You can call it the Adam Bighill effect.
Add the all-star middle linebacker to your underachieving CFL defence and you just might have the makings of something special.
"You can feel it," second-year halfback Brandon Alexander said following Winnipeg’s walk-through in preparation for tonight’s regular-season opener against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field.
"Maybe it’s just him, maybe it’s the position. A guy like Bighill being that Mike linebacker, in a lot of cases, that guy is your leader.
"(He’s) the guy that talks. As soon as he stepped out here, he didn’t wait around. It was that aura around him — we’ve basically followed him. When he communicates, we communicate. When he’s talking, we listen. It’s because he knows the game, he’s been here awhile. He’s a very important piece. He’s a fast, physical linebacker. He surprised me with the type of speed he has."
Bighill, a four-time CFL all-star during his six seasons with the B.C. Lions, signed with the Blue Bombers on May 19 after a year away with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
The 29-year-old has moved quickly to put his stamp on the Winnipeg defence, which was second last among CFL teams in net yardage allowed (396.6 per game) and most in passing yards allowed (321.6 per game) in 2017.
Big plays against haunted the Blue Bombers in 2017, and it’s been Bighill’s mission to eradicate those mistakes. He’s going to be vocal and he wants to inspire change.
He went from free agent to field general in less than a month.
"Since I’ve been here, I’m trying to communicate and make sure that communication is through the entire defence... not only that, our expectation levels are higher from an IQ standpoint and a communication standpoint," Bighill said.
"There is no acceptance for any big play — it should never happen. They should not go over our head. If they go up and compete for the ball and catch it, they get paid, too. But we’re not going to give away big plays."
Bighill has made it his mission to take charge, despite joining the club after the start of training camp.
"I think from my experience I was able to bring in a different way of thinking about certain things and a way of understanding things easier and a way of communicating things easier," he said.
"I don’t think it took long at all to start installing a new mindset."
Bighill emphasizes talking with a purpose.
"I’m the liaison from the front to the back and it’s my job to make sure everyone’s lined up right," he said.
"It’s the safety’s job, as well, to help communicate calls, and it’s imperative we’re on the same page. We have extremely high expectations of what has to happen pre-snap and there is no excuses if they don’t happen. We should never have those plays hurting us."
Edmonton’s high-powered offence will be a difficult challenge right out of the box for the Blue Bombers. Quarterback Mike Reilly, the league’s most outstanding player in 2017, is blessed with a fine array of receiving talent.
"The CFL has the most confusion that ever happens for a defence in professional football — pre-snap, post-snap," Bighill said.
"It’s the most organized chaos out there because of the motion. We have to adjust coverages on the fly as the receivers adjust their motions... with that being said, they key word is ‘organized.’ I look for ways we can organize that better and make sure that the little things are being talked about before they happen, so when they happen it’s not a surprise...
"It’s not like it was all broken before — it’s getting refined."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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