Training camp is the time to pinpoint your best roster. Many times, you know what position groups will be up for grabs, but other battles can appear, seemingly out of thin air.
When the Ottawa REDBLACKS released Patrick Levels on Tuesday morning, the sam linebacker position suddenly became available, opening the door for one of the young players to make their mark on the team.
Among a handful of other reasons, Dyce cites the strength of the REDBLACKS’ up-and-coming defensive backs as one of the reasons for the direction change, mentioning Douglas Coleman as a candidate primed to take the job.
“Douglas is a guy who has been here, and although he’s had some injury problems, he’s continued to progress,” Dyce said. “You can see the evolution of his game early in camp. He really competes.”
In the 2022 season, Coleman found his opportunity to see live action, suiting up in five games, and starting the final three games at the same sam linebacker spot he’s vying for at training camp. He recorded 18 tackles defensively, adding a sack in the REDBLACKS’ slim Week 19 loss against the Montreal Alouettes.
A rookie at the time, Coleman was able to use his limited reps in 2022 to build a foundation of comprehension in the CFL, which he hopes to tap into this season.
“I gained a lot more understanding of the game, and I was able to see a lot more that’s coming my way,” Coleman said. “I feel like it has prepared me this year to slow the game down so I can play a little bit faster.”
Although Coleman has taken many of the available reps, Dyce says the competition is far from over, and there are plenty of other options.
“You can look at other guys like Damon Webb,” Dyce continued. “He’s another guy who’s a big physical player and can play in the box. There’s a lot of different things you can do, a guy like Alonzo Addae plays a similar position, so those guys could likely jump in there.”
Webb, in particular, is now a veteran in the Canadian game, playing parts of three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and now the REDBLACKS. The Ohio State Buckeyes’ alumnus saw plenty of the field in 2022, playing in nine games, picking up 33 tackles and an interception.
His experience has helped prepare him for this moment, but sam linebacker is a new position for Webb nevertheless. It could take a few days for him to feel fully comfortable, but the goal is to get there as soon as possible, and even extend his knowledge to other defensive back positions.
“It’s a new position, and I’m going out there just trying to get a feel for it,” Webb said. “To be honest, I’m trying to learn every position on the back end, not just sam. It’s important to be a versatile defensive back, you need to cover, blitz, and tackle, and I pride myself on trying to be an-all around DB. I want to be a complete football player.”
For both players, previous experience is becoming handy in this training camp. With the change at Defensive Coordinator, Barron Miles has implemented different language and ideas into the playbook. The learning process is a little bit easier this time, and they can go out on the field and perform.
“Now I feel accustomed to the CFL game, and I’m just more comfortable,” Webb said. “It’s confidence. If you feel like you’re that man, then you have to go show it on the field. Don’t overthink, just go out there and ball.”
Neither player is an old dog in the league, however. Coleman comes in at just 24, and Webb at only 27, and they still have questions sometimes.
Thankfully, with veteran players like Abdul Kanneh, Justin Howell, and Money Hunter in the fold, there’s always someone with an answer.
“I’m going to the veterans and taking key points from them,” Coleman said. “I want to allow them to coach me, and be as coachable as possible so I can perfect my game.”
It isn’t just the veterans who are helping out. Sometimes, the questions can be answered by the person right next to you in the position battle. In the defensive backs’ room, there’s already a camaraderie and a sense of togetherness that leads everyone to chip in.
“We’re helping one another out, there’s no selfish guys,” Webb said. “Even though me and another dude are competing, we’re still helping one another out, we’re still communicating, and we’re still working on playing together as one unit.”
Friendly off the field and between reps, the competition still burns hot, despite the near-freezing weather outside.
“It’s football camp,” Webb said. “In my mind, nobody’s job is ever secure, anyone can take your job. The best man wins.”