He replaced Jason Pinkston at left guard
By Marty Gitlin
The Cleveland Browns were in a bind. Starting left guard Jason Pinkston had been diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung. His season — and perhaps his career — was over.
It was mid-October and the rapport that had developed along the offensive line was now threatened.
That’s when John Greco came to the rescue. He didn’t ride in on a white steed — he had been waiting quietly for his chance to play since being traded from St. Louis to Cleveland in July 2011.
When Pinkston was lost, Greco stated simply that he sought simply to prevent any weakening in performance along the front.
Mission accomplished. The offensive line has not missed a beat since Greco, a Boardman High graduate, was installed as the starting left guard in Week 7.
“I have faith in myself,” Greco said. “I haven’t surprised myself at all. I started here as a backup who can play multiple positions. Every team needs someone like that. Our goal and our job is to make sure there is no drop-off.”
The 315-pound Greco proved effective enough a blocker at Boardman to land a scholarship at the University of Toledo, though he managed only second-team all-conference recognition his junior year in high school.
Greco blossomed with the Rockets, earning first-team Mid-American Conference honors three years in a row. He was greatly influenced by linemate Nick Kaczur.
“I tried to emulate him,” said Greco of Kaczur, who has since moved on to play for the New England Patriots. “I liked his work ethic. He’s a unique guy and a phenomenal player who led by example. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy.”
Neither is Greco, who played so well at the college level that the Rams selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. He could not work his way into the starting lineup in St. Louis, but eventually caught the attention of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who snagged him upon taking over as head coach of the Browns. Shurmur said he was far from hesitant to play Greco when Pinkston was sidelined.
“I was confident he could go in and do a good job and he did come in and play pretty well,” Shurmur said. “He’s a big man and a good athlete. That allows him, if he sets his hands right and is set right, you have to run around him. Run blocking is a matter of working together and he’s worked well with [left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack].”
Thomas certainly isn’t complaining.
“What John has done has been extremely important because an offensive line is only as good as its weakest player,” Thomas said. “It was important for him to step in. It’s never easy to do that because you don’t get a lot of reps in training camp with the first team. He’s made that transition much easier.”
That transition from backup to starter has worked well enough that Greco will no longer accept reserve status.
“I’d be disappointed if that happened now that I’ve gotten that feel and taste for [starting],” Greco said. “I want to help the team. In my mind I want to be a starter. I never want to be complacent.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the future of many Browns as new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner put their imprint on the team, the future of Greco is speculative. But one thing is now certain. He has proved himself a viable starting offensive lineman in the NFL.