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Naylor: The Weekend Wrap and a look ahead at Week 3

Dave Naylor
7/11/2012 3:53:09 PM
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There is no perfect design for hiring a head coach in professional football.

But it's fair to assume that more than a few eyebrows were raised when last December the Saskatchewan Roughriders made Corey Chamblin the youngest head coach in the CFL in 29 years, fresh off his one and only season as defensive co-ordinator with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which followed stints as defensive backs coach in Winnipeg and Calgary.

Chamblin, who didn't turn 35 until the eve of training camp, in many ways has the classic background of a coach. He bounced around from team to team in the NFL, spending time with six organizations but playing just 11 games while relying on his smarts as much as athletic ability to keep himself employable.

His career highlight came when he blocked a punt for the Jacksonville Jaguars during a blowout playoff win over Miami in what turned out to be the NFL farewells of both Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson.

But during those years Chamblin's experience and approach as a player gave him what amounted to a running start in the coaching profession.

Throughout his time as a player, Chamblin had always tried to learn from his coaches by seeing the game from their perspective. It was an approach he took with him to the NFL where he would often help coach-up the players around him, the very same ones against which he was competing for a job.

He also got to work under some of the very best coaches there are, a list that includes Super Bowl-winning coaches Tony Dungy and Tom Coughlin, along with two assistants who would later become NFL head coaches in Mike Smith and Mike Tomlin.

It was Chamblin's experience under Tomlin especially that helped sharpen his focus on becoming a head coach, seeing in Tomlin – then the secondary coach with Tampa Bay – the same kind of young, energetic leader he believed he could become.

And no doubt it caught the attention of Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman when in January of 2011, when just days before the Steelers were to face the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, Tomlin took the time to call Saskatchewan and vouch for Chamblin's credentials as a head coach.

The Roughriders didn't hire Chamblin that winter. Taman's boss a year ago – Ken Miller – cast the deciding vote in favour of Greg Marshall at the time.

When things didn't work out for Marshall and the Roughriders – he was fired at 1-7 and replaced by Miller who led them to a 5-13 finish – Taman went and set his sites on Chamblin, whom he'd originally met back in 2007 when he was running the Blue Bombers and Chamblin was Winnipeg's secondary coach.

When Chamblin signed on with Saskatchewan, the Roughriders became his 11th pro football organization, preceded by Jacksonville, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Denver, Green Bay and Tampa Bay in the NFL as a player, a coaching career that began with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe, and then CFL stops in Winnipeg, Calgary and Hamilton.

Experience is one thing but Chamblin also seemed to have a unique gift for communication, a trait derived directly from his mother with whom he is so close that they speak every single day between Regina and Birmingham, Alabama.

When Chamblin was a young boy, he told his mother he wanted to be a psychiatrist. Later in life he thought of becoming a minister because it would give him an opportunity to touch people's lives.

The skills necessary to make it in either of those professions certainly have their applications to the coaching profession, where the abilities to understand, lead and motivate mean as much as any X's and O's.

Corey Chamblin has been in training as a football coach for a very long time. Even before he knew it.

Based on the early returns, he is more than ready.

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Some notes and thoughts on Week 2 and a look ahead into Week 3 of the CFL season:

Week 2 was a tough one on the injury front for some of the league's bigger names. From Calgary quarterback Drew Tate dislocating his shoulder to Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo bruising his, to Winnipeg losing both Alex Suber and Brandon Stewart in its secondary, the early part of this CFL season has been a reminder of how quickly a team's fortunes can change on a single play. There's no better example of that than the Edmonton Eskimos who lost receiver Adarius Bowman, likely for the season, after he tore both his ACL and MCL trying to make a tackle after a late-game interception by quarterback Kerry Joseph.

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Speaking of injuries, there are 77 players on the CFL's 9-game and 1-game injury lists heading into Week 3 of the season. If that sounds like an extraordinarily high number, it should. The truth is that maybe only about half that number of players are truly injured, the rest being healthy players stashed on injured lists as a means of teams artificially increasing the size of their rosters beyond the standard 46-man limit. (The best example being former South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia who was placed on Montreal's injured list, with the team telling the Montreal Gazette that Garcia had injured two fingers giving the peace sign as he came off the team bus.)

Edmonton alone entered play last week with 17 players on its injury lists but the Eskimos are far from the only ones who use the practice. But it's fair to suggest that a fair portion of the money Eskimo general manager Eric Tillman saved by trading away Ricky Ray has gone into building depth by stashing healthy players on the injury list. The idea is that this depth will come in handy when real injuries inevitably come to their starters. The trick is having the money to pay for that since only players on the 9-game (long-term) injury list have their salaries exempt from the cap. The league office, which used to frown upon the practice of stashing healthy players on injured lists, has no such problem with it nowadays. Its position is that if teams wish to spend their cap money by paying healthy players to sit, it's entitled to do so.

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Both CFL teams owned by David Braley (the Lions and Argos) managed 39-36 wins last week.

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Eskimo defensive tackle Ted Laurent is quickly becoming one of the most dominant Canadian players in the CFL.

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With Andre Durie's start of 14 catches for 194 yards, perhaps he'll get the respect to be considered among the league's top Canadian players.

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It's early this season, but here are seven players new to the CFL who have made an early impression.

Sam Hurl –  Leads the league in special teams tackles.
Abraham Kromah – Sask linebacker already has a sack and 12 tackles.
Demond Washington – 392 total return yards.
Chris Matthews – 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Dontrelle Inman – 126 yards, two touchdowns.
Kory Sheets – two touchdowns, 149 yards.
Chevon Walker – already had two "home run" style touchdowns, 169 total yards.

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More good news for the Toronto Argonauts coming off their 39-point output against the Calgary Stampeders: receiver Ken-Yon Rambo continues to rehab his achilles with a design on being ready to practice within two to four weeks. Rambo, who hasn't officially signed with Toronto, has been attending Argo practices as a spectator for the past two weeks and recently began doing some running on his own. The early returns on how he's feeling are reasons to believe he's on the road to recovery.

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We know that Winnipeg is now an NHL city but do the Bombers really have to start referring to injuries as either upper or lower body?

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What's wrong with the Blue Bomber defence and where is all that swagger? For a team that dominated defensively a year ago, Winnipeg had just one starter among its front-7 last week who was starting for the team in Week 2 one year ago.

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Sunday's one-point output by the Edmonton Eskimos re-ignited the debate about the Eskimos' decision to part with Ricky Ray in the deal that brought Steven Jyles from Toronto. To be fair, the trade which is often cited as being the swapping of quarterbacks was in fact the swapping of Ray for Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw, a draft pick, and the considerable cap space created by adding Jyles after Toronto had paid a portion of his salary for this season.

Still, given the importance of the quarterback role in the CFL, it's fair to compare the performance of Edmonton and Toronto quarterbacks this season. Here's where they rank after Week 2.

Ricky Ray

Pass Attempts: 79
Completions: 59
Completion percentage: 74.5
Total yards: 705
Touchdowns: 3
Interceptions: 2

Steven Jyles/Kerry Joseph

Pass Attempts: 61
Completions: 34
Completion percentage: 55.7
Total yards: 352
Touchdowns: 0
Interceptions: 1

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The Alouettes this week signed kicker/punter Brody McKnight, their first-round pick from a year ago. McKnight, who was released earlier this spring by the NFL's New York Jets, enters the picture where Sean Whyte would seem to have a firm grasp on the place kicking duties, coming off a year in which he hit on 86.5 per cent of his field goals. It's possible McKnight could be added to the roster to kick-off and/or punt. He also could wind up as trade bait given the Als depth at the position.

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It wasn't long ago that CFL teams were reaching to American kickers and punters to fill their needs, with players such as Damon Duval, Alexis Serna and Justin Medlock breaking into a position once reserved almost exclusively for Canadians. A big part of that was the league allowing each team three designated import players (Americans who play only on special teams.)

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Congratulations to the Canadian U-19 squad that defeated Team USA 23-17 on Saturday night in Austin, Texas, to win the International Federation of American Football Under-19 World Championship. Interesting that the quarterback of that team, Will Finch of Burlington, Ontario, who will attend the University of Western Ontario this fall, was a guest invitee at Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp this spring, despite having just graduated from high school.




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