SIX BITS: ESPN, Lattimore, Steelers, Henry, Noah

1 » Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Kirk Herbstreit broke down Saturday’s game between the No. 2 Florida Gators and No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks on the network.

2 » After releasing a star-filled injury report earlier in the week, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said Thursday that it looks like almost all of his big-name players will be in action on Saturday against Florida. The one exception, of course, is defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who has an injured shoulder but will also be suspended for punching a player during last week’s game against LSU. Running back Marcus Lattimore (hip) is still not slated to start but is expected to play after going through a full practice on Thursday. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (foot) is also good to go, as are a number of players who were hit with a flu bug over the course of the week, Spurrier said.

Check out four more BITS in this post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: ESPN, Lattimore, Steelers, Henry, Noah

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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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Patriots set to bring back WR Jabar Gaffney

Less than 48 hours after being released by the Washington Redskins following the most productive season of his career, former Florida Gators wide receiver Jabar Gaffney has agreed to a two-year deal to return to the New England Patriots, according to NFL Network‘s Jason LaCanfora.

Gaffney, who spent three years with New England from 2006-08, never caught more than 38 passes or amassed more than 468 yards in a single season as a member of the Patriots. He did, however, catch five touchdowns in 2007 when the team advanced to but eventually lost Super Bowl XLII.

The last two years have been the most productive of Gaffney’s career. He had 65 receptions for 875 yards and two touchdowns with Denver in 2010 and eclipsed all of those numbers by registering career- and team-highs in receptions (68), targets (115), yards (947) and touchdowns (5) for Washington.

Selected with the No. 33 overall pick in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, Gaffney spent the first four years of his career with Houston (2002-05) before moving on to New England, Denver (2009-10) and finally Washington.

He came under fire in early April for a epic rant emanating from his Twitter account that he later claimed he did not participate in. It is unknown if that incident contributed to his release from the Redskins though the team beefed up its receiving corps in the offseason and claimed Gaffney’s 2012 salary to be cost prohibitive.

Gaffney will return to the Patriots as the fifth former Gators player on the team’s roster. In addition to tight end Aaron Hernandez and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham, New England also plans to re-sign defensive tackle Gerard Warren for the 2012 season.

Photo Credit: Keith Nordstrom/New England Patriots

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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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SIX BITS: Gaffney, Hill, Hayes, Spurrier, Meyer

1 » Former Florida Gators wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, currently employed by the Washington Redskins but in danger of being cut before the season, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson on Wednesday that head coach Mike Shanahan specifically told him not to report to camp and to see if his agent can find another team for him prior to the draft. “I talked to Mike Shanahan myself. He is the one that told me I don’t have to come up there until two weeks from now when they start installing the offense. So that is why I’m not at voluntary workouts,” he said. “I am working out in Florida now though. Shanahan told me that I can take this time and let my agent see if he can find a better situation for me. So they are pretty much telling me that myself or Santana Moss are going to have to go. I want people to know that I told Shanahan myself that I want to be a Redskin, but if I can’t then of course there are options I would like.”

2 » In the latest Rivals150 for the 2013 basketball recruiting class released on Monday, Florida gained a five-star commitment and top-10 overall prospect. Point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), listed as a four-star recruit and the No. 27 player overall a few weeks ago, has added another star to his designation and moved up 19 spots to No. 8 overall. Teammates with UF commitment and 2012 four-star shooting guard Michael Frazier (Clermont, FL) at both Montverde Academy and on the Florida Rams AAU team, Hill has been turning a lot of heads recently with his play.

3 » Speaking of basketball recruiting, the Gators are still waiting to hear a decision from five-star 2012 power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV), who is still meeting with coaches and taking visits before making a decision in early May. In the meantime, head coach Billy Donovan has been in hot pursuit of center Bradley Hayes (Jacksonville, FL). Unrated and raw, Hayes’s size (6’11”, 250 lbs.) and potential has intrigued Florida’s coach. The Gators have yet to offer him a scholarship as the team wants to hear a final decision before doing so, but it has been widely reported that Hayes likely favors staying in-state and playing for UF. He told SNY’s Adam Zagoria on Wednesday that Florida is in his final four along with Connecticut, Georgetown and Texas A&M. “I like their coach,” he said of the Gators. “I like coach straight up. He wants the best, and I want to be the best.” Donovan is set to watch Hayes play in Pittsburgh, PA over the weekend.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Gaffney, Hill, Hayes, Spurrier, Meyer

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Reggie Nelson, Rex Grossman re-sign with teams

A pair of former Florida Gators football players followed in the footsteps of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey and re-signed over the weekend with the teams they played for in 2011.

Safety Reggie Nelson turned down overtures from the New York Jets to return to the Cincinnati Bengals on a four-year contract worth $18 million including $6.5 million in the first season, and quarterback Rex Grossman agreed to rejoin the Washington Redskins for one year with the knowledge that he will not be the team’s starter.

Nelson had a career year for Cincinnati in 2011, registering 85 combined tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 12 pass defenses and a pair of sacks. It was the best he had played since his rookie year in Jacksonville, and the team obviously expected his resurgence to continue in 2012 and beyond.

Grossman started off hot for Washington but reverted to his mean as the season went on. He completed a career-high 57.9 percent of his passes for 3,151 yards with 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions and went 5-8 as the Redskins’ starter. With Washington trading a boatload of draft picks for the opportunity to select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft, Grossman will be relegated to backup duty in 2012.

Though three Gators are now off the market, 11 other notable former Florida players are currently listed as free agents including: wide receiver Andre Caldwell (Cincinnati), linebacker Channing Crowder (DNP/retirement), LB Andra Davis (Buffalo), running back Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay), defensive end Derrick Harvey (Denver), DE Jarvis Moss (Oakland), LB Mike Peterson (Atlanta), cornerback Lito Sheppard (Oakland), offensive tackle Max Starks, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (Denver) and DT Gerard Warren (New England).

Photo Credits: Rich Lipski/Associated Press, Cincinnati Enquirer

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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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Florida’s 2011 NFL draftees all under contract

With Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey agreeing to a four-year, $9.3 million deal with the team late Saturday evening, all four former Florida Gators selected in the 2011 NFL Draft have officially been signed by their respective clubs.

Pouncey, who missed the first two days of practice while his agents and Miami’s brass were working out his deal, was pleased to announce to fans that he would finally be lacing up his cleats on Sunday.

“Thanks for all the support,” he wrote on Twitter around midnight, “the deal is done see you all at practice tomorrow.”

Due to the brand new collective bargaining agreement, Pouncey’s rookie contract is significantly less than his brother’s was one year ago even though the former was selected three slots higher. Center Maurkice Pouncey was chosen with the 18th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and signed a five-year, $17.96 million deal. Mike’s contract is fully guaranteed while Maurkice’s included $10.35 million of guaranteed money.

Also signing with his team this week was Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert, who agreed to a $3.227 million deal including an $847,000 signing bonus. A second-round pick, Gilbert hopes to join Maurkice on Pittsburgh’s starting offensive line this season and spent the lockout getting tips from him while learning about the offense.

“It’s been pretty straightforward,” Gilbert told the Beaverton County Times late in the week. “It’s just trying to switch over the language of the offense and little stuff here and there that I never ran in college. The older guys are taking me under their wing and showing me how to do it the right way.”

Florida’s two late round picks – safety Ahmad Black (fifth round) and guard Maurice Hurt (seventh round) – each signed four-year deals with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins, respectively.

Black told the New York Times that he knows he has his work cut out for him and is still getting acclimated to the professional game. He is willing to start from the bottom and work is way up to a starting role.

“It’s a little bit different than college,” Black said on Friday. “Coming from Florida with coach [Urban] Meyer, he always stressed special teams so it’s nothing new to me. A lot of guys think since they started in college, they will start here. That’s definitely not the case. I’m going to earn my role on special teams to work my way on the defense.”

OGGOA will keep you up-to-date with all four rookies (as well as all of the undrafted free agents who signed with teams) through training camp and the 2011 regular season.

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