Florida Gators: Chris Rainey

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's Class of 2007 only won one national championship, but it stands alone as the single most talent-rich recruiting class in school history.

The list of NFL players is mind-boggling, but as part of our week-long series looking at Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the last decade, the focus is on college football.

With the 2006 national title under his belt, coach Urban Meyer was cooking with gas at Florida. His recruiting prowess was becoming the stuff of legends, and 2007 is a big piece of evidence to support that contention.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Dunlap
AP Photo/David KohlCarlos Dunlap (96) was one of the many members of Florida's 2007 recruiting class to find great success in the NFL.
ESPN ranked Florida's 2007 class No. 2 in the nation. It turned out to be an epic group that kept an already-elite program on top for a few more seasons.

The stars: Where to begin? Joe Haden began his decorated college career with a bang, becoming the first true freshman in UF history to start a game at cornerback on opening day. The Pouncey twins, Maurkice and Mike, were stalwarts on the offensive line. Six-foot-6, 280-pound Carlos Dunlap was a monstrous presence at defensive end. Safety Major Wright started 33 of 41 games at free safety and wreaked havoc all over the field. And Aaron Hernandez was an exceptional playmaker at tight end and H-back. All six of these standouts played as true freshmen, and only Mike Pouncey stayed for his senior year, as the others jumped to the NFL.

The contributors: Ball-hawking safety Ahmad Black had 13 career interceptions and was a leader on and off the field for Florida. Chaz Henry was UF's punter for four seasons and won the Ray Guy Award in 2010. Defensive linemen Jaye Howard, Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens all made their marks as well. Running back Chris Rainey and wideout Deonte Thompson had their ups and downs at UF but were starters. Still, just seven of the 27 recruits in this class transferred away. So the majority of the class contributed to Florida's success.

The letdowns: John Brown and Torrey Davis were among the top-ranked defensive tackles in the class -- Nos. 3 and 9, respectively -- but neither did much at Florida, and both transferred. John Brantley was the No. 4-rated quarterback in the Class of 2007 but had a largely undistinguished career at UF. Bo Williams, the No. 11 running back prospect, enrolled early but transferred after one year at UF. Two other highly rated prospects who struggled were guard James Wilson (injuries) and linebacker Lorenzo Edwards (ineffectiveness). Of the six Gators in this category, all but Edwards were among the top 106 recruits in the nation in 2007.

The results: Florida went 26-2 from 2008-09, winning SEC and national titles in 2008 and recording the second unblemished regular season in school history in 2009. It was an incredible run of success fueled by some terrific talents. Florida had a nation's best nine players selected in the NFL draft in 2010, including three in the first round and a school-record six players in the first two rounds. Haden, Wright, Dunlap, Hernandez and both Pounceys have had great success in the NFL. Black, Howard and Rainey were also drafted. And Trattou, Henry and Thompson have spent time in the league.

The asterisk: One more player deserves mention. The biggest star in Florida's recruiting class -- heck, the biggest star to emerge from the entire Class of 2007 -- was quarterback Cam Newton. He could qualify for all of the categories listed here. He contributed to UF as a backup to Tim Tebow. He was reportedly caught cheating and then arrested and charged with felony burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice. Newton was suspended by UF before transferring to junior college and ending up at Auburn, where he became a college football legend as a Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion. He's now an NFL superstar for the Carolina Panthers.

The other asterisk: It wouldn't be a complete story to include Hernandez's accomplishments here without mentioning his long list of legal troubles. In 2013 he was indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree murder charge. Hernandez pled not guilty and faces life in prison without parole if convicted. The charges and other investigations he faces prompted the New England Patriots to release Hernandez. Back in Gainesville, the Gators removed images of Hernandez from their football facilities and a brick outside the stadium honoring his selection as a first-team All-American in 2009.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Former Florida and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey made a surprise appearance at UF’s annual pro day on Tuesday -- not to find another job, though.

Rainey stopped by to visit his former teammates and coaches and wasn’t trying to land a contract with another NFL team even though he has been out of work since the Steelers released him hours after his misdemeanor battery arrest on Jan. 10.

"I’m just being patient, that’s all," Rainey said. "I’m just waiting on my agent to give me that phone call.

"... Move on and all that stuff. Hope I go to a better offense and stuff. That’s all I want. When I get that phone call, it’s just time to work."

Rainey said he hopes to play in the NFL this season, but teams may be a little leery of signing him because of his two off-field incidents. The latest came in January, when he was arrested at a Gainesville, Fla., apartment complex after witnesses said Rainey and the female victim were arguing over Rainey’s cellphone, and Rainey pulled the woman out of a vehicle and then slapped her in the face with an open hand.

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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Whether the 2012 season goes any better than the 2011 season will depend mainly on the play of the quarterback -- whether it’s Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett.

Dominique Easley
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida hopes to get a big boost this fall from the return of defensive tackle Dominique Easley from a torn ACL.
That’s a lot of pressure on a couple of players who didn’t fare so well in limited playing time last season. It’s not fair or unfair. It’s just the way it is now. If your team doesn’t have a good quarterback, it’s not going to be any good. Gone are the days in college football where teams can ride a big-time running back to a national championship.

That’s why we skipped the quarterbacks when we came up with our list of the top five UF players who are under the most pressure to perform in 2012. QBs are always in that situation. Here is the list, in alphabetical order:

DT Dominique Easley -- Easley is coming off a torn ACL but should be ready by the season opener. It’s a big year for him. He has to prove he has become more disciplined and cut down on his offside penalties. UF needs some pass-rush because of the absence of Ronald Powell (torn ACL), and Easley is good enough to provide it both inside and at defensive end.

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Gators own rivalry with Vols

June, 13, 2012
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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays, we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

[+] EnlargeJaye Howard
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe Gator defense was tough on Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray last season in a 33-23 victory in Gainesville, Fla.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida-Tennessee used to be one of the better rivalries in the Southeastern Conference.

And Florida used to own it under Steve Spurrier, going 8-4 against the Vols from 1990-2001. But UF lost control of the series during Ron Zook’s tenure, losing two of the three games from 2002-04. And they were heart-breakers -- the Hail Mary right before halftime in 2003 and the late Dallas Baker personal foul in 2004.

That changed under Urban Meyer, who placed a huge emphasis on winning "rivalry games." He went 17-2 in games against Tennessee, Georgia, Miami and Florida State, including a 6-0 mark against the Vols.

Will Muschamp went 1-2 in rivalry games in his first season -- but the one victory was over Tennessee.

The Gators have won seven in a row over the Vols, including the last three meetings in Knoxville. This year’s game will be Sept. 15 in Knoxville. Here’s a look at the winning streak:

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Everybody talks about the best value picks come NFL draft time. In other words, who were the best football players to go later in the draft?

Now that everybody else has had a say, I’ll weigh in with regard to SEC players. Below are my value selections. These guys either went in the last three rounds of the draft or went undrafted, and I’m betting that all five will be contributors in the NFL. They’re listed alphabetically:

Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: The Pittsburgh Steelers took Rainey with the 24th pick in the fifth round. Just from a special teams perspective alone, Rainey figures to be a huge asset. He has game-changing speed and will certainly be a threat in the return game, but what a lot of people forget is that he’s also Florida’s all-time leader with six blocked kicks. There’s just no substitute for the kind of speed Rainey possesses, and he’s proven than he can both run and catch the football. The Steelers will find a niche for him, and Rainey will put his speed to use in a number of different ways.

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Dan Wenger is headed to New York

April, 30, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Former Florida offensive lineman Dan Wenger announced via Twitter that he has been "given an opportunity" with the New York Jets.

Wenger, like all draft picks and undrafted free agents, will participate in a mini-camp held within 15 days of the NFL Draft. Wenger started 11 games in 2011 in his only season at Florida (he missed two games with an ankle injury). He transferred to UF from Notre Dame after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility because of two concussions he suffered early in the 2010 season.

Former UF quarterback John Brantley (Baltimore Ravens), receiver Deonte Thompson (Ravens) and defensive end William Green (Cleveland Browns) also will participate in mini-camps, as will draft picks Jaye Howard (Seattle, fourth round) and Chris Rainey (Pittsburgh, fifth round).
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida had just two players drafted over the past three days: defensive tackle Jaye Howard (fourth round, Seattle) and running back Chris Rainey (fifth round, Pittsburgh). Here are some numbers and stats to put that into perspective:

The Gators have had fewer than three players drafted in one year just five times since 1980: 2012, 2008, 1993, 1982 and 1980.

UF has had at least one player drafted in the first three rounds for the past 18 seasons. The last time UF didn’t have at least one player taken in the top three rounds was 1993 (Lawrence Hatch was a sixth-round pick by New England, and Will White was a seventh-round pick by Phoenix).

Florida’s streak of consecutive years with at least one first-round selection ends at five. Entering the draft, it was the longest active streak in the nation.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chris Rainey’s speed and versatility made him someone the Pittsburgh Steelers just couldn’t pass up.

The Steelers selected the former Florida running back in the fifth round (159th overall pick) of the NFL draft on Saturday, and coach Mike Tomlin is already thinking about the different ways he can use Rainey on offense and special teams.

"We, of course, are excited about his skill set,” Tomlin said on ESPN shortly after the selection. "We think that this guy is capable of helping us in a lot of ways: in the backfield, outside the backfield, in the return game."

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Rainey did all of that at Florida. He finished his career with 3,948 all-purpose yards (fourth in school history) and his 2,464 yards rushing is ninth on the school’s all-time list. He also holds the Southeastern Conference record with six blocked punts.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A nagging ankle injury and trouble with pass protection are things that kept running back Mike Gillislee from being a bigger part of Florida's offense in the past several seasons.

Both are better now, he said, and aren't going to hold him back from being the Gators' feature back in 2012.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kim Klement/US PresswireSome confusion in figuring out pass protection has held back Mike Gillislee in Florida's run game, but he's confident those problems are behind him now.
"This is my last chance," the 5-foot-11, 203-pound senior said. "[It's] the opportunity I’ve been waiting on to take advantage, being No. 1 on the depth chart so far, just getting better every day."

Gillislee previously was lower on the depth chart because he was playing behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. They were speed backs and the Gators used a perimeter running game. Gillislee is a power back, and he did produce when he did get on the field -- 920 yards on 145 carries (6.3 per carry) -- but it came mostly in mop-up action or an occasional drive in the middle of a game.

Despite it costing him just three games through three seasons, a nagging right ankle injury kept him from being 100 percent. More of a detriment, however, were his struggles in pass protection. He had no trouble with his pre-snap reads. What happened after the snap was the problem.

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Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 14, 2012
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Schedule: Florida opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon and concludes on April 7 with the Orange & Blue Debut, presented by Sunniland, at 1 p.m. ET in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In conjunction with Florida Football's Annual Coaches Clinic, practice will open to the public twice -- March 16 and March 17.

What's new: Florida welcomes in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who left Boise State, as its new offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas. Florida also hired former Utah offensive line coach Tim Davis to replace Frank Verducci, while Jeff Dillman replaces Mickey Marrotti as the Gators' strength and conditioning coach.

On the mend: Florida will be down a few players this spring. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out while he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered at the end of the regular season. Cornerback Jeremy Brown is out with a knee injury that kept him out all of the 2011 season. Offensive linemen Ian Silberman, Tommy Jordan, Kyle Koehne and Cole Gilliam, along with linebacker Lerentee McCray and defensive end Kedric Johnson, are all out with shoulder injuries. Cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) was cleared for non-contact drills. Linebacker Neiron Ball, who was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation after a blood vessel burst in his head before the 2011 season, has been cleared to resume physical activity, but not for practice.

On the move: Redshirt senior Omarius Hines is moving from wide receiver to cross train at running back and tight end. Hines has always been some sort of a hybrid player, recording 41 career receptions for 559 yards and two touchdowns and carrying the ball 13 times for 164 rushing yards and two more scores. Nick Alajajian is moving from offensive tackle to defensive tackle to provide depth with Easley out.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's definitely not a good sign about Florida's NFL Draft prospects when there's significantly more talent watching the pro scout day workouts than participating in them.

Quarterback John Brantley, running back Chris Rainey, defensive tackle Jaye Howard, and receiver Deonte Thompson worked out in front of NFL scouts from 24 teams and one head coach -- Jacksonville's Mike Mularkey -- on Tuesday morning at Florida Field. None of those players are projected any higher than mid- to late-round selections, which would snap the school's five-year streak of having at least one player taken in the first round.

Contrast that with the talented group of former UF players who watched the workouts. There were four first-round picks -- Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, Travis Taylor, and Percy Harvin -- and four others who were taken in the seventh round or higher: Terry Jackson (fifth), Riley Cooper (fifth) and Kerwin Bell (seventh). Mularkey was a ninth-round pick.

"We need more guys out there in position to be drafted," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "That's pretty evident as you go through our last two pro days.

"We need to do a better job recruiting. We need to do a better job evaluating. We need to do a better job of developing our players and coaching. Bottom line."

Rainey ran a 4.38 in the 40 0n Tuesday. His biggest goal was to prove to the scouts that he can catch the ball out of the backfield. As to where the 5-foot-9, 180-pound athlete fits on the next level, he said he's basically a smaller Harvin clone. He can play receiver or running back, return kicks and punts, and play on kick or punt block units.

"My goal is to confuse the scouts and they do the rest [in figuring out where he should play]," said Rainey, who finished his career with 3,948 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns. "If you’re going to be a playmaker on the field, that’s all that matters."

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[+] EnlargeChris Rainey
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIChris Rainey's versatility, as a runner, receiver and returner, is one of his most attractive qualities.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's pro day should be a low-key affair Tuesday morning at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, at least compared to the hoopla surrounding this same event two years ago.

This year the NFL Network won't be on hand for a live broadcast, nor are hoards of NFL head coaches and general managers expected to make the trip, as they did to watch Tim Tebow in 2010. The event is open at 10:30 a.m. ET to the public, but it's doubtful there will be a large number of fans with homemade signs directing their favorite team to draft a certain popular Gator.

No, Tuesday's pro day will feature just two prospects who were invited to the recent NFL draft scouting combine and a host of other former Gators, some who ran out of college eligibility with Tebow in 2009.

It's safe to predict Florida's streak of five straight years with at least one first-round selection will come to an end this April. Former Gator cornerback Janoris Jenkins, however, could be picked on the first night.

The highest rated ex-Gator slated to work out in front of NFL scouts at Tuesday's UF pro day is running back Chris Rainey, whose speed could make him a mid-round selection. Rainey has a Scouts grade of 69 and is rated the No. 9 running back available. He led the entire combine field in the three-cone drill (6.50 seconds) and led all running back prospects in the 60-yard shuttle (11.06 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (3.93 seconds). His 4.45 in the 40-yard dash tied for second among all running backs, but Rainey will look to improve upon that and perhaps give himself a shot at being picked in the third round.

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Spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 24, 2012
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Now that you've seen what to watch in the SEC Western Division, let's check out the East:

FLORIDA

Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7

What to watch:

Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.

Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.

Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.

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The AggreGator: Football foresight

February, 16, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's that restless time of year for so many Florida fans. You know, the ones who don't really care so much about basketball or baseball as they do football and recruiting. Well, we here at ye olde Worldwide Leader have sympathy and plenty of football stories to sink your teeth into -- like spring football and the NFL draft, and did you hear the one about the British sports book that listed Florida's odds to win the 2012 BCS National Championship ...

Best (and worst) early BCS bets (Insider)
ESPN Insider Will Harris looks at the contenders and pretenders based on a top oddsmakers' favorites. Florida is on the radar, but Harris isn't buying it.

Schlabach: Time for spring football again
The weather might not agree, but it’s springtime for college football. And there are plenty of questions to be answered, like how much will new offensive coordinator Brent Pease help Florida's offense?

Rainey a late-round steal? (Insider)
Steve Muench looks at five running back prospects who could offer good value and become solid contributors in the NFL. He says Florida’s Chris Rainey could help the Buccaneers.

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Three Gators invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's recent struggles on the football field can be seen in its dearth of NFL prospects this spring. Just three Gators were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Feb. 22-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Defensive tackle Jaye Howard will be joined by running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

Howard, who is 6-foot-3, 292 pounds and has experience at defensive end and tackle, may be Florida's top prospect.

Rainey, who stands to gain the most with a fast time in the 40-yard dash, recently promised as much. At the Senior Bowl last month, he told ESPN's GatorNation he had been training in Orlando and honing his 40 time.

“My goal is a 4.1, so y’all be looking out for it,” Rainey said.

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