There is no greater validation of a player's talents than the ability to excel no matter what system he is implemented in.
Lost in the doldrums of a 3-9 season, the accomplishments of the defensive line of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has flown under the radar this season because deficiencies in other areas have been too hard to look away from.
Yet, once you do, you will see a unit that is not only poised to three-peat as the CFL's most prolific pass rushing entourage, but a group of men whose abilities have not been downgraded by adversity.
Last year there was a convoy of fresh-faced Canadian football newbies that arrived on the scene for the Blue and Gold. Players like Bryant Turner, Jason Vega and Kenny Mainor were all new to the franchise and relatively new to the CFL. They were initially instructed by the late, great, Richard Harris, and then forced to transition to the stylings and teachings of Casey Creehan after last year's tragedy.
Adapting to a new coach mid-season is difficult enough, let alone when the philosophies and teachings were as different as these two coaches. Under coach Harris, the basic premise was to respect and anticipate the run on first down, and to get after it in second and long and obvious passing situations.
Under coach Creehan, the ideology was to stop the run on the way to the quarterback, with an emphasis on being vertical at all times. In fact, we often skipped over inside run period in practice on day two or three to focus entirely on pass rushing situations.
Regardless of the merit of either system, the point of this disclosure is it is never easy to adapt from one coach to another, and to try and adjust to different mentalities.
This aforementioned group, though, not only bought in on the fly last year, but put forth an 18-game regular-season effort, in conjunction with a handful of others, that had the defensive line of the Bombers respected and feared throughout the CFL landscape, finishing first statistically in more categories than any other.
It was easy to see players like Vega, Turner, Mainor and Fernand Kashama had ability and potential, but what initially kept insiders from granting them their due was the lingering consideration of whether they were simply products of the system they found themselves in.
Under the unorthodox teachings (at least in the CFL) that Casey Creehan introduced halfway through the season, it was fair to say most, if not all, of these players flourished.
The scheme emphasized quickness, avoidance and athleticism to propel these players into the backfield, which played to their strengths. There were few brute strength components, and getting upfield in a hurry no matter what look the offence presented was the mandate, and they were well suited to comply.
Yet as we know, there was more than just a turnover of players during the 2012 off-season. The defensive line group was introduced to their third coach in less than a year, and had to adjust and react, once again, to different mentalities from yet another coach. In addition, though Tim Burke remained the defensive co-ordinator for 2012, the changes to the defensive philosophy and style were noticeable with the departure of Creehan. Now, with the promotion of Burke to head coach, this group has had to adjust to the style and play calling and attitude of another co-ordinator.
Some players can only find success if they are matched to a particular scheme that is suited to their talents. What has impressed me most about the Bomber defensive linemen this year, is that they have shown how legitimate and universal their talents are.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.