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Forrest Gregg, who earned the nickname “Iron Man” for playing in a then-record 188 consecutive NFL games during his Hall of Fame career, died Friday in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was 85.

Barbara Gregg said her husband of 59 years died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

The former offensive lineman, who was a seven-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler, played 15 seasons in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys from 1956 to 1971.

Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once called Gregg “the best player I ever coached.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Barbara and the Gregg family,” Packers president Mark Murphy said in a statement. “He was a legendary player for the team, one of the greatest in our history. The ultimate team player, he raised the level of play of those around him. He also had a great connection with the organization over the years. We enjoyed welcoming him back to Lambeau Field and seeing fans appreciate him around the state.”

Forrest Gregg, whom Vince Lombardi called “the best player I ever coached,” won six NFL titles with the Packers and Cowboys. After his playing career, he coached the Bengals, Browns and Packers. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Manny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports
After his playing career, Gregg went on to coach the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Packers, compiling a record of 75-85-1 over 11 seasons. He led Cincinnati to the Super Bowl in the 1981 season, where the Bengals lost to San Francisco 26-21.

“It’s a sad day here,” Bengals president Mike Brown said in a statement. “My memories of Forrest are very special. He not only was the coach of the team, but we were also good friends.

“As a coach, he was very successful here. We had good people, good players and he got the best out of them. He was demanding. The players didn’t try to cut corners. They went out and did what they had to do, and what we were doing worked. We were somewhat ahead of the curve at the time.”

A guard and tackle, Gregg played on six NFL/NFC championship teams and three Super Bowl winners, including the first two Super Bowls with the Packers. Gregg finished his career with a Super Bowl title with the Cowboys in 1971.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur posted a picture on Twitter to show just how tough Gregg was.

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Matt LaFleur

@CoachMLaFleur
I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of a true Packers legend, Forrest Gregg. This picture has been hanging in my home office for the last 10 years and serves as a great reminder of what a tough competitor Forrest was. #Packers #GoPackGo

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“Forrest was right out of the Lombardi school,” said former Browns offensive lineman Doug Dieken, now the team’s radio analyst. “If you read a Lombardi book, you thought you played for Lombardi, because a lot of the quotes and the things that [Gregg] did were exactly the same. He was a tough guy, and there were some guys who didn’t like the discipline he demanded. The offensive linemen, we all liked him. …

“He was a straight shooter. He’d call you out. He was a good guy. A bit of a control freak in a lot of ways, but that was for the good of the team. That was what he felt. He was tough. He was Lombardi tough. He was Lombardi.”

Enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, Gregg was also elected to the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1960s and its 75th anniversary team.

“The game lost a giant today,” Hall of Fame president David Baker said in a statement. “Forrest Gregg exemplified greatness during a legendary career that earned him a Bronzed Bust in Canton. He was the type of player who led by example and, in doing so, raised the level of play of all those around him. Forrest symbolized many great traits and virtues that can be learned from this game to inspire people from all walks of life.”

Browns general manager John Dorsey, who played for the Packers, was drafted by Gregg in the second round of the 1984 draft.

“He was tough, disciplined and very demanding,” Dorsey said Friday. “He wanted the game to be played a certain way, and I always appreciated that about him. He was an honorable man, very principled. As a young player in this league, he was someone you wanted to follow. You could always feel his presence and he always wanted to make sure you knew he wanted the game played to his standard.

“I have a deep respect for him and I have a heavy heart today because he was the guy that brought me into the National Football League. Forrest’s mark in the NFL goes well beyond my time with him. This is a man that dedicated his life to the game of football. His success as a player, then his time coaching — including in Cleveland with the Browns — has left a long lasting impression on many.”

Gregg, a native of Birthright, Texas, played collegiately at SMU. He was selected by the Packers in the second round of the 1956 NFL draft.

He was hired at his alma mater to restore integrity to an SMU program that was handed the “death penalty” in the mid-1980s for paying players. They went 2-9 in 1989 upon their return and 1-10 the next year, after which Gregg became SMU’s athletic director.

“The finest bunch of players I was ever around, were the courageous kids at SMU,” Gregg told The AP in 2013 about those SMU teams. “That was one of the most enjoyable times of my football life. Those kids restored dignity to the Hilltop.”

Gregg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, and he had overcome melanoma in 1976 and colon cancer in 2001.

Barbara Gregg said her husband received a constant flow of calls from former teammates and players in the last two weeks telling him he’d made such a big difference in their lives.

“I’m overwhelmed at the amount of people that loved Forrest, of the number of players that said he made men out of them,” she said. “Forrest loved people. He loved everybody. He loved his children. He loved me. And it just broke my heart. My heart is broken.”

She said the funeral will be sometime next week in Colorado Springs and open to the public.

His family and his neurologist said Parkinson’s disease may have been related to numerous concussions he suffered during his playing career, but Gregg never blamed football for his health ailments. He refused to join concussion lawsuits against the NFL and said he still would have chosen to play the sport if he’d known there would be a hefty price to pay later in life.

“I don’t need anything from anybody but what I earned,” Gregg told The Associated Press in 2013.

ESPN’s Pat McManamon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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David Njoku parades the elite athleticism designed to make him an integral weapon as the Cleveland Browns enter what they hope will be a new era in 2018.
A mesmeric leap has fuelled glowing reviews of David Njoku’s ability since high school, right through to his selection as the No. 29 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. The 22-year-old’s illustrious trend of reaching new heights can now be the source of a blossoming importance to Hue Jackson’s offense.

May 2013 saw Cedar Grove’s Njoku clear a meet-record 7-0 in the high jump at the NJSIAA group championships in Egg Harbor Township. It was a performance that evoked early expectations that his sporting anatomy would grant him multiple paths to contemplate over the years to come.

Having retracted what he deemed a premature commitment to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football program, Njoku confirmed in 2014 he would be playing at the University of Miami. This was later followed by a meet-record high jump display at the NJSIAA/Star-Ledger/M-F Athletic Group 1 Championships in South Plainfield with a first-time clearance of 7-1.

His high jumping résumé heading to Miami was glossed by added perceptions of the then-wide receiver Njoku as a potential tight end or linebacker in epitomising his vast array of expertise. A familiar high jump routine of producing explosive speed before transitioning into an expertly-timed and coordinated spring would soon coincide with his physical growth through college in asserting a versatile tight end.

Though football became a clear priority at Miami, Njoku notably retained his dedication to competing on the track and field scene. In between participating in the event that had spearheaded his rise, Njoku was already turning heads on the field in his first college season.

A Hurricanes win over Virginia staged his first touchdown and saw him become just the team’s fourth tight-end in 20 years to surpass 58 yards with one reception. Any lurking fears of a difficulty translating his freak athletic prowess into playmaking value were swiftly being diminished.

MUST READ: 2018 NFL picks, score predictions for Week 1
Njoku wasn’t isolated as an outright tight end until the 2016 season, in which he averaged 11.2 yards after the catch per reception, according to Pro Football Focus’ scouting report entering the 2017 draft.

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Sheer power was complimented by a slippery take-off in showcasing an NFL prospect capable of polishing desirable attributes on request. One prevailing aspect of this was an admirable approach to enhancing his blocking – an area he had been expected to struggle with in light of his receiver frame. Struggle he did not.

Speaking in the build up to the draft, Njoku told NFL.com: “I was never afraid to block. I’ve been blocking since I was like 230 [pounds] against people who were 270.”

“Being coached by [Todd] Hartley, blocking is very important. They don’t like just receiving tight ends because they don’t believe in that, so they put down the hammer when it comes to blocking. It’s very serious, so we took it as such.”

Njoku may have fallen behind O.J. Howard and Evan Engram, selected 19th and 23rd, respectively, but he could have very easily and justifiably been the first tight end off the board in Philadelphia last year.

Fast forward past his gruelling 0-16 debut season and Njoku is primed for a potential breakout year following the Browns’ productive offseason of recruitment. All 6-4 and 246 pounds of Njoku have impressed throughout training camp within a galvanised offense.
Dropped catches have loomed as a minor concern, but one Njoku’s history suggests he is capable of ironing out with added experience. This is also sure to be helped by the accuracy and security Tyrod Taylor promises to offer at quarterback.

The Browns’ preseason opener against the New York Giants proved a timely insight into Njoku’s rhythm out of camp as he reeled in two out of three targets for 46 yards and two touchdowns.

His first score exhibited his 4.64-second 40 speed and decisive route-running as he evaded linebacker Alec Ogletree with some ease to meet Taylor’s pass. The second proclaimed his vertical threat when he out-leapt cornerback Leonard Johnson in the end zone to mark Baker Mayfield’s maiden touchdown pass.

Njoku’s prominence as a target for his starting signal-caller, likely to be Taylor, can be aided rather than subdued by his revamped offensive unit. Jarvis Landry’s arrival from the Miami Dolphins, the fourth-round selection of Antonio Callaway and the return of Josh Gordon promises to deny opposition teams the regular freedom of double-coverage, which all four look equipped to overcome anyway.

An area of intrigue for the Browns is how new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will fit Njoku and Seth Devavle into his setup. Njoku is expected to be workhorse out of the two tight ends on the back of his team-high four receiving touchdowns last season.
Nonetheless, Haley’s offense saw Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James targeted just 63 times in 2017, despite being on the field for 81.92 percent of offensive snaps. In fairness, any team can be forgiven for not overlooking Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. It’s Njoku’s blistering speed that may aid him in this respect by offering him up as an additional option on the outside.

NEXT: 20 Bold predictions for NFL Week 1
With veteran Darren Fells arriving as blocking support, Haley could opt to utilise two tight ends in aim of devoting to the offensive value of one – that being Njoku. Haley’s use of tight ends in the past perhaps raises more questions surrounding Devalve’s role than that of Njoku’s.

A more well-rounded receiving corps not only gives Taylor, and possibly Mayfield, a better chance of making an impact, but could also carve openings for Njoku to emerge as a standout playmaker.

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The Browns’ new-and-improved offense has had its shares of highs and lows through three preseason games. It’s still a work in progress as the group — a mixture of new and familiar faces — build chemistry with the season opener less than two weeks away.

“We haven’t reached our full potential as a team yet,” running back Duke Johnson said Monday. “We have a lot of weapons on offense … We definitely have the talent on paper. It’s just about going out there and performing.”

Indeed, Cleveland overhauled its roster this offseason, adding starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, three-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry and running back Carlos Hyde to a unit that returns Johnson, Josh Gordon, tight end David Njoku and a veteran offensive line.

While the Browns have flashed promise in both the pass and run games, the offense remains something of a work in progress as everyone gets on the same page in a new system under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Gordon recently returned from a leave of absence while the offensive line has been without starting right guard Kevin Zeitler for most of training camp.
While Cleveland’s starters aren’t expected to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Lions, Johnson said it’s not an impediment to the group’s growth

“We’re not playing, so a lot of mental reps, a lot of working on getting ready for Pittsburgh within ourselves mentally, physically getting ready,” he said. “For the most part, we have some work to do. We will be fine. The work never stops.”

— Gordon, who returned to the team last week after almost a month away, expects to play in the team’s season opener against the Steelers as he continues to nurse a minor hamstring injury. Browns coach Hue Jackson, however, made clear Gordon won’t start the game regardless of health.

“We’ll come up with the right package for him to play. I wouldn’t expect him to go play the whole game or anything like that,” he said, “but I expect him to contribute to the football team when we get ready to play Pittsburgh and he’s ready to go.” Gordon sustained the injury during a strength and conditioning workout upon returning.”

— While Cleveland’s starters won’t play as a unit, Jackson said Zeitler and rookie receiver Antonio Callaway will see action Thursday night in Detroit. Zeitler has yet to take a preseason snap while Callaway missed last week’s win over the Eagles. “He needs to get back to where he was,” he said. “When you’re out a little bit, you have to push yourself through. You have to get back.”
Zeitler, who started 16 games last season, returned to practice this week after a calf injury. “My biggest concern is that he needs to be ready to play football,” Jackson said. “He’s practicing now. I would hope to get him to play a little bit this week because I think that he needs it.”

— Defensive tackle Trevon Coley could be ready for the season opener after missing most of camp with a high-ankle sprain. “I think that he’s really, really close,” Jackson said. Coley, a practice squad player turned starter, started 15 games last year.

— Jackson said rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield will see significant action Thursday with Taylor and Co. on the bench. The first overall pick in the NFL Draft, Mayfield has flashed promise in three preseason games.

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Is it that important for Baker Mayfield to learn to take snaps under center?

Yes. Even more important, the Browns’ first-round draft pick needs to learn how to effectively pass after taking snaps.

Consider DeShone Kizer, the starting quarterback in 2017. The second-round draft pick from Notre Dame rarely took a snap under center in college. Nearly everything was in the shotgun. What happened with the Browns when they put Kizer under center and asked him to throw the ball?

It was disaster!

1. Kizer was 33-of-67 (49 percent) with six interceptions. Nearly 10 percent of those throws were picked off.

2. That compares to 16 interceptions in 409 pass attempts from the shotgun — about 4 percent.

3. He threw only two TD passes from under center, nine from the shotgun, according to profootballreference.com.

What’s the big deal? Most of the time when Kizer was under center, the defense could expect the Browns were going to run it. If they wanted to throw, great. Kizer was terrible in those situations.

Kizer has since been traded to Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers played only seven games last season due to injuries. He usually threw out of the shotgun.

But get this: Rodgers was 31-of-45 (69 percent) from under center, including 4 TDs. So defenses knew he could pass effectively when under center.

 

 

It matters in a league where the average team takes 41 percent of snaps under center. They don’t throw often in that formation (31 percent), but a quarterback needs to show the ability to do it. Those numbers come from sharpfootballstats.com.
Baker Mayfield took only seven snaps under center last season at Oklahoma.
MAYFIELD’S LEARNING CURVE

1. Mayfield took only seven snaps under center last season at Oklahoma. I don’t know for certain, but I bet nearly all were taking a knee at the end of the game.

2. That’s why Mayfield looked far more comfortable in rookie camp in the shotgun. It’s why he was wise to work after practice taking snaps from center.

3. It’s harder to throw from under center. The quarterback has to drop back several steps … putting an accent on footwork. He feels as if he has less time to throw because he starts the play close to the defenders at the line of scrimmage.

4. I wonder about Tyrod Taylor, the Browns’ starting quarterback. Last season at Buffalo, he was 74-of-122 (61 percent) passing under center — 5 TDs, zero interceptions.

5. Like Mayfield, Taylor is a 6-foot quarterback who is effective throwing off the run. But Taylor actually had a higher quarterback rating (99.6) under center than he did in the shotgun (84.9).

6. Kizer’s quarterback rating was 45.7 under center compared to 62.9 in the shotgun.
7. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 75 percent of his passes under center for San Francisco last season. Carson Wentz was at 61 percent, with 4 TDs compared to one interception in 65 attempts. Or how about Jared Goff? He was 105-of-164 (64 percent) under center, 10 TDs compared to one interception.

8. I brought up those three young quarterbacks to show a player can learn to be productive under center. So there is hope for Mayfield. He also has an excellent role model to study in Taylor.

 

Nick Chubb made an excellent first impression at Browns minicamp.
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I was not at the rookie camp because I was covering the Cavaliers’ playoff run last week. But I did talk to some people who were there, and here’s what I heard.

1. Overall, Mayfield was pretty good. His passes were generally accurate. He showed “zip” on some long throws. He worked hard after practice on center snaps.

2. Perhaps the most impressive rookie was Nick Chubb. The running back from Georgia looked big, strong and quick. He often was a “one cut” running back. That means he made one move, then hit the line. He’s 5-foot-11, 227 pounds of muscle. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry at Georgia last season, rushing for 15 TDs.

3. One of the things the Browns didn’t like about Isaiah Crowell is he’d sometimes hesitate to hit inside – running for those tough yards. They see Chubb filling that role, along with veteran Carlos Hyde. Chubb carried the ball 223 times at Georgia last season and didn’t fumble.
4. Chubb caught only four passes last season. Fellow Georgia running back Sony Michel caught only nine passes. The Bulldogs didn’t throw to their running backs. The Browns do, and they want Chubb to improve in that area.

5. Denzel Ward played only part of the first practice, then suffered a minor hip flexor injury. Not much to report on the Ohio State cornerback.

6. It’s hard to judge linemen in the non-contact setting of a rookie camp. Second-rounder Austin Corbett was at left tackle and it appears he will be given a shot to win that job.

7. The Browns had 6-foot-6, 292-pound undrafted free agent offensive tackle Desmond Harrison in camp. He was an All-American at Contra Costa Junior College (2011-12). He then went to Texas. He played only seven games. He had problems academically and was suspended for “violating team rules” a few times. He ended up at Division II West Georgia in 2017 after not playing anywhere in 2015-16.

8. Draft expert Dane Brugler wrote this on Harrison: “He is a complicated prospect because the raw athleticism and God-given ability are off-the-charts. But he isn’t close to NFL ready. His history of character concerns are bright red flags.”

9. I was told Harrison was impressive, at least in the mini-camp setting. The Browns will keep looking at him.
10. Fourth-rounder Antonio Callaway looked extremely fast. He’s 5-foot-10, 200 pounds and appeared in shape. He sat out last season after being suspended at Florida. I also was told he looked “raw at times … impressive on some deep patterns.” The fourth-round pick also is being prepared to return punts.

11. Third-round defensive end Chad Thomas had some nice moments. The 6-foot-5, 280-pounder is quick and seems especially effective against the run. He looks like a player who can be used as part of the rotation.

12. My favorite low-round draft pick is fifth-rounder Genard Avery, who had 22 tackles for loss at Memphis State last season. He is a relentless worker, a little like former Brown D’Qwell Jackson, who had to work his way into being a starting linebacker. At the very least, Avery will help on special teams.

13. I didn’t hear much about receiver Damion Ratley (sixth round) or Simeon Thomas (seventh round).