Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–10–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CFL gains when draft picks go south

They'll return coached up if they can't make the NFL

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The more I think about the top two picks in the CFL draft signing with NFL teams, the more I think the CFL clubs that drafted them will be all the better for it.

In case you missed it on Sunday, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft joined four of his classmates by signing a contract with an NFL team. That means a minimum of five players from the 2013 draft class in the CFL will be late joining their respective teams in Canada, if they join them at all this year.

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So how is this a good thing? Well, two weeks ago I suggested that the Bombers draft the best player available to them, NFL contract or not, because of the long odds for any undrafted free agent to make an NFL roster. In addition, as a worst-case scenario, even if it took a player a year or two to wash out of the NFL, it would not hurt the CFL club, as freshman professionals in this league rarely make their presence felt early in their development.

These are the realities and probabilities of the undrafted life, but not necessarily "good" things if your draft pick migrates south.

After considerably more reflection now, however, I think the fact that the Bomber's first selection this year, who will be going to test the waters in Green Bay, is the best thing that could have happened to him and the team.

As much as the fans of the two leagues regularly debate about whether CFL players can compete with their NFL counterparts -- even though the requirements of the games are as different as the rules and fields -- there is no debate over the fact that the coaching these players will receive in their NFL tenures, be it a few months or a few years, will make them infinitely better. If you don't believe me, just ask Bombers head coach Tim Burke and defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan, who openly and publicly admit they take off every off-season to visit an NFL team and bring back as much conceptual, schematic and coaching techniques as they can get their mitts on.

Without question, in my opinion, the very elite-level players in the NFL are in a class of their own. The freaks of nature, like the "Megatrons," the J.J. Watts, the Tom Bradys, do not have comparable equivalents in the CFL. But once you get past the real game-breakers and megastars down south, the talent gets remarkably close and the distinctions get blurred.

You can easily pen a column about how many players made it in the NFL that couldn't make it in the CFL, and vice versa, due to the different skill sets and physical tools required to specialize on either side of the border.

Yet the one point that is never debated or argued, or even brought up, is the coaching disparity between the two leagues.

If you think I'm taking a shot at CFL tutelage, I'm not. I learned many things, on and off the field, from some of my favourite coaches of all time, like Richard Harris and Greg Marshall in the CFL, among others. But in all honesty, I learned more about the essentials of defensive-line play from NFL coaches Earl Leggett and Mike Trgovac. The focus on fundamentals, the extensive time you spend being coached, the breakdown of the techniques and the operational tempo are experiences not often found north of the border.

In fact, one of the most effective coaching tools Creehan employs when he is a defensive-line coach is the tempo he adheres to in practice and the drills he has brought north of the border with him. Every minute of every time he coaches a unit is maximized with as much work and as many repetitions as possible.

A couple weeks ago, we discussed what long odds undrafted free agents must overcome to make the NFL and how when they eventually return their best football would still be in front of them. A further reality is that teams like the Tiger-Cats and Bombers will be returned players that have been coached by some of the best in the world in some of the most efficient and effective systems imaginable.

So let's hope they stick around for a little longer than just a training camp, because we will all be better off because of it.


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 May 14, 2013 D5

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