Regina Rams training camp (Day 3): Defensive Line Analysis

Day 3 Photos

After two hard days of power practices to kick off camp, the University of Regina Rams scaled it back a bit on Day 3 by knocking off some time from the scheduled three-hour session.Temperatures were a near-perfect 23°C on Saturday for the first day of camp, but by the end of Monday’s practice they had creeped up to 27°C and fatigue had begun to take its toll on several of the players.

“It was starting to look less like a football practice and more like a triage unit, so we decided to cut some time off today’s practice and we might shorten up tomorrow’s as well,” head coach Steve Bryce said. “We didn’t exactly ease into camp – we immediately got after it, we got what we wanted out of it, and now it’s time to back off just a bit.”

And even though it’s only the third day of camp, it’s already looking like the players are ready to hit someone else for a change. At the end of the one-on-one session that pitted the receivers against the defensive backs, veteran Mitchell Picton had seen enough flaring tempers and gathered both groups for a gentle reminder that they’re all teammates.

When asked to identify some standouts from Day 3, Bryce first went with running backs Atlee Simon and Blake Anaka.

“Atlee is such a fluid runner, sometimes he’ll make a play look like we drew it up a certain way when it was actually a mistake on our part,” Bryce said. “He just has a knack for making even broken plays look beautiful. And I’m continually impressed with Anaka – you see him on the inside run and in team period giving 100% on every play. He’s inspiring to watch. He’s an undersized back, but he’s strong, tenacious, and has really bought in.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Bryce thought that Zack McEachern was solid from start to finish and also said that Brody Dirk had another good day on the field. He also liked what a pair of nose tackles brought to Monday’s session, including projected starter Bryce McKinnon and fourth-year lineman Thomas Lill.

A pair of newcomers from the Okanagan Sun also caught Bryce’s eye on Day 3, including receiverThomas Huber and defensive back Cord Delinte.

“I knew what we had with (former Winnipeg Rifles defensive back) Braedy Will coming in and he hasn’t disappointed one bit, but I’ve been extremely impressed with both Delinte and Huber,” Bryce said. “They’ve both come here, are fitting in like glue, and it’s been outstanding to watch these two over the first couple of days.”

For each day of practice leading up to the Aug. 25 exhibition game against the University of Calgary in Medicine Hat, we’ll take a brief look at the on-field session as well as a more in-depth look at one of the positions. Today we take a closer look at the defensive line –

Coached by Greg Nesbitt, the defensive line has a different feel this season in terms of both experience and depth. All three projected starters on the line – McKinnon at nose and Grey McKenand Eric Wicijowski at the two tackle positions – have made significant contributions the past two seasons.

And none of the three are graduating this year, either. Though it seems like he’s been around forever, McKinnon – who hails from Water Valley, Alta. and started a trend of Cochrane High School players coming to the U of R – is the elder statesman of the group in his fourth year with the Rams. Wicijowski and McKen are both in their third seasons of CIS eligibility. Wicijowski has now started 11 consecutive games for the Rams, while McKen got his first Canada West starts last year after an injury to Tyler Perkins.

“I think our line is much improved from last year,” defensive coordinator Sheldon Gray said. “It’s obvious that the veterans we got back have hit the weight room real hard to get stronger and better. McKinnon’s always in there battling, McKen is the strongest guy on our team right now, and I think Wicijowski has a chance at being named a conference all-star this year. And beyond those guys, we’ve really brought in some pieces that are going to help right away.”

A couple of those new pieces are Kerrick Huggins and Nicholas Dheilly. Huggins was a highly touted recruit coming out of Skyline High School in Dallas and comes to the Rams following two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. Dheilly – a Regina product from powerhouse LeBoldus – originally signed with the University of Saskatchewan, but committed to the Rams in the days leading up to camp.

“Kerrick has size, strength, and power and he’s a guy that has the ability to come in here and help us immediately,” Gray said. “And Dheilly coming to us obviously is going to help down the road, but he’s already a great pass rusher and we’ll use him situationally this year.”

The Rams also have three returning players that Gray expects to push hard for playing time. Lill showed up to camp in excellent shape and is currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind McKinnon at nose tackle, while Ajai Washington and Matt Moore are both back for their second season with the Rams. Washington’s size and quickness will see him used as a pass rusher, while Gray said that Moore worked out hard in the offseason and will push for time behind Wicijowski and Huggins.

Very active and very vocal, Terry Giovanetti has been noticeable in camp after coming over from the Regina Thunder. Besides Dheilly, the Rams also have a pair of first-year linemen in camp including Eric Eads from Fairbanks, Alaska by way of Jireh Prep in North Carolina and LeBoldus product Zach Eltom.

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