Versatility has always been a positive quality for athletes. When coaches and general managers are working to put their teams together, they are often met with coin-toss-like situations where they are forced to choose between two similar football players. When these types of cases arise, they will often choose the guy that can do more on the field. A special teams demon that can double as a long snapper? Absolutely. A kicker that can also punt? Sign him up.
This day and age, however, CFL teams seem to be asking players across the board to widen their skill sets and simply do more. We see it on defence with the intricate schemes that are being run across the league. Whether you are playing for the innovative Chris Jones or the unorthodox Gary Etcheverry, you will probably be asked, at times, to do things you are not necessarily comfortable with. More and more we are seeing elaborate blitz packages that treat these players like 12 interchangeable parts, which means that players must be able to adapt.
It’s not uncommon these days to see a defensive back come after the quarterback, or a defensive lineman drop into zone coverage. We also see linemen, at times, peeling off the side of the line of scrimmage in order to pick up a flaring back in man-to-man coverage. As a defensive player, if you want to be kept on the field for every defensive package, you’d better be ready to work out of your comfort zone.
Many players, at any level of football, will perk up when they are told that they will be asked to do something out of the ordinary. All defensive backs like the idea of blitzing, and linemen salivate when they think they’ll have an opportunity to make an interception. In the big leagues of the CFL, however, these are no longer isolated, rare events, but instead they are basic, fundamental plays that are run repeatedly throughout the course of any game. This means that the techniques and skills associated with these tasks must be drilled and improved. It’s no longer all right to bust a zone coverage assignment because, oh, he’s just a lineman. These days you need to get it right.
We are seeing it on offence as well. The motion and the fast-paced nature of today’s offences equate to situations where individual players are asked to do many different things. Slots need to run routes, but they also need to come in and block, take handoffs on jet sweeps, and line up as tight ends when the situation dictates it.
Many quarterbacks today are able to take the ball and run with it—sometimes almost exclusively. Dan LeFevour and Mike Reilly are sixth and seventh respectively in rushing yards so far this season, and running backs Nic Grigsby and Andrew Harris are third and seventh in receptions. Many of these swapped responsibilities, however, don’t show up on the stats sheet, but are instead played out quietly throughout the course of a game.
As with many evolutions of the game, these changes are often made in the hopes of confusing the players on the other side of the ball. As offences and defences adapt, however, it is becoming more and more important that these players perfect the various skills necessary to play out these assignments.
These are not new concepts, but the frequency in which we are seeing them seems unprecedented. Perhaps it is simply the upswing of a cycle, and we will see things reverted back to normal soon, with linemen doing the rushing, defensive backs doing the covering, and slots doing the catching. Until then, these guys better make sure they’re putting in the extra work to get things right.