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Ex-Lions coach Rick Forzano dies; gave Bill Belichick his start in NFL – WSAIGO Sports
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Ex-Lions coach Rick Forzano dies; gave Bill Belichick his start in NFL

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Former Detroit Lions, Connecticut and Navy coach Rick Forzano has died at the age of 90, the Lions announced Thursday.

Forzano coached the Lions in 1974 to 1976, compiling a 15-17 record as the team moved from Tiger Stadium to the Silverdome, but his tenure in Detroit is better known for helping to start the career of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Forzano briefly lived with Belichick’s family in 1959 after joining Navy as an assistant coach and asked 10-year-old Bill to break down film.

Years later, after Belichick spent a year as a staff assistant with the Baltimore Colts, Forzano gave the 23-year-old his first full-time NFL job in 1976, first as a special teams assistant and then as wide receivers and tight ends coach.

“Rick gave me a great opportunity here, because when I was with the Colts I didn’t have a position to coach, I didn’t really have a group of players that I was responsible for,” Belichick told NFL Films in Detroit in 2017. “When I came here, Rick gave me the opportunity with the tight ends. The opportunity to coach a position, that’s a big step for any coach, and that was an opportunity that Rick gave me that I probably wasn’t ready for, but I certainly appreciated the opportunity for it.”

Forzano also had future NFL head coaches Joe Bugel, Raymond Berry and Jerry Glanville on his staffs jn Detroit.

“It was a big part of my life and development and career, and I’ll always be appreciative of that opportunity, like I said, that was given to me by (then-owner William Clay) Ford and coach Forzano,” Belichick told the Detroit News in 2014.

After coaching, Forzano became a color analyst for football games on ABC and NBC, along with starting Rick Forzano Industries, which connects domestic and international companies to the United States military, government and automotive industries.

Forzano, from Akron, Ohio, graduated from Kent State in 1951. He coached in college at Wooster, Kent State, UConn and Navy. He was also an NFL assistant in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

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Cincinnati Bengals hope to hire Rams’ Zac Taylor as head coach

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Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor is the Cincinnati Bengals‘ top choice to be their next head coach, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.

The Bengals would like to hire Taylor, 35, after Los Angeles’ season ends, sources said. Because the Rams are still in playoffs, they can’t negotiate a contract.

Taylor was the offensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati in 2016, and sources said he would like to return to the city.

Taylor would replace Marvin Lewis, who parted ways with the Bengals after the season, ending a 16-year tenure.

A former star quarterback at Nebraska, Taylor began his NFL coaching career with the Miami Dolphins as a quarterbacks coach in 2012, helping to develop Ryan Tannehill, and took over offensive-coordinator duties during the 2015 season.

After spending a year with the Bearcats, Taylor returned to the NFL with the Rams under Sean McVay, for whom he served as assistant wide-receivers coach in 2017 before shifting to quarterbacks this season.

With Taylor overseeing Jared Goff, the Rams went 13-3 and ranked fifth in the NFL this season with 282 passing yards per game.

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Jameis Winston, Bruce Arians of Tampa Bay Buccaneers have head start on chemistry

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TAMPA, Fla. — Introductions and first impressions won’t be necessary for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and new head coach Bruce Arians. That happened more than 10 years ago, when Winston was in high school and attended Arians’ football camp in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I had a little quarterback challenge — a couple kids from Kentucky, Tennessee, around the South,” Arians told ESPN. “They were all seniors being recruited, and I think [Winston] was in ninth or 10th grade. He blew them all away, and I was like, ‘Woah!’ … He definitely made an impression on me in that football camp, that’s for sure.”

That’s how Winston, or “Jaboo,” as Arians and many others call him, came to be known as the “Birmingham Legend.”

“He was a bright student and an unbelievable athlete, so you knew,” said Arians, who kept in touch with Winston and followed his journey at Florida State and in the pros.

“Just knowing each other, I always looked him up when we played him. Told him, ‘Keep on going, it’s going to be fine,'” said Arians, whose next challenge will be helping Winston fulfill that promise he showed as a youngster, picking up where former head coach Dirk Koetter left off.

It was Koetter’s work with Winston that earned him a promotion from offensive coordinator in 2015 to head coach in 2016, following the firing of Lovie Smith.

But while Koetter developed the Bucs into one of the NFL’s top passing attacks, Tampa Bay struggled to win games, going 5-11 the past two seasons after 9-7 in Koetter’s first.

Winston also continued to struggle with turnovers. His 76 turnovers is tied for the most in the NFL from his rookie season of 2015, including 58 interceptions, which is tied for second-most in the league in that span.

Despite the turnovers, Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” philosophy will still play a big role in the Bucs’ offense.

“It’s being smart, not scared,” Arians said. “I don’t ever want him throwing a football, worrying about it getting intercepted. … I can live with an interception, but you’re not gonna win throwing three,” Arians said. “I think some of those are when he’s trying too hard. You’ve got all the teammates around you. Let them do their jobs.'”

Cleveland Browns quarterback Drew Stanton, who played for Arians with both the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, believes Winston has all the tools to take the next step with Arians.

“There’s times where you have to pick and choose your battles at this position. It’s OK to throw the ball away. It’s OK to hit a checkdown and do all those things and not take those chances in the first half,” Stanton told ESPN. “I think B.A. respects the quarterback position enough to give you that leniency once he kind of instills all those [values].”

“He can do everything you need a franchise quarterback to do,” Stanton said of Winston. “I’ve watched enough film of him to believe that. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning that stuff. He has all those intangibles you look for, and he can do all those things. Part of the reason B.A. took that job is because of who he has in place at that position.”

The Bucs have committed to Winston as their starter for 2019, when he’ll earn $20.9 million as part of the team’s fifth-year option. What comes thereafter largely depends on what Winston is able to show, but a long-term contract is the next step.

Arians has already said that they’ll be building this team around Winston, and that carries an enormous amount of weight, particularly considering that Winston was benched earlier in the 2018 season, and that when Koetter was fighting for his job, he chose to start Ryan Fitzpatrick and not Winston because he believed Fitzpatrick gave Tampa Bay the best chance to win. Winston was also not elected a team captain, even though Koetter delayed the captains’ vote until after he returned from his three-game suspension.

“No pressure, no pressure whatsoever. I want him to relax and play the game. Talent is no issue. It’s just becoming a little bit smarter,” said Arians, who appointed Clyde Christensen as his quarterbacks coach and Byron Leftwich as his offensive coordinator. “It’s his team and I’ll tell our players in the first meeting, ‘This isn’t my team, it’s your team. We’ll be as good as you want to be.'”

Arians said he does want to have closer to a 50-50 run-pass ratio to help Winston out. He also intends to have a strong off-the-field relationship with Winston, who turned 25 this month and is a new father. That’s something Winston longed for with Koetter but didn’t always have.

“I probably got fired for one of [those relationships] because we were too close,” Arians said, referring to Ben Roethlisberger, his former protégé with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“They become my sons. I’m very interested in what they’re doing on the field, off the field — there has to be a level of trust between the head coach and a playcaller and a quarterback. You have to tell me what you really saw. Don’t worry about the answer. Just give me the truth. I think that goes with every position, but especially a quarterback.”

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Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, says ‘no room for excuses’

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s playoff time and tight end Rob Gronkowski said there is “no room for excuses” come Sunday when the New England Patriots host the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC divisional round game.

Gronkowski has been banged up all year dealing with ankle and back injuries. His numbers reflect that. He tied a career-low with three touchdown receptions in 13 games and finished with a pedestrian 47 catches for 682 yards. It wasn’t up to his usual, healthy, standards.

The bye week for the second-seeded Patriots (11-5) was welcomed. Gronkowski used it to relax, watch football, study and get “refreshed” for perhaps one final run at a Super Bowl, injuries and all.

“It’s the game of football, there are no room for excuses,” Gronkowski said. “Everyone is dealing with something. You just have to keep on moving forward, you have to find a way. That is what makes this game great. You have to be mentally and physically prepared at all times to keep on going.”

Is he there right now, feeling well?

“Yeah, going into the playoff, just had a bye week, practice is going well,” he said. “I’m doing what the coaches are asking me to do. So, just getting ready for a game Sunday.”

Gronkowski, 29, faces a difficult matchup. Chargers rookie safety Derwin James has allowed tight ends to catch just 42 percent of their targets when he’s the nearest defender, the lowest catch percentage allowed to tight ends, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Gronkowski had just four receptions over the final three weeks of the season. He was shut out by the Buffalo Bills, and has topped three catches just once in his last eight games.

It’s not something his Patriots teammates seem concerned about heading into the playoffs. Veteran safety Devin McCourty has seen players turn it up a notch come the postseason. He wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the old Gronkowski reemerged Sunday against the Chargers.

“Not at all,” he said. “We see him running doing everything at practice. The guy is that good of a player. As hard as it is to make it through 16 games it’s totally different when you’re sitting here preparing, you have one game. You don’t know if there is a next week. You’ve got one game, throw everything out there and see what you get.

“I think he’s that type of competitor that we don’t worry about that. Nobody in this locker room is worried about whether ‘Is he going to be ready to go?'”

There have been questions throughout this season about Gronkowski’s future, sparked by his remarks after Super Bowl 52 that he would consider his football future. This season has done nothing to ease the speculation.

Similar to last week, Gronkowski deflected a question Thurdsay about retirement.

“My mindset … all focus on the Chargers,” he said.

Not his future. At least not now with the playoffs finally here.

“It’s a one-game season,” Gronkowski said. “You have to put it all on the line, no matter what. No matter what you got, whatever you’re dealing with, you have to put it all on the line. If you lose the game, you’re going home. So, I would just say, everybody leave it all out there.”

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