Former New York Jets LB coach Kevin Greene passes away at 58

Born in Schenectady, Greene spent two seasons with the New York Jets as the linebackers coach on Todd Bowles staff.

Former NFL linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Greene passed away on Monday at the age of 58. Greene’s family confirmed his passing but the cause of death was not disclosed.

Born in Schenectady, Greene spent 15 NFL seasons as a linebacker. He then served as an outside linebackers coach for seven seasons, including two campaigns (2017-18) with the New York Jets.

“Our thoughts are with the family of NFL legend Kevin Greene,” the Jets said in a statement regarding Green’s passing. “A former Jets coach, Kevin made a positive impact on everyone he met. He’ll be missed.”

Greene began his career as a fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1985 after walking on at Auburn. He also partook in military training in college and chosen in both the NFL and USFL drafts. Greene would go on to become one of the most dominant defensive forces in the 1980s and 1990s, earning at least 10 sacks in 10 of his 15 professional seasons, leading the league in the category twice (1994, 1996). Green ended his career in third place on the all-time sacks list (160) and remains in that spot behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White.

In addition to the Rams, Greene also spent time with the Steelers, Panthers, and 49ers. He was later named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s, a decade that saw him in the Defensive Player of the Year Award with Carolina in 1996.

In addition to his football career, Greene also had a stint on the World Championship Wrestling circuit, briefly working in a tag team tandem with fellow NFL alum Steve McMichael. Green would later return to the NFL in 2009, a decade after his retirement, to serve as the outside linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers, helping the team win Super Bowl XLV in 2011.

“He’s the kind of coach I’ve always loved to have,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said of Greene during 2017 OTAs in video from the Jets. “He’s just intense all the time. Gets after it. He feeds off of us; we feed off of him. He’s just old-school. He went to Auburn, so I’ve got the SEC love with him. Talk trash with him all the time. He’s just a great coach, and watching him, trying to replicate his technique is all what I’m trying to do in OTAs. Just learning how he wants things done and doing it his way.”

Greene is survived by his wife Tara and children Gavin and Gabrielle.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

What’s next for Chito Vera after UFC Vegas 17?

This past Saturday in the co-main event of the evening at UFC Vegas 17, Chito Vera (16-7-1) got the biggest fight of his career. Vera got the opportunity to face former featherweight champion, Jose Aldo (29-7).

Aldo was coming off of a loss in a title fight against the UFC bantamweight champion, Petr Yan. A win for Vera over Aldo would vault him into title contention. This was a big step up for him in competition.

Chito was coming off of a win over Sean O’Malley that took place at UFC 252. O’Malley was arguably the most hyped prospect in the UFC. However, Chito was able to use effective leg kicks to chop down the Suga Show.

There were a few things that worried me about Chito’s win over O’Malley leading up to UFC Vegas 17. In his win back in August, Chito was really biting on the feints of Sean O’Malley. Every time O’Malley would feint, Vera’s reaction was clear and obvious.

During the first round of their fight, O’Malley was getting the better of it before Vera’s leg kicks debilitated him. Going into a fight against a guy like Aldo, I thought Chito would have a lot of problems if he fought the same.

Unfortunately for Chito, he did in the first round. Aldo dominated the striking in the first round ripping to the body and kicking his legs. Chito did much better in the second round putting pressure on Aldo and stole the round with his pressure.

In the third round, Chito found himself taken down and had Aldo on his back for virtually the entire round. What resulted was a clear victory for the former UFC featherweight champion.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 17?

So the question becomes, what’s next for Chito Vera? I think this was a really good learning experience for Chito at UFC Vegas 17. He learned a lesson in the first and the third round.

In the first round, he was keeping his guard way too high which allowed Aldo to rip to the body and kick his legs. In the third round, his over aggressiveness got himself taken down and he couldn’t get Aldo off of his back.

Those two rounds will get Chito plenty of footage to go back and improve on. So what should the UFC do with Chito? I think a really good fight for Chito could by Cody Stamann (19-3-1).

Stamann is currently 13th in the UFC’s bantamweight division. He’s also coming off of a loss so the fight makes sense from a situation and rankings perspective.

The UFC could always run the fight back with Sean O’Malley. There’s a big portion of the MMA population that wasn’t satisfied with that win for Chito. Perhaps, Chito could put an exclamation point on another fight with the Suga Show.

New York Giants rookie safety Xavier McKinney impresses in extended appearance against Browns

New York Giants, Xavier McKinney

The New York Giants came out flat and lost a crucial Week 15 matchup with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night. New York’s offense failed to get in the end zone, coming away with only six total points on the scoreboard. The game stayed in reach, however, as the Giants’ defense held the electric Browns’ offense to only twenty total points.

On the Giants’ defense, there were some impressive individual performances that helped keep the game close. Ultimately, the Giants’ lack of a pass-rush allowed Baker Mayfield to comfortably stand in the pocket and have a career-day. But Baker’s phenomenal performance is not to discredit the great efforts of some of the Giants’ defensive backs forced to play out of position. Rookie safety Xavier McKinney spent most of the game filling in at slot cornerback and had a solid performance.

Xavier McKinney in Week 15

According to Pro Football Focus, Xavier McKinney was the highest-graded player on the Giants’ defense against the Cleveland Browns. McKinney earned a 70.5 overall grade on 41 snaps, 64% of the team’s defensive snaps.

This was the most that Xavier McKinney has seen the field all season. The rookie second-round pick broke his foot in training camp, keeping him out for the first eleven weeks of the season. Xavier returned to the team in Week 12 but has been slowly worked into the defense. The Giants’ defense has been playing well this season, so they have not had any need to rush Xavier into the lineup.

That was until this week. The Giants were short on defensive backs entering their Week 15 matchup with the Cleveland Browns. Elite cornerback James Bradberry was out this week after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Additionally, starting slot cornerback Darnay Holmes was out with a knee injury. This forced the Giants to play two safeties out of position at cornerback, and Xavier McKinney was one of those safeties.

McKinney spent most of his time playing slot cornerback on Sunday night. While Xavier McKinney’s box score stat line might not be too impressive or indicate a great performance, going deeper than the surface level will reveal that Xavier actually did play a solid game.

Xavier McKinney allowed zero yards allowed in coverage, racked up multiple tackles, and had zero missed tackles in the game (PFF). The Giants got a lowkey impressive performance out of their rookie safety in his first extended appearance, and that is a huge positive they can draw from this disappointing loss.

Tom Thibodeau feels New York Knicks have quality depth

New York Knicks

Tom Thibodeau continues to keep his opening night starters and rotation close to his vest with two days to go before his confident, young New York Knicks face the Indiana Pacers to open the season on the road.

As it stands, the Knicks will have the first few weeks of the season as an extension of the training camp. Without the benefit of the Summer League and fall practices, Thibodeau and his coaching staff had to cram in the condensed training camp and four preseason games.

While there’s still no clarity, the little window gave away some clues.

“Every day after practice, we talk about the rotation. We have a pretty good idea but that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Obviously, over the course of the season, we need everyone. And particular this year, under the circumstances, quality depth is important and I feel we have that,” Thibodeau said on his zoom call with reporters after Monday’s practice.

Bereft of quality depth for the past seasons, the Knicks have shown in the preseason that Thibodeau can extend his rotation beyond the regular 8-9 man-deep on some nights.

While it was a small sample size and against lousy teams that were also experimenting, the Knicks played with a sense of purpose and direction for the first time in years.

Knicks’ best players

Based on their preseason games, RJ Barrett is firmly entrenched at his spot in the starting lineup. So is the much-maligned Julius Randle with lottery pick Obi Toppin not showing enough so far to supplant him.

Barrett has played the most minutes among the Knicks in four games with 30.5, which ranked third behind the Los Angeles Lakers’ youngsters — Kyle Kuzma (34.0) and preseason revelation Talen Horton-Tucker (31.8).

Barrett averaged a team-high 17.8 points on 51 percent field goal shooting. What’s more impressive is that he shot 86.7 percent from the line, a big jump from his 61-percent clip last season. He also had a +/- 14.3. Though the three-point shot remains his weakness, his overall improvement has been a welcome development for a Knicks team lacking a bona fide star and firepower.

Randle was also solid in the preseason games, coming in seventh in most minutes around the league with 28.5 per game. The six-year veteran turned in 14.5 points on 50-percent field goal shooting on top of 5.0 rebounds and an astounding 5.5 assists against 2.8 turnovers. For the first time since his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Randle had a positive point differential, a +/- 9.0 in his preseason outings, which hopefully will spill over into the regular season. 

Pleasant surprises

It wasn’t just a coincidence that Kevin Knox has started to find his groove at the same time Immanuel Quickley was quickly climbing up the Knicks’ point guard ranks.

Knox has knocked in nine of his last 10 three-pointers while Quickley has quarterbacked the team like it’s never done since they have Jeremy Lin, Raymond Felton, and an old but still reliable Jason Kidd late in his career.

That begs the question of whether he should start or play behind presumed starter Elfrid Payton, who missed the last preseason game.

“Everything is based on merit,” Thibodeau emphasized again.

“So if you evaluate practices — who’s practicing well, what groups are playing well then you take that further to the games. And take that information. If someone is practicing well, that is important to us. And then when you have the preseason games, if they play well, the team is functioning well when they’re on the floor, that’s important as well,” Thibodeau said. 

Note the buzz word “functioning well.” It was the same word he used to describe Quickley’s awe-inspiring run in the preseason.

Best chance to win

During his 18-month exile, Thibodeau said he’s learned a lot and reflected on how he can improve to become a better coach than his previous two stops in Chicago, Minnesota.

But while he is starting to embrace analytics and load management, some tenets will remain the same.

“I think you play the people that you feel can give you the best chance to win. But also you have the understanding that over the course of the season, everyone gets an opportunity,” Thibodeau added. 

For the small sample size that Quickley ran the point, the Knicks were a joy to watch. His energy was infectious. His high basketball IQ was very obvious.

Even Payton, who should be worried about his starting role, was left impressed with Quickley and gave credit to where credit’s due.

“He (Quickley) played well. Coach [Tom Thibodeau] has done a good job preparing us. He knocked down a lot of shots. The ball was popping. It was good. I think our defense led to our offense as well. He played good defense,” said Payton.

Whether Quickley will start or not, his overall skill set, which trumps all the point guards the Knicks have had, will shine no matter what. 

“I don’t think he surprised any of us. We know he’s talented. He put in a lot of work day in, day out. There’s no surprise,” Payton said.

How deep can Thibs go?

While Barrett and Randle are locked to start, Thibodeau will enjoy watching the rest of the team competing for their spots.

Knox and Toppin loom to be the de-facto backups of Barrett and Randle.

Thibodeau has the luxury of interchangeable rim protectors in Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel. Robinson had picked up the slack when Noel sat out with an injury. The Knicks will have rim protection whoever between them is on the floor.

Payton may win the starting job at the point for now. But Quickley should give him a run for his money. 

Veteran Alec Burks was also solid in two games against Detroit before he skipped the last two preseason games to attend to his newborn baby as reported by Stefan Bondy of the Daily News. 

Reggie Bullock can be serviceable when his shots are falling.

There’s still the mystery of how Austin Rivers will fit into the scheme of things. But his veteran leadership, having played meaningful basketball with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, will be counted upon when the going gets tough.

Odd men out?

But with depth comes hard decisions.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina could be the guys who will hit the most with the influx of quality depth to this retooled Knicks.

Smith Jr. started the preseason as Paytons’ backup, but with the emergence of Quickley, it’s going to be tough for him to carve a significant role. His newfound defensive grit was admirable, but his inconsistent outside shooting and lack of playmaking couldn’t trump Quickley’s overall talent.

Ntilikina has played more off the ball in the preseason. But he hasn’t shown quite enough to keep Thibodeau from leashing him ahead of Burks and Bullock.

Unless he can hit the outside shot consistently, or injuries struck their veterans, his playing time will be a roller coaster.  

It was pretty clear from the preseason games that the Knicks enjoyed much success with their young guys — Quickley, Barrett, Knox, Toppin, Robinson. But as Thibodeau said, the regular-season game will be a lot different.

Acid test

On Wednesday night, the Pacers will provide their first acid test.

“I think they’re a very talented team [Indiana Pacers]. They’ve built a great foundation over the last few years. They’re playing a bit differently now offensively in terms of their pace and the type of shots they’re taking. But they have a number of people who can go off the dribble,” Thibodeau said.

“And I think of course, with Victor missing a good chunk of last year, they were still a very good team. They have great depth and versatility to their lineup and you have Victor back into the mix, they are one of the best teams in the East for sure,” he added.

Thibodeau’s young Knicks will face a team that they hope to become in a couple of years to attract stars to come. Under normal circumstances, the opening game should set the tone for the season. But for the Knicks, it will provide more clarity on whether Thibodeau’s beliefs are standing on solid ground or just a shallow depth.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

What’s next for Geoff Neal after UFC Vegas 17 loss?

This past Saturday night at UFC Vegas 17, Geoff Neal (13-3) got his first headlining opportunity against former title challenger, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (16-4-1). It was also Neal’s first UFC fight of 2020.

The rising contender hasn’t had the best of years in 2020. After Neal knocked out Mike Perry last December at UFC 245, the promotion really struggled to get Neal a fight. Nobody in the division wanted to fight him.

Because of the lack of offers coming in, Neal returned to work as a waiter at a steak restaurant in his home town. Finally, the UFC was able to secure Neal a fight against top 15 contender, Neil Magny.

However, Geoff Neal had to pull out of that fight after he dealt with a health scare. Once Neal was finally healthy and could train again, the promotion signed him up to face the former title challenger, Wonderboy Thompson.

Neal has looked sensational since joining the UFC. He had been 5-0 against really good competition with four finishes. Honestly, I thought he was going to be able to beat Thompson and make that next jump into being a title contender.

However, that didn’t happen Saturday night. At UFC Vegas 17, Wonderboy Thompson completely outclassed Geoff Neal. Neal had to deal with a cut over his eye that he suffered due to an accidental headbutt, but even without it, I’m not sure he could’ve won on Saturday.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 17?

Geoff Neal had an incredibly difficult time getting on the inside Saturday night at UFC Vegas 17. Wonderboy did a really good job of catching Neal coming in and as a result, Neal couldn’t string together any meaningful offense.

The final scorecards read as a shutout with all three judges giving Wonderboy all five rounds. It was the first setback in the UFC career for Geoff Neal. So after the loss, what’s next for Handz of Steel?

This was a really tough matchup for the rising contender. Wonderboy is a nightmare to deal with and he proved to be a puzzle that Neal couldn’t solve just yet. However, Neal is still a very exciting contender for the UFC‘s welterweight division.

In looking at the rankings, there are a couple of matchups that could make sense for Neal. One of those being Vicente Luque. Luque was in a very similar spot as Neal was last November.

Luque was the rising contender who lost to Wonderboy. Now, he’s won two-straight to get back on track. Currently he’s ranked tenth in the division. Another option could be the matchup with Neil Magny.

Magny is currently ranked ninth in the UFC‘s welterweight division and that was the fight that was supposed to happen originally. I think the fight still makes sense and could keep Neal relevant in the top ten if he’s able to win.

UFC books Randy Brown – Cowboy Oliveira

The UFC is finalizing a good welterweight matchup for their February 27th card. Combate was first to report that the promotion was finalizing a matchup between Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira (22-9-1, 2 NC) and Randy Brown (12-4).

For Randy Brown, he will be trying to right the wrong of his last trip inside the octagon. Brown saw his two-fight UFC winning streak snapped at the hands of Vicente Luque back in August.

Had Brown won that fight, he would have likely shot up in the UFC‘s welterweight rankings. However, Luque was able to stop Brown in the second round with a knee and a flurry of punches behind it.

It’s crazy to think but Randy Brown was one of the first fighters discovered on Dana White’s Looking for a Fight. Brown made his UFC debut in 2016. Since making his octagon debut, Brown has gone 6-4.

Brown has had some high moments like defeating Mickey Gall and finishing Warlley Alves. However, he seems to have struggled when the UFC has given him top level competition. He’s fallen to Luque, Niko Price, and Belal Muhammad.

UFC Welterweight Matchup

In his next bout, Brown will be taking on the seasoned veteran Cowboy Oliveira. Oliveira made his UFC debut back in 2015 and he’s fought 19 times since making his debut with the promotion.

In those 19 fights, Oliveira has gone 11-7, 1 NC. Oliveira has some quality wins against the likes of Carlos Condit, Tim Means, Will Brooks, and Max Griffin. However, Oliveira has come up short against top competition like Cowboy Cerrone, Mike Perry, and Gunner Nelson.

Like Brown, Oliveira had a two-fight winning streak going into his last UFC contest. He took on Shavkat Rakhmonov back at UFC 254. Oliveira was submitted in the first round by guillotine choke.

Both of these men will be looking to get back on track on February 27th. Whoever wins this fight will likely command a ranked opponent in their next trip inside the octagon. The loser is going to have some real work to do to get back on track.

New York Giants: Washington loss keeps Giants alive in NFC East

New York Giants, Wayne Gallman

The New York Giants blew it on Sunday Night Football when they had a chance to take the lead again in the NFC East. However, thanks to Washington losing earlier in the day and making that possible in the first place, they aren’t dead yet in the division race.

The performance didn’t look good, sure, but the Giants were playing without Daniel Jones and James Bradberry. They still have a chance to win their last two games and take the division, as we’ve seen that this is a different team when Jones is playing healthy. And as for the standings, both Washington and New York losing means that things are the same going into week sixteen.

That’s not to say that the Giants are favored for sure to win the division. A lot of it will come down to their opponent, because they no longer control their own destiny. If Washington wins out in the next two games, they’ll take the division and it doesn’t matter what the other teams do.

But if the Giants win out and Washington loses one of their games, they can make it into the playoffs.

If the Giants have Jones and Bradberry back, their chances look reasonable enough to hold out some hope.

It’s unknown whether or not Jones will be ready to play by the time the Giants take on their next opponent, but with the team still in the race, there’s reason to believe the Giants might not take a conservative approach this time.

“I know he pushed really hard to play this week,” Colt McCoy said of Jones wanting to play during week 15.

Joe Judge, on the other hand, has said that the staff will have to evaluate Jones in practice this week.

The last time the games meant something this late into the season, the Giants pulled off a run near the end of the year which carried them into the 2016 playoffs. They need luck on their side, but they still have a chance to do it again.

What’s next for Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson after UFC Vegas 17 win?

This past Saturday at UFC Vegas 17, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (16-4-1) took on Geoff Neal (13-3). It was the first fight of 2020 for both of these top welterweight contenders.

For the second straight fight, Wonderboy was tasked with taking on a rising UFC welterweight contender. At UFC 244, Thompson took on Vicente Luque (19-7-1). Entering that fight, Luque was riding a six-fight winning streak.

However, Wonderboy stopped all of that momentum last November. With clean counters and advanced speed, Wonderboy was able to turn away Luque. Geoff Neal entered UFC Vegas 17 on a seven-fight winning streak.

Neal had looked like a destroyer and nobody in the UFC‘s welterweight division wanted to fight him. However, Wonderboy Thompson was down for the challenge. The two men fought for 25 minutes on Saturday night.

In the end, Wonderboy completely outclassed the dangerous Geoff Neal. Wonderboy put on a clinic from start to finish. He was able to keep the fight at range the entire time and he picked apart Neal from the outside.

Every time that Neal would try to dart in, Wonderboy wasn’t there. Whenever Wonderboy did stay put, he sat down on his combinations and touched Neal up. An incredible performance from the former title challenger at UFC Vegas 17.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 17?

First and foremost, we need to find out the health status of Stephen Thompson. In his post-fight press conference, Wonderboy said that he might have torn something in his knee at UFC Vegas 17.

Thompson did struggle with his knee in the final round of the fight. However, if that knee checks out and he’s ready to rock, what should be next? Wonderboy made his callout after the fight asking for the rematch with Jorge Masvidal. 

The UFC’s BMF and Wonderboy fought back in 2017 with Thompson picking up the win. Currently, the UFC is targeting a matchup between Masvidal and Colby Covington. However, if that fight doesn’t come together, a Wonderboy fight makes a lot of sense.

Outside of that, another fight that could make sense is the winner of the Leon Edwards – Khamzat Chimaev fight. Although, the winner of that fight will likely get a UFC title shot if Covington – Masvidal hasn’t happened anytime soon.

Unfortunately for Wonderboy, all five of the fighters ahead of him in the division are tentatively booked. I would expect Wonderboy to wait for one of those winners. With a win, he could be in line for another shot at the UFC welterweight strap.

The Mets and Blue Jays are the favorites to land George Springer, per report

New York Mets

The New York Mets have already had a successful offseason and could field a very competitive team if they choose not to add more players to their existing roster. However, new owner Steve Cohen and president Sandy Alderson, with the help of the recently hired general manager Jared Porter, are eager to keep improving the club.

One of the Mets’ targets ever since the offseason started is former Houston Astros center fielder George Springer. The 31-year old has a potent bat (.265/.359/.540, 146 wRC+ and 14 home runs in 51 games in 2020) and is a very good fielder (6 Defensive Runs Saved and 1 Out Above Average.)

However, the Mets know that Springer would command a very lucrative deal well north of $100 million. Despite signing reliever Trevor May and catcher James McCann to multiyear pacts, the team is still in the race to land the former Astro.

Not only are they still in the running, but according to Jeff Passan of ESPN, MLB executives believe the Mets and the Toronto Blue Jays are the favorites to sign the top free agent outfielder.

The Mets aren’t afraid to spend

In a rather uncertain reality when it comes to finances, teams haven’t been overly eager to bring talent via free agency. Only a handful of deals have been announced, and some of the best free agents are still in the market, most notably Springer, Trevor Bauer, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Kluber, Kirby Yates, Liam Hendriks, and DJ LeMahieu.

The Mets and Blue Jays, however, have been connected with just about any free agent and have been among the few clubs that expressed any interest in spending substantial amounts of money to improve the roster.

There is a sense that the Mets prefer to prioritize Springer rather than another top or mid-rotation arm, so it will be an interesting race to see who lands the two-way star.

UFC books Mackenzie Dern – Nina Ansaroff

The UFC is in the process of finalizing a pivotal matchup for the strawweight division. Per ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, the promotion is currently finalizing a matchup between Mackenzie Dern (10-1) and Nina Ansaroff (10-6).

The fight is expected to take place on April 10th. The fight has not been signed just yet, but the agreements are in place. This will be the first UFC fight for Ansaroff since she gave birth to her daughter in September.

Ansaroff, the wife of two-division UFC champion, Amanda Nunes, is currently ranked fifth in the strawweight division. Prior to her leave of absence in the division to have her daughter, she had gone 4-1 in her last five fights.

Ansaroff really appeared to have turned the corner in her UFC career. She just ran into some trouble against Tatiana Suarez in her last outing. Prior to that she picked up UFC wins over Claudia Gadelha, Randa Markos, and Angela Hill.

Ranked UFC strawweights go head-to-head

Mackenzie Dern is coming in at 11th in the UFC‘s strawweight division. Dern just picked up her third straight victory back at UFC 256 when she defeated Virna Jandiroba. The matchup of grapplers allowed us to see the progression of Dern’s striking.

Dern is much improved on the feet, however, there is still a lot of room to grow in her striking. What she’s known for his her world class skills on the ground. She’s arguably the best jiu jitsu practitioner man or woman inside the UFC.

Getting to fight someone in the UFC’s top five is a big step up for Dern. Nina Ansaroff is not going to be an easy out for the jiu jitsu ace. Whoever wins this fight will position themselves very nicely in the strawweight division.

I would venture to say that the winner would only be one or two fights away from a UFC title shot. This should be a fantastic matchup when it goes down on April 10th.