Adherence to scheme equals success for team
IDEALLY, you are not supposed to judge a book, or a CFL prospect, by its cover, but since there are only 25 days until the regularseason opener against the Montreal Alouettes, many of the books in camp are going to have to be evaluated solely by the illustrations on the front.
With only two pre-season games to build a case, and not enough reps to go around, first impressions are critical in today’s CFL, as nobody has time to read to Chapter 2, and most are likely to draw their conclusions from what they’ve skimmed on the inside of the dust jacket.
So where does a new prospect go for guidance on how to nail that initial impression? While “being seen and not heard” is always a can’t-gowrong proposition for any new player to a team, it’s encouraging to hear highprofile veterans impart words of wisdom for how delicate this balancing act really is — even from those who already have their roster spots locked up. For not only do newcomers — rookies and veterans alike — have to learn a new playbook, they also have to learn how to get along with the social animal of the locker room.
Case in point, Justin Medlock, a shoe-in to take over the kicking duties on the Blue Bombers, showed a level of insight to these locker room dynamics few veterans are even aware of. In his first in-house scrum interview, Medlock said a couple of things that show he is a big-picture guy and has an understanding of the subtle nuances that need to be recognized to be part of a successful squad in the CFL.
When asked about what kind of winning ways he’ll bring to the team, he said, “Leadership, but you know it’s hard. I’m new, so I’m trying to fit in. Not have them adjust to me, right?” Those three sentences right there might be close to some of the most pointed and humble phrases ever uttered from a high-profile free agent addition, when discussing joining a new team. Medlock might have been instructed to help overhaul a losing culture and to change the fortunes and vibe of all things blue and gold, but you don’t show up in Week One with a bulldozer; you show up with a hard hat and a shovel. So many high-profile players sign with a new franchise and try to make the room adjust to them and their personality. They have little respect for those who were there before them, and little awareness for the group dynamics and leadership that already exist in the room.
One of the most common mistakes, and the downfall of many a veteran, is assuming the size of their contract and former successes equate to instant credibility in the locker room. All-star defensive end Jamaal Westerman also echoed the sentiments of Medlock in his initial presser when he reflected on last year, his first year with the team, and said, “Last year I was kind of tiptoeing around, trying to see who’s cool and who’s not cool.” A more subtle way of affirming that to get along, at least initially, you have to go along and walk softly. No matter what you bring to the table, nobody likes a new hire that just assumes control and respect before it is earned in the new postal code.
Talking about what he could share from the successes he experienced in Hamilton with the Ticats, Medlock said, “We did some good things in Hamilton. You know, my biggest thing is, guys have to buy in. You can’t complain, you’ve got to buy in, you got to go out, you got to execute.”
Once again, it may seem like everyday footballspeak, but there are layers and depth to these remarks. The thing that separates teams with talent that have success, and teams with talent that fail, is simply the buy-in. It doesn’t matter how many stars your roster has picked up, if they don’t fully commit themselves to the schemes and programs presented to them, they don’t have a chance to succeed.
For a season that has a lot of new, high-priced and expensive parts trying to come together and operate harmoniously on the same team, it’s encouraging to hear proof that many of them know exactly how it should be done.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.