As we enter week four of contemplation whether the Blue Bombers can afford to sign Henoc Muamba, perhaps the better question is: can they afford not to?
No single player is ever solely the difference between winning and losing — except, maybe, when it comes to quarterbacks and kickers — so mortgaging the future in the over pursuit of any singular athlete is both short-sighted and ill advised. That said, there are exceptions that can be the tipping point that propels a team from good to great.
There are countless reasons why Henoc could be a catalyst for the 2018 defence, not least of which would be offsetting the loss of Jamaal Westerman to Montreal. Not only is he an all-star-calibre player with the right kind of passport, like Westerman, but he is the kind of tenured, travelled and respected voice and leader you would want filling the void that Westerman’s departure has certainly left.
Most importantly, however, would be the impact that his insertion into the heart of the defence would have on the defensive dozen. To be an elite defence — heck, to even just be a good defence — you need strength down the middle of the field. You need players who can push up front and others who can discourage a passing attack inside of the numbers. If an opponent can’t run up the middle, and is also concerned about health and ball security issues from throws over the middle, then you have effectively eliminated the most linear area on the football field.
This football team already has Taylor Loffler in the cros hairs of the secondary; adding Henoc to the second level would make him that much better. The thing Loffler brought to the table in his rookie season was his physical play and edge, and how he would relentlessly seek out contact. It is no coincidence that in 2016, when Loffler was consistently wreaking havoc in the heart of the secondary, the turnover rate of the Richie Hall defence was exponential. His physical play, and the tone he set for the rest of the defence, can equate to moments of chaos and hesitation for receivers, even "short arming" habits when they venture across the middle.
When you insert a dynamic middle linebacker, that can also play with this kind of heat-seeking tenaciousness, he makes the back end play, and the front line of defence even better. From an interior defensive line perspective, it really frees up your arsenal if you don’t have to constantly worry about a runner gashing your defence for 30 yards if you happen to slip a block or let an offensive lineman up to the second level.
Additionally, when the front line of your defence does eat up blocks, and frees up the second level and allows the linebackers to flow, you are more inclined to repeat these kinds of selfless responsibilities if your linebackers are making impact plays. Great linebackers can diagnose a play from a single pre-snap read, and have exceptional football instincts, intuition, and reactions to the football. When Henoc is at the top of his game, you can readily see all of these elements in his craft.
Adding a playmaker who eliminates options for your opponent in the middle of the football field against both the pass and the run, and strengthens the other components of your defence, is as critical a chess piece as there is. No defence worth its salt is without a middle linebacker who's part field general and part kamikaze pilot, who sets the tone physically, and is capable of altering the outcome of games.
When it comes to a football team that may only need one more element to bump them into legitimate title contention, can they really afford to miss such an opportunity?
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.