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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Mock Draft Monday: Bucs uncertainty, and cameos by Artie Burns and Keanu Neal

The first round of the NFL draft is one month away from today, but there's not a lot of certainty over whom the Bucs might pick with the No. 9 overall selection.

Florida/Wharton High CB Vernon Hargreaves III remains one of the most popular options in my weekly survey of mock drafts, and he wouldn't mind playing in his hometown. But a pass rusher - Clemson's Shaq Lawson, Oregon's DeForest Buckner or Ohio State's Joey Bosa - also seems like an option.

Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey will have one of his final chances to show that he is worthy of a top-three selection this week. I'll have more on that tomorrow from FSU's pro day.

This week's Mock Draft Monday also includes two new additions. When ESPN's Todd McShay expanded his mock draft to two rounds, he included Gators S Keanu Neal and Miami CB Artie Burns.

Here's our weekly summary of potential Bucs targets and local players among noted mock drafts:

Bucs, No. 9 overall pick …

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Florida Gators' DeVon Walker seeking transfer

DeVon Walker started 11 times in his UF career, including four last season. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

DeVon Walker started 11 times in his UF career, including four last season. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

Florida G/F DeVon Walker plans to transfer after graduating this spring, Gators coach Mike White announced Monday morning.

Walker, a 6-foot-6 redshirt junior, will have one year of eligibility left.

The Winter Haven native started 11 times in his UF career, including four last season. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.2 rebounds per game.

"DeVon is an outstanding young man, and his we're proud of him reaching an important milestone with his upcoming graduation," White said in a statement. "We will support him however we can as he takes this next step in his academic and athletic pursuits."

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Florida Gators give Jim McElwain $750,000 raise for largest salary in SEC East

Florida Gators football coach Jim McElwain's successful first season has earned him a $750,000 raise, UF announced Friday morning.

The raise went into effect Feb. 1 and brings his annual compensation to $4.25 million. His deal runs through the 2020 season.

According to USA Today's coaching salary database, McElwain becomes the 11th highest paid coach in the country. His salary the fifth biggest in the SEC but tops in the SEC East. It remains the second largest figure in the state. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher makes $5.15 million annually, according to USA Today, and new Miami coach Mark Richt is believed to earn about $4 million. 

"We recognized early in Coach Mac's tenure that he totally changed the vibe around football for The Gator Nation and in the building," athletic director Jeremy Foley said in UF's announcement. "Dr. (Kent) Fuchs and I first talked about this in mid-October -- we didn't want to make it about winning one game or advancing to the SEC Championship Game. …

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Luke Del Rio talks Florida Gators quarterback battle

Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have both said that redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio holds an edge in the four-way battle for the starting quarterback job. He knows the system, and the coaches know him, so that makes sense, as I wrote in today's Tampa Bay Times.

But Del Rio isn't assuming that the starting job will be his.

"I think it's an open competition," Del Rio said after practice Wednesday. "We're all competing for the job. We're all doing everything we can do in our power to earn the starting job. I've been here, but I don't think that makes me above or No. 1 right now. I have to earn it."

Del Rio said he has been impressed with the Gators' two early enrollees, Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks.

"They're very, very arm talented," Del Rio said. "They're obviously really big guys. Kyle had a really unique situation in high school, and he took full advantage of it. He can spin the ball. And Feleipe, you can tell why he was so highly rated. He's mobile. He's big. He's got a cannon of an arm. They're learning, and they're doing a really good job."

 

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Florida Gators' Keanu Neal a possible first-round NFL draft pick

GAINESVILLE - Florida Gators DB Vernon Hargeaves III seems like a first-round lock in next month's NFL draft. DL Jonathan Bullard could go on the first night, too.

But don't overlook S Keanu Neal, a hard-hitting wildcard who could also sneak into the first round.

"That's a blessing in its own, but it's a starting point," Neal said of potentially being a first-round pick. "That's how I look at it. You know, go first, second, third, undrafted. It's a starting point."

Neal said leaving UF after his junior season was "really tough" but necessary because scouts were calling him a second-round pick. After a strong showing at Tuesday's UF pro day, Neal said going late in the first round is also a possibility.

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Neal missed two games last season because of injury but still finished third on the team with 96 tackles. No Gator had more solo tackles (51), and he added 3.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception.

Neal said his biggest asset for NFL teams is his versatility. …

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Vernon Hargreaves on joining Bucs: 'That would be amazing'

Florida/Wharton High product Vernon Hargreaves III wears Tampa-themed cleats as he participates in the Florida Gators' pro day Tuesday.

Matt Baker | Tampa Bay Times

Florida/Wharton High product Vernon Hargreaves III wears Tampa-themed cleats as he participates in the Florida Gators' pro day Tuesday.

GAINESVILLE -DB Vernon Hargreaves III had an easy opportunity to make an impression on his hometown team Tuesday during the Florida Gators' pro day.

Bucs defensive back coach Jon Hoke led the secondary drills for Hargreaves, a former UF and Wharton High star who is expected to be a top-10 pick in next month's NFL draft.

Hargreaves is a popular Bucs target on mock drafts with the No. 9 overall pick, and at least four Bucs representatives were at UF's new indoor practice facility to watch Hargreaves and his teammates work out.

Hargreaves said he hasn't talked with the Bucs much yet but has a meeting scheduled with the team for early next month, a few days after meeting with Jacksonville. He continued to work out in new Under Armour cleats with an image of Tampa painted on them.

"That would be amazing," Hargreaves said of possibly playing for the Bucs. "My mom would be right down the street, so that would be good. We'll see how it plays out."

Hargreaves was measured at 5-feet, 10 4/8 inches and 207 pounds - two or three pounds heavier than his ideal weight. He said his training was briefly derailed with a heel injury, but he looked smooth Tuesday as he only competed in position drills. …

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Jefferson quarterback Cade Weldon commits to Miami Hurricanes

Jefferson High QB Cade Weldon has orally committed to play for the Miami Hurricanes.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Jefferson High QB Cade Weldon has orally committed to play for the Miami Hurricanes.

Jefferson High QB Cade Weldon has orally committed to play for the Miami Hurricanes, Weldon announced late Monday night via Twitter.

"Excited to be a part of a great school with an incredible tradition and coaching staff!" Weldon wrote.

His father, Casey, was a standout quarterback for rival Florida State.

Weldon missed his junior season with a knee injury but threw for 2,103 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Weldon is a three-star recruit. He also had offers from USF, South Carolina and Kentucky, among others. Weldon also marks one of the first big recruiting coups for new Miami coach Mark Richt in Tampa Bay, a region he recruited well when he was at Georgia. 

Oral commitments are non-binding until recruits sign letters of intent during their senior year.

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Why Doug Nussmeier chose Florida Gators over Southern Miss

After the Bucs hired Todd Monken away from Southern Miss to be their offensive coordinator in January, the ripple could have spread elsewhere in the state; Florida Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a candidate to become Southern Miss' next head coach.

He didn't, of course. He stayed at UF, where he will try to revive an offense that struggled mightily after quarterback Will Grier was suspended for failing an NCAA drug test.

Nussmeier said he chose to remain with the Gators because UF is a "special place" for him and his family.

"There is not a day that goes by that we don't feel fortunate to be a part of such a great program with great tradition," Nussmeier said in his first public comments about his decision. "And it's an honor to walk out here every day and be the offensive coordinator, obviously. You know, Southern Miss was an opportunity that presented itself. Just felt so good about what we were starting to develop here. We're still a ways away, but felt really good about our situation here and the things we were going to be able to accomplish over time."

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FSU freshman Malik Beasley entering NBA draft

Florida State guard Malik Beasley announced Monday that he will forgo his final three college seasons to enter the NBA draft.

"Florida State University, Coach (Leonard) Hamilton and his staff were absolutely the best choices I could have made when I was deciding which college I would attend," Beasley said in a statement. "The friendships I have formed with my teammates will last my entire lifetime. The things I have learned and the growth I have realized this season as both a person and player have made me confident that I can take the next step in realizing my dreams to play at the next level."

The 6-foot-5 Beasley entered FSU as a four-star recruit and earned all-ACC freshman honors. He averaged 15.6 points and ranked among the top 10 in the ACC in free-throw percentage (.813) and field-goal percentage (.471). He also averaged 5.3 rebounds per game and was third on the team with 51 assists.

 

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FSU football: SPC alum Ryan Green back at running back

Two of Florida State's spring priorities were finding a replacement for likely top-five NFL pick Jalen Ramsey at cornerback and creating depth behind Dalvin Cook at running back.

Somehow, St. Petersburg Catholic alum Ryan Green figures into those plans.

Before spring practice began last week, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher mentioned Green - along with Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis - as contenders to take Ramsey's spot at boundary cornerback. 

But over the weekend, Green - a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior - switched back to running back. That was Green's natural position, where he starred in high school and became a four-star recruit. But Green moved to the defensive secondary last spring, before a shoulder injury sidelined him for all of last season. …

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Mock Draft Monday: Vernon Hargreaves' homecoming to Bucs looking likely

Former Florida/Wharton High star Vernon Hargreaves seems to be the favorite for the Bucs' selection with the No. 9 overall pick — assuming he lasts that long.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Former Florida/Wharton High star Vernon Hargreaves seems to be the favorite for the Bucs' selection with the No. 9 overall pick — assuming he lasts that long.

After a one-week break, Mock Draft Monday is back with a familiar conclusion: Vernon Hargreaves could be coming home.

The former Florida/Wharton High star seems to be the favorite for the Bucs' selection with the No. 9 overall pick - assuming he lasts that long. Hargreaves will have another chance to prove himself this week; the Gators' pro day is scheduled for Tuesday. Other pundits still think the Bucs go with a pass rusher - perhaps Clemson's Shaq Lawson, or Oregon's DeForest Buckner.

One of Hargreaves' teammates, defensive lineman Jon Bullard, will be on display, too. Bullard has worked his way onto two first-round mock drafts, for what that's worth.

Here's our weekly summary of potential Bucs targets and local players among noted mock drafts:

Bucs, No. 9 overall pick

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.: Florida/Wharton High CB Vernon Hargreaves. "No change here from the previous mock. Hargreaves is highly regarded throughout the league and certainly could be drafted before this point. …

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Jim McElwain wants running back depth for Florida Gators

Kelvin Taylor, who is leaving UF early for the NFL draft, rushed 259 times last year, making up 75 percent of the Gators' carries by running backs.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times

Kelvin Taylor, who is leaving UF early for the NFL draft, rushed 259 times last year, making up 75 percent of the Gators' carries by running backs.

You wouldn't know it by looking at last year's statistics, but Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain said he prefers to use a committee at running back rather than relying on one bell-cow back.

"I've kind of always been a guy who believes that you need to have multiple guys in the backfield," McElwain said Friday. "A running back only has so many hits in him, and to me, it's important that you have some depth and not one guy carrying it 45 times."

One player never ran the ball quite that much last year, but Kelvin Taylor certainly carried the load. Taylor, who is leaving UF early for the NFL draft, rushed 259 times last year, making up 75 percent of the Gators' carries by running backs.

McElwain said UF is developing some depth at the position. Juco early enrollee Mark Thompson looked impressive in the first full-pads practice earlier this week. At 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, he is even larger than former Gator Matt Jones (Armwood High). McElwain has also praised Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite, who combined for 78 carries and 338 yards as true freshmen last season. …

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Why Jimbo Fisher ripped FSU football team after first spring practice

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher ripped his players after their opening spring practice.

MATT BAKER | Times

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher ripped his players after their opening spring practice.

If Jim McElwain turns the Florida Gators into perennial championship contenders, the turning point will be McElwain's tirade after the win over East Carolina.

McElwain exploded at RB Kelvin Taylor after his throat-slashing gesture. Then he went off on his team in his post-game interview, calling it "embarrassing" to the team, the university, the administrators and even us lowly reporters who had to write about it.

The Gators responded by winning eight of their next nine games.

That moment popped into my head Wednesday, after Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher ripped his Seminoles after their opening spring practice.

Good coaches know what they're doing. I think McElwain's tirade proved two points: That UF's penalty-ridden history had to change, and that the Gators shouldn't be happy with close wins over mediocre teams. Those kinds of victories should be the expectation. By making that point known early, after the second game of the year, McElwain had the final 10 regular-season games to try to build the program his way for 2015 and beyond.

The same goes with Fisher. …

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World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party staying in Jacksonville through 2021

The Florida-Georgia series will continue to be held in Jacksonville through at least 2021, the city's mayor announced Wednesday.

The schools and city have agreed to a five-year extension for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, pending approval by Jacksonville's city council. The rivalry game has been in Jacksonville since 1933.

"We are excited to continue the tradition of playing the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville," UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "As I've said a number of times over the years, the game belongs in Jacksonville. Thanks to the hard work and cooperation from the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Jaguars and our counterparts at Georgia, it will continue to be in Jacksonville."

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Austin Hardin leaving Florida Gators, WR Kalif Jackson likely out for spring practice

A few quick notes from Florida coach Jim McElwain, who addressed reporters earlier today in Gainesville.

K Austin Hardin won't return for his fifth season with the Gators. Hardin entered UF as an Under Armour All-American and one of the top kicking prospects in the country. But he struggled in his three seasons of play, converting only 16 of his 36 field goals and missing three extra points last season.

OL Travaris Dorsey plans to transfer from UF, probably to Tuskegee University.

The Gators receiving corps will have to absorb another blow to its depth; Kalif Jackson is likely out for the spring with a knee injury.

UF is already without WR Antonio Callaway, who is serving a university suspension pending the final result of a code of conduct investigation.

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