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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadians excelling at more CFL positions

'O-line' stereotype no longer applies

Posted: 03/5/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Now that we have seen proof Canadian players are excelling at a multitude of positions in pro football, does this change the way a team approaches the draft?

The 2012 CFL season was one in which locally grown players not only started, but dominated at positions traditionally played by Americans.

With Andrew Harris and Jon Cornish both receiving CFL all-star accolades at tailback, it is fair to say over the course of the last decade, Canadian players have been at the forefront of virtually every position in the CFL at one time or another, save quarterback.

Whether it was Ben Cahoon in the slot, Brent Johnson coming off of the edge, Davis Sanchez in the secondary, or Mike O'Shea at linebacker, it is clear evaluators of Canadian talent are now open to the possibilities of starting their mandatory seven Canucks at any number of different positions.

Out of the 24 CFL all-star berths in 2012, there were seven Canadians, or approximately 30 per cent, that were the best at their position in the league. One linebacker (Montreal's Shea Emry), two running backs (B.C.'s Harris and Calgary's Cornish), and four of the best five offensive linemen in the CFL were Canadian (Montreal's Josh Bourke, Scott Flory and Luc Brodeur-Jordain along with Calgary's Dimitri Tsoumpas).

So now that we know local talent can be found and developed to compete with Americans at any position, when a team approaches the evaluation camp at the end of this month, and subsequently the draft, do they continue to place emphasis on drafting Canadians at traditional spots, or do they address their needs and take the best available non-import at that position?

When one talks about traditional Canadian positions in the CFL, they are talking about the offensive line. For as long as you've watched the CFL, there was an emphasis on developing the majority of Canadian starters in this area, so they would have the resources inherent with their American players, in terms of numbers, depth, and impact, at the skill positions.

Majority

Even though it has been the Canadian Football League for over 100 years, the majority of the coaches are American with traditional American viewpoints about the capabilities of their northern neighbours. The offensive line became the dumping ground for the Canadian talent they were forced to start, and domestic players came to realize early in their university careers those five spots were their best chance to get on the field.

Over the years, of course, there were always the exceptions. Some Canadian talents were undeniable and slipped through the cracks and became what we know as "ratio breakers," but nothing as widespread and to the extent that we are seeing in today's CFL.

In fact, Canadian talent has gotten so good at the staple positions on the offensive line, where they were previously "hidden," they are now consistently awarded the majority of the all-star berths year in and year out, in direct competition with the two or more American hogs each team inevitably starts.

So where does this leave us? Local collegiate players now know if they are good enough at what they do, they will have an opportunity to compete for that spot on a professional stage. Even the antiquated mindset if you start a Canadian at one position, you have to have a Canadian back him up, is on the verge of extinction. Coaches have evolved and adapted to work around this by replacing one Canadian starter with one at another position if he goes down or needs a break. The best seven local talents you have start, and numbers eight through 12 are the "next men up," no matter where they play, when the situation calls for it.

Old habits die hard and we should still expect teams to continue to stock domestic athletes in traditional spots this year. Yet due to the efforts and careers of the aforementioned players in this article, it is no longer about where you can hide and dump your Canadian starters, but about where the next players in the next draft happen to be excelling.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2013 D4

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