Sleeping with the Playbook; Welcome to the NFL

Alex Gray
Former England Rugby star Alex Gray, now on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad

It’s been quite a summer for Alex Gray.

The former England Rugby star, who once captained England teams including the likes of Jonathan Joseph and Owen Farrell, swapped oval balls in May and is embarking on a new career in the NFL.

The 26 year old was signed up by the Atlanta Falcons as part of the NFL Undiscovered series. He will be a member of the team’s practice squad this season, learning the skill of Tight End.

“it literally has been head in that playbook all day, everyday”

Twelve months ago he was dreaming of Olympic gold with GB Rugby Sevens, but injury cruelly stopped him from travelling to Rio.

For the last eight weeks though he’s been getting used to another new discipline – his new home is the great state of Georgia, and the goal is no longer Olympic Gold; it’s mastering the Atlanta Falcons’ playbook.

On the eve of his move to the US, Alex spoke to the 5thDownUK, and admitted that his only experience of football up to that point was from playing Madden, but we caught up with him again at the recent NFL event in London, and asked what it’s been like so far, and how it’s been learning the playbook?

“It’s something that I’ve not been used to before”  Gray admitted, “and it literally has been head in that playbook all day, everyday”

“The schedule is start at seven, home at seven and from then until bedtime I’m just doing that playbook”

“if you threw one of those guys into the middle of a ruck with six guys stamping all over you, I’m not sure they’d enjoy that”

There’s been a lot of learning for the former London Irish back-rower, but he’s relishing the challenge; “I was in the team hotel for three weeks and my TV didn’t come on once. I was just trying to learn the plays for the following day”

“That’s the game. People probably don’t realise the amount of detail that goes into it”

“When people look at the NFL they think it’s a game for these crazy athletes doing crazy physical feats but really that’s less than 10% of the game. In essence it’s a super chess game and I’m starting to learn that now”

So what’s in the playbook? Alex explained, “the way we’ve done it is that the playbook is split into six”

“When we’re in camp each day we’ll do what we call ‘install’ so on Day 1 you’ll do the first install, second day the second install, and so on”

“All the plays, and the way they’re called are normally split up into personnel group, formation, protection, what the half backs do and then on the back of that are the concepts that the receivers are doing, so you need to listen out for your bit, where you’re supposed to be and what you’re actually doing in the play”

It’s been a tough learning curve for Gray though; “to do that only once when it’s 30 degrees, you’ve got your helmet on, you’ve just taken a hit off someone and then to do that on the fly and do exactly what they want, it’s a tough ask but that’s the game and I’m enjoying trying to learn that”

Alex is the first professional English Rugby player to transition into the NFL. We asked him which sport is tougher, Rugby or Football? “I keep telling everyone that rugby players are tougher, but there’s definitely a mutual respect between the two sports”

“A lot of the tackling rules in football are not to the same level as rugby, so you do see those big hits that the crowd wants to see”

“Speaking to some guys they can’t believe you play without pads and helmets,” added Gray. “if you threw one of those guys into the middle of a ruck with six guys stamping all over you I’m not sure they’d enjoy that!”

Whether it’s fifteen facing fifteen on the Rugby pitch, or eleven facing eleven on the Gridiron, Alex admitted that skill and strength are still key; “they’re both tough games, I know that, the players know that, so it’s pretty cool respect”

Catch Alex Gray’s full interview on the upcoming 5thDownUK Podcast. Episode 37 will also feature another NFL Undiscovered star, Alex Jenkins – the Bath-born New Orleans Saints Defensive End.

Follow Alex Gray on Twitter @AlexShaggyGray

NFL Undiscovered premieres this autumn.

The Grey Cup Comes to London


Canadian Football’s biggest prize comes to London this weekend!

As Canadians celebrate their proud nation’s 150th birthday, the Grey Cup is to embark on a tour of our capital city.

The reigning Grey Cup MVP,  and now co-host of CTV Morning Live Ottawa, Henry Burris will be greeted by a 60,000-strong crowd at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, Canada Day.

CFL fans will have an opportunity to pose for photos with the trophy and take on the CFL obstacle course.

For fans who are willing to party into the night there will be a live screening of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs Saskatchewan Roughriders at the Carlsberg Sports Bar in the Empire Casino.

This is the first game at the brand new Mosaic Stadium. The Canadian broadcasters TSN will be crossing live to the fan event in London throughout the game.

Details of the Grey Cup Tour of London

June 30th

  • Arriving at the Maple Leaf Bar in Covent Garden, which is having a Canada Day Celebration.
  • From 7pm-9pm the Cup, and Henry, will be at the pub, where there is a party for ex-pats and Canadians.

July 1

  • The event at Trafalgar Square opens at noon local time to the public
  • Henry will take part in a celebrity ball hockey game with legends like Phil Esposito, Mike Keenan, Ron Duguay and Dennis John Maruk, as well as the High Commissioner and other dignitaries from 2-3pm.
  • CFL obstacle course will open at 3pm
  • Henry will be interviewed by Dan Snow on the main stage (time to be confirmed), askingHank questions about playing on Canada Day, American by Birth / Canada by Choice, and what Canada has meant to him and his family.
  • From 8-9pm, going to the Tennis Canada party for a quick visit.
  • At 8pm the Watch Party begins at the Carlsberg Sports Bar at Empire Casino. The cup and Burris will be there.

July 2

  • Part of the Changing of the Guard, for one month starting on 18 June 2017 the 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light infantry (PPCLI) has been selected to fulfill this honour at Buckingham Palace.
  • The cup goes to several landmarks across London (all of which are TBC).

This Week’s CFL TV Schedule

  • Fri (2am): Ottawa Redblacks vs Calgary Stampeders; BT Sport 1
  • Sat (12am): BC Lions vs Toronto Argonauts; BT Sport ESPN
  • Sat (3am): Montreal Alouettes vs Edmonton Eskimos; BT Sport ESPN
  • Sun (2am): Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs Saskatchewan Roughriders; BT Sport 1


5th Down UK @ Wembley!

While Sundays AFC South divisional game between the Colts and the Jags wasn’t the best exhibition of clinical Quarterback play, it proved a fantastic opening to the 2016 International Series!!


The NFL had Wembley rocking once again, as a full house got behind their adopted Jags to help them to a narrow victory. Just like in last years fixture, the Jags had to weather a late comeback, but ultimately a 4th quarter Allen Hurns TD was enough to get that vital 1st win, making the flight home a little more comfortable for Blake Bortles and Gus Bradley.

“There’s a million decisions in every game. In hindsight, you look at it and you say I wish or I shoulda, coulda.”

Despite the predictable late rally, Andrew Luck had a day to forget, and the game turned on a 4th & 1 decision to toss the ball to Dwayne Allen rather than tucking and running himself.

Blake Bortles had a hot and cold afternoon in the October sun; in the 1st half he seemed to have problems getting the ball released, but with Allen Robinson in fine form, he did enough to get an early lead. In the second half he improved, and despite one bizarre play which he threw and caught himself, he was able to find the game winning play to Hurns, and keep the Jags alive in the AFC South.


The 5th Down’s own fearsome threesome we’re working hard on Sunday, and recorded a special show from the bowels of Wembley Stadium. KB, Dubs and Dave caught all the reaction from the Colts vs Jags game; grabbing interviews with Jalen Ramsey and Paul Posluszny, along with lots of UK fans. There’s also an exclusive tour from inside the Colts’ tunnel and a special interview with Team GB linebacker Niall Scott-Grant.

5thDown Podcast: International Series Preview

Everyone ready for Sunday??

This weeks pod is a special show dedicated to the first International Series game of 2016. KB & Dubs preview the Colts vs Jags game at Wembley with interviews from both camps. Denard Robinson & Dwayne Allen talk up their trips to London. There’s an exclusive interview with former England rugby union world cup-winning captain Martin Johnson and a look back at Week 14 in the CFL.

5thDown Podcast: Episode 4 – The Knights of Farnham

KB & Dubs turn their attention to the British American Football League and hear the remarkable story of the Farnham Knights, a team who were forced to cease operating in 2012. They speak to the head coach who has brought them back to the top division.

Plus, the guys read out your tweets and what you would call a Las Vegas franchise.

5thDown Podcast: Episode 3 – A Texan Tailgate

KB & Dubs speak to Bengals Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons about their visit to London and what makes a good coach. Also joining the show is former Bills WR Donald Jones III and the illness that shortened his promising career. Plus the guys talk Carson Wentz, Michael Bennett, Marshawn Lynch and the CFL Draft.

5th Down UK interviews… Nat Coombs

In the 1st of our series of interviews with UK NFL fans, we spoke to the host of talkSPORT 2’s all new All American Sports Show, and massive NFL fan, Nat Coombs.

How did you fall in love with Football?

As a kid, watching this remarkable technicolour sport on Channel 4, not understanding any of it, but knowing I completely loved it.

Who’s your team, and why?

The Miami Dolphins… because I’m a sucker for pain, and because as a kid they were all about the offense (Marino, Marx brothers) and always gallant, cavalier losers which appealed.

What is your favourite footballing memory?

So many – covering a game in New Orleans at the Superdome was incredible. The SuperBowls I’ve been involved with have been great for various reasons – and the Wembley games I’ve anchored have been a privilege. Looking out over the stadium and digesting that we’ve got regular season games, looking back and seeing say, Jim Kelly sitting 6 feet from me – pretty special.

Favourite of all time?

The 51-45 Jets/Fins game from the 80’s (O’Brien vs Marino) stands out. And I always remember Chad Johnson scoring, putting on the HOF jacket in celebration, as that was my first ever game.

Who is your favourite player of all time?

It has to be Marino, but I loved Jim Kelly too back in the day. Sucker for the flashy receivers so Carter, Marx brothers, TO, Johnson.

Defensively – the Giants front 7 that included Strahan & Osi (have to give my man props!) was great to watch, and the tape I see of the Bears ’85 Defense is stunning. Love for hardcore players too that give everything – like Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin & JJ Watt.

And your favourite player currently playing?

I think right now it’s AJ Green – electrifying and can’t wait till the Bengals come over to Wembley.

With the elite Quarterbacks either retiring or in their 30’s, who is the next superstar?

12 months ago I would have said Andrew Luck, but there’s an element of doubt. Wilson is arguably there. Cam has to be in the mix – he’ll bounce back.

What do you think has to happen for us to get a London franchise, and would it have to be an Eastern divisional team?

I think it would have to be a relocation as I can’t see the owners voting on adding expansion franchises. It would be very interesting to see how it would play out – because the appeal of say 6 regular season games with different teams if possibly as strong for most fans and of course much easier to action long term.

If we get a team in the UK, can you see UK universities starting up their own football programmes?

Many already have of course, though I doubt we’ll get a college circuit like in the US – mainly because of geography and tradition. Though more and more players will get a shot in the NFL, like Efe Obada has.

And finally, if a young Nat were to be drafted in the 2016 draft, what position would you play?

I had a bit of pace when I was younger, so a low round WR gamble – but these days, let’s just say I was made to be a backup QB!

Each week Nat Coombs and guests round up all the action from across the pond, from the NBA to NFL and MLS to NHL, plus everything in between on the talkSPORT 2’s all new All American Sports Show.

You can find the podcasts on talkSPORT & iTunes:

Week 10

Week 10 kicked off with the Ohio state match, where Andy Dalton laid another egg on primetime TV. The Bengals remain competitive in the AFC North, but they are looking very hit and miss on both sides of the ball, and will have to show heart to bounce back from this humiliating defeat at home to their state rivals. This wasn’t a game for Fantasy players though – winning QB Brian Hoyer only notched a single figure score, and Dalton ended the game with a minus score!

Onto Sunday, there wasn’t too many shocks – Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning churned up their usual 25+pts, and Marshawn Lynch seemed back to his old self, beasting through the Giants at home for 4 touchdowns and 140 yards. The Packers in particular looked strong – they’ve steadily moved on from their opening day defeat at Seattle to prove themselves very much Superbowl contenders – Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb and Lacy all sliced through a non-existent Bears defence, and the Packers D were in help-yourself mode off a wayward Jay Cutler. Elsewhere though, there were a few turn ups – the Steelers proved highly unpredictable, making the Jets defence look somewhat efficient, and the 49ers turning over the Saints in the Superdome – a feat not acheived in over 4 years.

There was some big points for Dez Bryant in London – he was missing in the 1st Quarter, ran wild in the 2nd Quarter, then seemed to be ready to jump on the plane home in the 2nd half, but in just 15 minutes in that 2nd Quarter he smashed the Jags for nearly 160yards and 2 touchdowns. If you’re labelled as an “Impact” player, thats a way to get yourself noticed!!

On rookie watch, this was a big week for the excellent 2014 reciever class – Jordan Matthews, Martavis Bryant, Mike Evans & Odell Beckham all went over 100 yards, while Brandon Cooks added a TD to his 90 yards, and Kelvin Benjamin added 2 TDs to his 70 yards. Previous to this season, only 4 rookie wide recievers had gone over 1,000 yards in their debut season – this year we expect that number to be doubled.