Smaller players rising to occasion in CFL | Football | CBC Sports

CFLSmaller players rising to occasion in CFL

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2012 | 05:18 PM

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B.C. Lions linebacker Adam Bighill, right, is one of the top tacklers in the CFL this season. (Andy Clark/Reuters)
B.C. Lions linebacker Adam Bighill, right, is one of the top tacklers in the CFL this season. (Andy Clark/Reuters)

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The theme of small guys playing bigger than their stature has been fun to follow this season. Edmonton Eskimos' J.C. Sherritt and B.C. Lions' Adam Bighill are two linebackers who have effectively shown us that small guys can get it done.
The theme of small guys playing bigger than their stature has been fun to follow this season.

The middle linebacker position has historically been reserved for larger players who are effective at stopping the run. Edmonton Eskimos' J.C. Sherritt and B.C. Lions' Adam Bighill are two linebackers this season who have effectively challenged this stereotype and have shown us that small guys can get it done.

Currently Sherritt and Bighill are two of the top tacklers in the CFL. At five foot nine, many are left scratching their heads trying to figure out how they are able to do what they do.

Both players have similar football attributes which enable them to make big plays even though they are undersized.

When you are small, playing in a big man's world along the line of scrimmage, you don't have the luxury of being late to the play. One of the reasons why these two players are effective is because they have the ability to read the play before it happens.

When you are undersized you can't only rely on your speed, but have to trust your knowledge of the game in order to gain steps on the field. Both Sherritt and Bighill read plays well and commit to their decisions of where the play is going to happen. Although they may not have 40-yard dash speed, their ability to not hesitate gives them great game speed.

Stopping the run

In order for them to be effective stopping the run they not only need to know their gap responsibility, but they also need to aggressively run through the gap in order to meet the running back in the backfield rather than at the line of scrimmage. They don't need to be tall enough to see the running back behind the offensive linemen, they simply need to know how to access the backfield.

For these two linebackers to be successful it is critical that those around them on defence are executing their job.

Sheritt and Bighill are good at stopping the run on first down because those around them are great at their given defensive assignments, which gives them the confidence they have the freedom to be aggressive on every play.

Second down advantage

If you can be effective stopping the run with smaller, faster linebackers on first down, then your defence gains an advantage on second down. Players that are laterally quicker have the ability to cover between the hash marks on the field much better. If you can cover the middle of the field on defence, you make it very difficult for offences to move the chains.

Smaller backs

Another reason why defences have the luxury of playing smaller, faster linebackers, is because CFL offences are allowing them to do so. As a passing league, most teams have once again made the choice to build their offences around their quarterback, five receivers and a small versatile back.

Statistically, B.C. and Edmonton have the two best defences in the CFL. Both teams play with linebackers all under six feet tall.  

Counter-punch, power rushing attack

What happens when your team doesn't have an Anthony Calvillo, Ricky Ray or Travis Lulay under centre on offence? You run the football.

Many have suggested with the recent acquisition of Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam, Edmonton's backfield is too crowded. The Eskimos have done a nice job suggesting they are taking their time to evaluate each back and that they are comfortable with their depth at the position.

I am of the opinion that Edmonton has no intention of unloading any of their backs and that when the time is right, they'll introduce a power rushing attack intended to take advantage of the undersized defences that we currently see.

For Edmonton to have success this season, they will do so on the back of a stingy defence and the establishment of a strong power rushing attack lead by both Boyd and Maessam.

You may be of the opinion that a quarterback controversy exists in Edmonton. I don't believe that head coach Kavis Reed cares who starts next week. I believe that what is most important is that both quarterbacks are athletic bodies that can be used to compliment a rushing attack.

Timing is everything

At the end of the day, the Eskimos need to have a better record than Winnipeg and Hamilton to squeeze into the playoffs as the cross over.

Edmonton doesn't want to show this offensive strategy too early because they want to make sure it will be difficult for other teams acquire the appropriate body types to defend a power rushing game effectively.

Lions 2000 Grey Cup Champs
The 2000 Grey Cup will be remembered as the one of the most unlikely and unpredictable games.

It was in October of that season that the Lions found themselves with a 5-9 record and in desperate need of some offensive productivity. The creative mind of Steve Burratto was introduced into the fold to replace the late Greg Mohns as head coach.

With a stingy Lions defence, Burratto introduced a power rushing attack led by Damon Allen and two power running backs in Robert Drummond and Sean Millington.

Burratto came to the conclusion that, if B.C. was going to make a push for the Grey Cup, they were going to take advantage of the undersized defensive personnel on the field, line up in a double tight end formation and play smash mouth football.

B.C. beat Montreal in a low scoring 28-26 game in the 88th Grey Cup by rushing for 264 yards.

Sound familiar?

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