While many of the players June Jones has taken to Montreal will play much of Saturday’s game against the Alouettes, defensive backfielders will have to do a little more time-sharing.
Because there’s still a lot of them, especially Americans, around.
There are as many as a baker’s dozen of international players still looking for what will be, at most, seven roster spots for import defensive backs. And field side halfback Richard Leonard, last year’s Easter Division rookie of the year, has one of those places sewn up.
June Jones also intimated on Thursday that Abdul Kanneh, an all-star cornerback for Ottawa who started at SAM linebacker for the Ticats late last year, didn’t travel to Montreal because he’ll also be on the team. He’d originally been pencilled into halfback to set the middle of the secondary along with Leonard and safety Courtney Stephen, but has played mostly cornerback this spring.
If Kanneh is in, that’s not only one less spot available to the other Internationals, it’s versatility talking. The ability to play multiple positions will figure into the final configuration. So will man-to-man coverage skills, imperative in a Jerry Glanville defence.
The Canadian defensive backs are a different story, because of the roster ratio and its co-related importance to special teams. Stephen is the undisputed safety, backed up by veteran Mike Daly who’s rounding back into form after playing only two games because of injury last year. Special teams ace Jay Langa still hasn’t returned from nagging injury and overall 2018 draft choice Jackson Bennett was creating space for himself as a backup at safety and SAM before he too missed a few days with injury. Glanville says Bennett hasn’t yet returned to what he was showing prior to being hurt. Rookie Nicholas Parisotto out of Guelph could make the rosters if the Ticats keep an extra Canadian back.
While there are five formal positions, the secondary is really a six-man unit because the SAM linebacker is essentially a defensive back lined up on the wide (field) side of the other two linebackers: Larry Dean who anchors the middle, and Simoni Lawrence on the boundary side.
“We kind of have a pretty good feel for everything else, but the SAM is the one,” says head coach June Jones. “We’re going to look again at people. Mariel Cooper, who I really like. hopefully will be ready next week, even though he might not play this week.”
And they’ve been giving Don Unamba, who finished last season as a starting cornerback, the lead reps at SAM.
Among the remaining group of Internationals, which includes six players who dressed for the Ticats last year, returnee Cariel Brooks started at halfback last week and Jamal Rolle, who had three interceptions in limited action for the NFL Houston Texans in 2014, started at field corner ahead of Unamba.
But there are other newcomers who could still make their mark. The Ticats want to get faster in the rearguard which, even being charitable, wasn’t a particularly strong point last year. So change isn’t, and shouldn’t be, out of the question. There might be some surprises in the next few days, and as the season progresses.
“I think the questions will be answered immensely on Saturday afternoon,” Glanville says.
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