If you think the battles waged in the trenches between offensive and defensive linemen somewhat resemble elephant seals jousting on the beach during mating season, Bryant Turner put a show on in Montreal on Thursday night that demonstrates just how strategic and complicated defensive-line play can actually be.
First, and most importantly, while being carted off the field on a stretcher at the end of a game is a scary proposition for any player, I have been assured that Turner will be fine and should return to action sooner rather than later. After undergoing a battery of tests in Montreal, he was released from the hospital Friday and will be back in Winnipeg by the time you are reading this.
There is an assumption out there defensive linemen are simply better-looking versions of offensive linemen, with half the brains and twice the athleticism, and to a degree, that is true.
For 15 years, my responsibilities did not stray much further than the "A" gap or "B" gap against the run, and hall of fame linemen and coaches will be the first to tell you that you only really need two good pass-rush moves to be successful at the pro level, along with a counter-move to go with them. Yet what Turner displayed with his final Calvillo pasting in a three-sack, two-tackle night is the difference between a good player and one that is becoming great is understanding how the field of play is nothing more than a chess board.
To set the stage properly, you need to understand that defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan is a man who absolutely loves to run stunts with the front four on passing downs. When we were practising in the post-season in 2011, he would actually cut out inside-run period on day 3 of preparation simply to spend more time working stunts with the front four. Aside from straight pass-rushing against the man you are lined up over, there are two primary stunts that Creehan likes to run on either side of the line. The first is the "T/E," where the defensive tackle penetrates the B gap like his hair is on fire, assumes contain responsibilities, and then the defensive end loops around inside of him. The other is the opposite, an "E/T." The defensive end penetrates and makes an inside move into the "B" gap, and the defensive tackle waits for him to clear and pick his guard, and then wraps around him. What Turner did with his final sack that effectively sealed the victory for the Bombers and capped off a night of brilliant defensive play, is essentially what happens when a player evolves and his physical skills match his mental cognition.
To properly qualify his achievement, you need to know he wasn't going against some rookie, some nobody fresh out of an obscure Canadian university. The victim of Turner's brilliance was none other than Scott Flory, probably the best guard to ever play for the Montreal Alouettes, and a sure-fire CFL Hall of Famer on a bad day.
All game long the Bombers ran stunts to great effect against an immobile QB who was suddenly vulnerable due to the absence of a maximum-protection scheme and a Marc Trestman offence that used to emphasize getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. By the time the Alouettes had the football with time expiring, with one last chance to tie the game, Turner had probably run 10 different stunts against Flory, including numerous "E/T's" where Turner would try to influence the guard inside, widening the gap for his end to penetrate into, then looping around after his end had cleared.
Yet amid the exhaustion, chaos and final frantic moments of the fourth quarter, Turner had the presence of mind to realize he had set up Flory perfectly. After the ball was snapped, he followed the exact pattern he had all game, when he ran this "E/T" stunt. He tried to influence Flory inside and hesitated as he waited for his end to make an inside move and clear the B gap yet again. Flory picked up on this right away and jumped out to meet the end. He figured Turner was going to loop, so he turned away from Bryant to face the end, only the end never came and Turner never looped.
It may have been the easiest sack Turner ever gets, because he fooled the guard into turning away from him without even touching him, allowing him a direct and free path to the quarterback. Yet it never could have happened if he hadn't deliberately set it up throughout the entire game and capitalized when it meant the most.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and the day following game days in the Free Press.