepared and painted for game day. The Gator Head logo, now spanning between the 40 yard lines at midfield (as first reported by OGGOA), can be seen up-close along with the new F logos, SEC logos and the completed end zones.

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Macklin, Pouncey, Foley

1 » Former Florida Gators left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, a first round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, took a line drive to the face on Saturday while pitching during the Futures at Fenway doubleheader that showcased the team’s minor leaguers. The organization announced shortly after he arrived at the hospital that Johnson has multiple orbital bone fractures on the left side of his face but neither suffered a concussion nor lost consciousness. Eye-witness reports noted that Johnson waved to the crowd when he was carted off the field. Boston’s Short-Season A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners, posted a Facebook update on Sunday that said he “popped by the park today after leaving the hospital and is in good spirits.” Fellow former Gators pitcher Tommy Toledo took a similar line drive to the face on March 14, 2009 during a game against Charleston Southern.

2 » Free agent forward/center Vernon Macklin, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft but did not receive a qualifying offer from the team following the season, has chosen to sign with Gaziantep of the Turkish Basketball League. “Vernon decided to turn down three NBA camp invites,” agent Greg Nunn told HoopsHype. “He feels he needs to play to showcase his talents and return to the NBA next year.” Macklin averaged 5.9 minutes of action in 23 games last season, registering 2.0 points and 1.5 rebounds. He was invited to Detroit’s summer league team but not picked up by the organization for the main roster.

3 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey recently answered four questions for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and gave this gem of a reply when asked about taking Bowling at the University of Florida:

“Oh yeah, it went great. It went awesome for me. Passed that one with flying colors. [My average] was terrible. I didn’t really care, I just wanted to play that game. I couldn’t do the spin thing – I’m usually a gutter ball type of guy.”

4 » Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley recently told GatorZone.com that he is pleased with the progress that the football team is making as well as the job that head coach Will Muschamp is doing in year two at the helm of the program.

“I just met with the football staff and I see it building. Like anything, it doesn’t get built overnight. All coaches want that and all fans want that. I get that, but if it’s going to be something substantial, and it’s going to be built to last, it’s got to be built the right way. I see that in terms of what is happening with our team: discipline, the weight room, academically. I see the buy-in from the players. I see the way the staff works. At the end of the day, you’re judged on winning games in any sport, but I see it building to where Gator fans want it to be and where Will wants it to be. I think that’s very exciting. If we’re going to build it, we’re going to build it the right way. Will has said that a thousand times. He’s building a program here and that’s what you want – a program built to last.”

It also would have been extremely interesting to read Foley’s answer to a potential follow-up question (Was the program previously not built the right way?) to that response.

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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: Wambach, Harvey, Jackson, Rainey

1 » U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach is indeed a “G,” not due to the fact that she is one of the faces of Gatorade but rather because she used her “guile and gamesmanship” to help the United States achieve a 4-3 extra-time victory over Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics on Monday. Wambach told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that it was her subtle urging that led the referees to call a rare delay of game penalty on the Canadian goalkeeper, who was holding the ball in the penalty box for up to 15 seconds at times when rules state the ball should be out after six seconds. “I wasn’t yelling. I was just counting,” Wambach told Dan Wetzel of her decision to run next to the referee while heading back down the field. “Probably did it five or seven times.” And of the play in question in which the referee finally blew her whistle? “I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee and at 10 seconds she blew the whistle.”

Canada, of course, believes they were robbed in the match. (The call resulted in an indirect free kick inside the box; a handball was called on the kick and Wambach tied the match 3-3 on a penalty goal.) Though Wambach admits that the call is rare, she notes that it is well within the rules. Her subtle pestering of the referee almost assuredly helped the call be made when it ordinarily might not have been. “Yes it’s uncharacteristic,” she said. “But the rules are the rules. You can say it’s gamesmanship, you can say it’s smart, but I’m a competitor. We needed to get a goal. They’re trying to waste time; I’m trying to speed it up. […] I think making the referee aware of a situation, there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, the ref made the decision on her own.”

2 » A former No. 8 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, former Florida Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey was cut from his third team over the course of a year when the Cincinnati Bengals let him go on Sunday. Harvey, who signed with the team just four months ago, was released before participating in a single preseason game. After being released by the Jaguars last July, Harvey was picked up by the Denver Broncos but barely played last season and spent most of it as a healthy scratch on game day. His NFL career may very well be over.

3 » The commitment of three-star offensive lineman Octavius Jackson (Moultrie, GA), who is unranked by Rivals, to the Florida Gators last week came as a surprise to many considering the team has few open slots remaining and a number of highly-rated prospects on its board. The Gators, however, knew exactly what they were doing by brining Jackson on board and it appears as if they were early to what may become a very crowded party. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jackson received “last-minute pleas by Alabama and Florida State” before committing to Florida. He already had a firm scholarship offer from Vanderbilt in his possession. “People have missed on him,” said Rush Propst, Jackson’s high school coach. “His only true offer until a few days ago was Vanderbilt, and they couldn’t believe nobody elsewas on him. Neither could I.”

4 » Running back Chris Rainey is turning heads in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, a fact that should come as no surprise to Florida fans whose necks were often sore from watching him run in Gainesville, FL. USA Today’s Jim Corbett wrote a few days ago that “Rainey has been the Steelers’ buzz guy since he began flashing during organized team activities, and he’s carried it over to training camp.” Almost everyone from the team’s president on down believes Rainey can make an instant impact with Pittsburgh this season though head coach Mike Tomlin is being a bit more cautious considering how early it is in the process.

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Starks, Pouncey, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators swimmer and current United States Olympian Ryan Lochte filmed a television commercial for AT&T at Broward Pool on the campus at the University of Florida in June. That commercial has since been completed and was released online Monday. Though the spot was filmed at Florida, no mentions of the Gators or school are made and it is impossible to tell where it was shot due to the fact that most of the commercial consists of animated additions. Check it out:

2 » A free agent coming off yet another devastating end-of-season injury, tackle Max Starks was unsure as to whether or not he would be re-signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers – the only NFL team he has ever played for – this year. Starks, who was unsigned heading into the 2011 season due to weight issues and a neck injury but was picked up by Pittsburgh mid-season as an injury replacement, wound up starting every game he played in. He went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the Steelers’ first and only playoff game and has spent the entire offseason undergoing rehabilitation, wondering if he would be signed again to team up with draft-mate and close friend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Starks got his wish Tuesday when he announced via Twitter that that he has re-signed with Pittsburgh. (He tweeted a picture of the top of his new contract.) The Steelers now have four Gators on their roster including center Maurkice Pouncey, left tackle Marcus Gilbert and rookie running back Chris Rainey.

3 » Reflecting on his first season as a professional football player, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey told his team’s website that he is ready to take what he learned and infuse it into an even better sophomore campaign. “It went by fast and I still can’t believe how fast it went by,” Pouncey said. “Going through one year in the NFL it just already feels like I learned so much and I just can’t wait to go out there and see how I do this year. I know it’s going to be a huge improvement from last year.” Concluding the season as a Pro Bowl alternate, he did not make his way to Hawaii for the game but certainly earned the respect of his veteran teammates. “He’s a straight athlete, a center at 6-foot-5 that can move,” said nine-year veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby. “He makes me better, period. I try to make him better as much as I possibly can and he tries to do the same. We always compete every chance we get and it’s a great give and take with a guy like that that’s so talented. He’s almost like a tight end at center.” Pouncey also said he is trying to step up as a “vocal leader” in the locker room for the Dolphins.

4 » The New York Jets are set to open training camp at SUNY-Cortland in late July and as many would expect quarterback Tim Tebow is going to be the main attraction. What Cortland, NY did not expect, however, was how much interest there would be on a national level from Christian groups hoping to take something of a pilgrimage to watch him scrimmage. “A couple months ago, I got a call from a church group, then another and I thought it was interesting, not groups we normally get calls from,” Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Jim Dempsey told The New York Times. “Right now, we have no way of knowing how many more groups will come because of Tim Tebow. But we expect a lot.”

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Tim Tebow wins ESPY award for Best Moment

Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow may no longer be a member of the Denver Broncos but one of his last plays with the team earned him and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas an ESPY award on Wednesday in Los Angeles, CA.

Playing in the Wildcard Round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs, Denver and the Pittsburgh Steelers were tied at 23 heading into overtime with the Broncos receiving the ball. On the very first play from scrimmage, Tebow hit Thomas across the middle with a dart that the receiver would take the rest of the way for a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass.

The ESPY for Best Moment is the third in Tebow’s young career but his first as a professional football player. He previously won Best Male College Athlete as a member of the Gators football team in both 2008 and 2009.

Florida was well-represented at the award show on Wednesday with three other nominees – U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach for Best Female Athlete, junior catcher Mike Zunino for Best Male College Athlete and jumper Christian Taylor for Best Track & Field Athlete – though none of the three brought home the award in their respective category. Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker was also in attendance to officially accept the 2012 Capital One Cup and guard Mike Miller found his way onstage to accept the award for Best Team.

A number of former Florida student-athletes congratulated Tebow for his award on Twitter after it was announced.

Jack Youngblood (@theblood85): Congrats @TimTebow on your @ESPYS award! Here’s to more “moments” like that one-JY

Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88): Congrats to my boy @TimTebow even thought he won it against my #Steelers smh! Payback week 2 lol

Andre Caldwell (@Acaldwell17): How can you not like @TimTebow and the way he carry is his self.. It was a pleasure to play with Timmy

Brandon Spikes (@BrandonSpikes55): Tim Tebow is such a great player !!! #GrinchSmile

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FOUR BITS: swimming, Raymond, Rosario, Starks

1 » Florida Gators sophomore swimmer Elizabeth Beisel qualified for the 2012 London Olympics on Monday, winning the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Women’s 400 Meter Individual Medley with a time of 4:31.74, three seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Below is an interview she conducted after getting out of the pool.

Former Gators Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer also qualified on Monday with Lochte winning the Men’s 400 Meter Individual Medley (4:07.06) and Dwyer turning on the jets to finish second in the Men’s 400 Meter Freestyle (3:47.83). Below is an interview Dwyer conducted about qualifying for his first Olympics.

2 » Two other women were officially named to Olympic teams this week with former Florida tennis player Lisa Raymond qualifying as a doubles competitor with teammate Liezel Huber (the duo is the No. 1-ranked pairing in the world by the WTA) and center Azania Stewart joining Great Britain National Team to play women’s basketball. Stewart just graduated this past spring and will be the third player in Florida women’s basketball history to play in the Olympics since 1992 (DeLisha Milton-Jones, Tammy Jackson). Joining Stewart on Great Britain’s team are swimmers Marco Loughran and Stephanie Proud, fellow former Gators student-athletes who will compete in the Men’s and Women’s 200 Meter Backstroke, respectively.

3 » Officially making the final cut for the Puerto Rico National Team that will compete in an Olympic qualifying tournament from July 2-8 in Venezuela, Florida redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario told SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria that he is incredibly thankful for the opportunity. “It feels great because I know how hard I am working because I want this year coming up to be a special one for me to remember,” he said. “I’m taking advantage of all opportunities. I have a very special gift that God gave me and that’s the talent to play basketball at the highest level I’m ready. Therefore, I want to thank my coach, Billy Donovan, for giving me the opportunity. This really means a lot to me and my future.”

4 » Asked once again whether or not former Gators offensive tackle Max Starks is on the radar to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers after his torn anterior cruciate ligament is healed, team director of football operations Kevin Colbert was standoffish in his reply to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We’re monitoring his health, we’ll see how it develops, but Max is coming off a serious injury, and his readiness we don’t know yet. We won’t know until you get closer to camp and he’s had more rehab.” Similar sentiments were shared about Starks one year ago (his issues were his neck and weight), but he was called upon after Pittsburgh faced an emergency situation on their offensive line due to injuries. Starks wound up starting right away and for the remainder of the season but was not re-signed by the Steelers after the season due to injuring his ACL during the team’s playoff game against Denver.

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