‘The sideline is not your friend’: boundary legend Dante Marsh adjusting to narrower hash marks as Riders coach

Screengrab courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

If you need a crash course on how to play boundary corner in the CFL, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable instructor than Dante Marsh.

The four-time all-star locked down the short side of the field for more than a decade with the B.C. Lions, racking up 33 career interceptions and a likely Hall of Fame bust in the next few years. However, as he begins his first stint as a CFL coach, Marsh is starting from scratch like everyone else.

The CFL’s new narrower hash marks are a point of emphasis in Saskatchewan Roughriders’ training camp, where Marsh is a guest coach as part of the league’s Diversity in Football program, and they will take some getting used to.

“I was in the boundary for 11 seasons, so it’s gonna be a little different in regards to the field dimensions, field side and boundary side. The boundary will be opened up a little bit more, so the sideline is not your friend as much as it used to be,” Marsh told the media Saturday. “Once you get rolling and you understand the little intricacies and nuances, it should be smooth.”

CFL defences have long used the boundary sideline as something of a 13th man — no Riders pun intended — knowing that the smaller space would allow a receiver to be forced out of bounds quickly. That becomes more difficult with the hash moved in towards the middle of the field, but it won’t be impossible.

“I think you still can because it’s also gonna make it harder for the quarterback,” Marsh said. “That’s a dead zone for the deep ball or the vertical pass outside the numbers, so you still can decrease that window.”

It won’t be the corner that experiences the biggest change though. With more space to the boundary and the opportunity for the multiple receiver concepts, the CFL’s traditional weakside linebackers could go the way of the dinosaurs.

“I think the WILL is gonna have to evolve into a more athletic guy, like the SAM,” Marsh noted. “You may see a down south, in the box, safety body type eventually playing that WILL backer as well.”

As for the safety, they’ll have a little more ground to cover thanks to the new landmarks.

“You gotta get on your horse,” Marsh laughed. “You can’t sit there. You can’t get fixated on receivers and route combinations. You gotta make sure you can eye that quarterback pretty well.”

All the adjustments will feel more natural with time and for American rookies, the narrower hashes will be far more familiar than the rest of the CFL rule book.

Marsh remembers well what that feels like, having broken into the league with the Lions back in 2004. For young players on the bubble, mentality matters much more than field adjustments.

“My mindset was the CFL’s gonna be my NFL, cause I had the NFL experience. I approached the game that way, seriously, as a professional and then it worked out,” Marsh recalled. “You have to come with the mindset of, ‘I’m not going back home.'”

It’s a mindset that he himself will be utilizing once again. After eight years of coaching at the junior college level — currently with Contra Costa College — and even a few guest stints with NFL teams, this is his first chance to work in the league he once dominated.

Asked if he’d like to coach full-time at the professional level, Marsh could only smile.

“All opportunities, they all welcome.”

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.