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Bomber rookies learning CFL game

Job 1 for newcomers to league is getting comfortable with different rules

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/5/2017 (535 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They’ve spent a good part of their lives learning and playing football a certain way and with a particular set of rules. So, when American imports are introduced to the CFL, it’s like going back to school.

They need to learn the nuances of a bigger field, the tricky nature of having to account for extra players and numerous other, often more subtle differences.

When receiver Kieren Duncan, a product of Colorado State-Pueblo, arrived in Winnipeg to spend the final two weeks of the 2016 season on the Blue Bombers’ practice roster, a crucial part of his adjustment was to embrace the waggle, which is the CFL term for the running start slotbacks get during the pre-snap motion.

“As far as as the waggle and some of the rules and stuff, I’ve had a little more time to adjust, luckily,” said Duncan following the second day of Winnipeg’s rookie camp at Investors Group Field Thursday afternoon. “It was kind of hard to (wrap) your mind around it — like I’m allowed to start 10 yards (behind the line of scrimmage) and get up to full speed before the play’s even started! So it’s a receiver’s dream.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/5/2017 (535 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They’ve spent a good part of their lives learning and playing football a certain way and with a particular set of rules. So, when American imports are introduced to the CFL, it’s like going back to school.

They need to learn the nuances of a bigger field, the tricky nature of having to account for extra players and numerous other, often more subtle differences.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Kieren Duncan says some of the rules specific to Canadian football make it a 'receiver's dream.'</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kieren Duncan says some of the rules specific to Canadian football make it a 'receiver's dream.'

When receiver Kieren Duncan, a product of Colorado State-Pueblo, arrived in Winnipeg to spend the final two weeks of the 2016 season on the Blue Bombers’ practice roster, a crucial part of his adjustment was to embrace the waggle, which is the CFL term for the running start slotbacks get during the pre-snap motion.

"As far as as the waggle and some of the rules and stuff, I’ve had a little more time to adjust, luckily," said Duncan following the second day of Winnipeg’s rookie camp at Investors Group Field Thursday afternoon. "It was kind of hard to (wrap) your mind around it — like I’m allowed to start 10 yards (behind the line of scrimmage) and get up to full speed before the play’s even started! So it’s a receiver’s dream.

"You’re a little bit of deer in the headlights and your head’s swimming but this year I’ve been able to come into rookie mini-camp and rookie camp and just learn it from the ground up and really get into the bread and butter of our offence."

Quarterbacks, it would seem, have the steepest learning curve.

"The biggest adjustment for me Day 1 and Day 2 is just the amount of motion," said former University of New Mexico QB Austin Apodaca, who signed with the Blue Bombers earlier this month. "In America, if you’re installing a new offence everything for the most part is already set. So you know where your guys are and you know where they’re going to be just because it’s a set formation.

"And there’s some motions here or there in the American game, obviously, but it’s never so many guys at once, all the way up field — like the waggle — and then you can waggle motion in and out at the same time. That’s been probably the biggest thing I’ve had to learn and time up, where I can understand where people are going to be even if they’re coming from a different side."

Former NFL cornerback Roc Carmichael, who is pencilled in as a linebacker for rookie camp, has a newfound appreciation for the Canadian game.

"It’s a lot faster than most people would expect," said Carmichael, who suited up for a combined 19 games with the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 and 2013. "The field is larger... but I don’t think NFL guys respect how much speed is up here and how much speed you get to see with the field being 65 yards wide. It makes receivers a lot more dangerous and quarterbacks a lot more daring to throw the ball."

Carmichael said he isn’t particularly concerned about the CFL’s tricky five-yard rule for defending against the pass and the league’s penchant for video review of contact beyond the five-yard zone.

"The five-yard rule is the five-yard rule pretty much anywhere in football," said Carmichael.

Blue Bombers assistant GM Danny McManus suggests this is often troublesome for American defensive backs and linebackers.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Quarterback Austin Apodaca says the amount of pre-snap motion has been a big adjustment.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Quarterback Austin Apodaca says the amount of pre-snap motion has been a big adjustment.

"When I’m at a free-agent workout I’m trying to instruct these guys on some of the differerent rules, like grabbing after five yards as a defensive back," said McManus. "Down in the NFL, they still let you touch a little bit after five yards. Here, I tell ’em we’ve got spotters up in the box that aren’t even watching the ball, they’re just watching the receivers. If a guy gets pulled after five, they’re telling Mike (O’Shea), ‘Throw the flag, we’ve gotta challenge that.’

"It’s one of those things, they don’t understand that. Because they always got away with it."

Duncan, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Bears in 2016 before being cut in training camp, will be a candidate to return kicks in Winnipeg. He’s been studying the key differences on punt coverage.

"There’s no fair-catch rule but it’s balanced out by the fact that they’ve gotta be five yards away," said Duncan. "It’s a great game, some of the changes don’t seem unnecessary or anything like that. I’m excited to play."

McManus admits newcomers from the U.S. rarely make a seamless transition to the Canadian game. Learning the game can take years.

"It takes a while. If you look at my career, it took four years before I became a starter, (before I was able) to get it," said the 51-year-old former quarterback, who is a member of the Canadan Football Hall of Fame.

"Hopefully, I was the slower end... I would say it took one to two years. One full season, a guy will understand everything that’s going on. Two full seasons, now he’s able to play within that package. Usually by the third season, he’s ready to roll."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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History

Updated on Friday, May 26, 2017 at 7:51 AM CDT: Placement fixed.

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