Elks’ first-round pick Enock Makonzo is Chris Jones’ answer to CFL’s new hash marks

Courtesy: AP Photo/Adrian Kraus

The CFL believes they’ve found a miracle cure for generating more offence next season by narrowing the league’s hash marks and defensive coaches are scrambling to adjust.

Not only has the wide-side receiver become a far more legitimate threat, more space to the boundary means more concepts at the disposal of offensive coordinators. It will change how teams have to play defence and the personnel they deploy, but Edmonton Elks’ head coach and general manager Chris Jones believes he already has a solution: first-round CFL draft pick Enock Makonzo.

The defensive mad scientist traded away the number one pick in the draft and his shot at dynamic edge-rushing linebacker Tyrell Richards to move back to fourth overall and select the Coastal Carolina defensive back he coveted, with the express purpose of combatting CFL rule changes.

“His value got driven up when we found out that they were going to reduce the hashes,” Jones said on Edmonton radio last week. “Your WILL linebacker spot becomes very closely linked with the SAM linebacker spot out to the wide field, because essentially you’re playing in the middle of the field. You can’t just have one nickel/SAM, you’ve got to have almost a second one on the other side.”

“We’ve always played with undersized players, like Marcus Ball and some DB-type guys, but now it’s going to be even a smaller type of guy that’s good in space [that plays that role] because they can put formation into the boundary.”

At five-foot-eleven and 195 pounds, Makonzo is too small to be considered for a traditional weakside linebacker role, but he’s born to play the newly hybridized one. A standout for the Chanticleers’ defence, he played essentially the same position in college — dubbed the SPUR linebacker. Makonzo covered the slot, played force against the run, and occasionally rushed the quarterback, earning quite the reputation in the NCAA.

“He’s a guy that’s very highly thought of in the United States. The coaches really liked his game, they really like him as a player,” Jones noted. “He was an intense player, had 60-something tackles one year and 70-something tackles another at a very high level.”

At Edmonton Elks rookie camp, he’s lived up to the billing, trying his hand at a variety of roles rarely held by Canadians.

“So far I’ve been playing a lot of positions here. I’ve been playing everything from WILL to SAM to halfback, but I like to play everywhere,” Makonzo said following Day 2 of camp. “As long as I can help the team win, I’m gonna go there.”

It’s a lot to put on the plate of a rookie who might have simply been thrown in at safety in other schemes, but the Montreal native has picked up the system quickly.

In college, he was known for playing like a bat out of hell — occasionally to his detriment — but that is the core tenet of the Elks’ new system. Chris Jones puts players like him in positions to succeed and he’s loving every minute of it.

“When you’ve got a coach like Chris Jones, it really helps you because he not gonna make stuff complicated for his defence. It’s really simple and fast and aggressive,” Makonzo said. “I definitely like what we are doing right now. So far, I feel like it’s one of the best defences I’ve been in.”

Having played the Canadian game growing up, he has an advantage over other NCAA prospects and is setting himself up to have an early impact as a rookie. Makonzo’s versatility will get him on the field and knowing the ins and outs of every position will only help him going forward.

“I feel like when you know football and what you’re doing, it’s not that hard,” he remarked. “The game itself is easier when you know what everybody’s doing.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.