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Switching teams: Eskimos’ linebacker Mike Cornell is now practicing as a fullback

Andrew Bucholtz
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Mike Cornell (#49) is switching from linebacker to fullback with Edmonton this season.

Typically in football, you're an offensive player or a defensive player, and you stick on that side of the ball for your entire career. Sometimes there are switches involved, though, and that's the case with the Edmonton Eskimos' Mike Cornell, who's switching sides this week for the third time in his football career. Cornell starred as a CIS linebacker with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, but then switched to fullback when the Stampeders acquired him as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He went back to linebacker when the Eskimos picked him up in 2011, but now he's returning to offence and lining up at fullback again (while still continuing to contribute on special teams). Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed told Gerry Moddejonge of The Edmonton Sun Cornell's switch is to give the team more depth behind starting fullback Calvin McCarty:

“The luxury we have with Mike Cornell is when he was in Calgary, they worked him as a fullback,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed. “When we signed him, we knew that was one of the things he had on his resume.

“Right now, given our situation, we want to make certain we secure ourselves at that position so if something were to happen to Calvin (McCarty), we’re not out certain packages. Given (Cornell’s) football IQ and given the fact he’s already worked there, we felt he was the best candidate.”

Cornell is taking the switch in stride, but his former teammates were ribbing him about it Wednesday. Moddejonge relates that he heard calls of "Cornpuff, Cornball, Corned Beef and Corn on the Cob" from nearby lockers while interviewing the Eskimos' newest fullback. Cornell seemed to stay focused, though, and he told Chris O'Leary he doesn't think it will be difficult to adapt to a fullback's role again:

"Offence is all about execution and defence is all about execution as well. ... But on defence you get a bit more freedom to make plays. ... On offence, you just have to execute. You’re blocking and you’re running people down instead of tackling. ... It’s similar stuff, similar concepts, and I still remember that. I just have to get in there and get reps."

It used to be common to see the same player lining up on offence and defence in both Canadian and American football, but there haven't been many who have played on both sides of the ball since the days of Jerry Keeling and Chuck Bednarik. That's because offences and defences have become rather complicated, making it more usual to see players move positions on one side of the ball than switch to the other side. Even famed recent two-way stars such as Deion Sanders, Troy Brown and Julian Edelman tended to be used more regularly on one side of the ball than the other. It's highly unlikely we'll see Cornell contribute as both a linebacker and a fullback in the same game, as he'll be practicing with the offence rather than the defence now, but it's still interesting to see how much experience he has on both sides of the ball. This is a bit of an unconventional move for Cornell and Edmonton, but it's one that could help him get on the field more, and it's one that could potentially give the team some more depth. That's smart thinking from the Eskimos to know their players' backgrounds and skills and be ready to use them in unusual ways, and it may well pay off this season.

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