Most of the players at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats three-day mini-camp are looking for a new job in pro football and, in some ways, so is Brandon Stewart.
With eight-years of CFL experience, the 28-year-old defensive back doesn’t actually have to be here this week – attendance is optional for veteran players – yet here he is battling it out with a roster full of mostly first-year guys.
It’s an audition of sorts: Stewart is looking to be the guy who replaces all-star corner Delvin Breaux.
“The boundary corner is the gold spot, that’s where every American DB wants to play when they come up here, ” Stewart said.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to get into that role.”
With Breaux having signed with the New Orleans Saints of the NFL after two stellar years in Hamilton, the team finds itself with a significant hole in its secondary.
Stewart played next to Breaux at boundary halfback last season but came to mini-camp to demonstrate to the coaching staff that he’s ready for the job next door.
“They were like ‘we want to see you at boundary corner, do you want to come to mini-camp?’ I was like ‘hell yeah, I want to play some football, ‘” Stewart said. “I just saw it as an opportunity to get some reps and work on my craft.”
Stewart played five seasons for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers where he lined up mostly at field corner – the DB furthest from the quarterback on the wide side of the field – before signing with Hamilton before last season. With experience at two positions in the secondary, Stewart feels he has the skills to play the one he wants. “The field side is a lot of pattern reading and the boundary half has a lot of contact. So I’ve learned to cover and be physical.”
There are, however, other candidates for the job. Ed Gainey, who filled in for Breaux during parts of last season, is also at mini-camp and the team has brought a number of American defensive backs to mini-camp, including NFL veteran Ellis Lankster. And the team will likely add a few more before main camp begins at the end of next month.
Defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer says replacing Breaux, whose combination of size, speed and strength drew the interest of several NFL teams and allowed him to land a lucrative NFL deal in February, will be tough to replace.
“You audition people and see if they can play. It’s a tall task and ultimately you’re looking for the best player to fit the whole scheme, ” Steinauer said. “We’re trying to identify some players now but ultimately we’ll need somebody to emerge in training camp.”