March 07, 2011
Looking at the format of the CFL's annual E-Camp (which wrapped up Sunday), it would be easy to think it's all about the numbers. Prospects were put through their paces in everything from the bench press (where Laurier offensive lineman Michael Knill set a E-Camp record with 47 repetitions at 225 pounds) to the 40-yard dash (where York cornerback Andre Clark put up the weekend's best time with a mark of 4.50 seconds), and those results will certainly have an impact on what teams think of them. As I discussed in yesterday's piece, though, there's much more to where players are chosen in the draft than just the numbers they put up at the combine.
One of those other factors is the interviews team personnel conduct with players at the combine. Of course, those of us on the outside don't have any access to those, and even if we did, it would be almost impossible to evaluate them quantitatively; each team has their own ideas of what they're looking for in prospective players. Still, team interviews at their core are about finding out more about the players as people; their background, their work ethic, their ability to be part of a team and their ability to adapt to the roles they're asked to play in the CFL. Each of the players at the camp took a different path to get there, and each of them has their own unique story. Thanks to the efforts of the journalists covering the camp, we can get an idea of where some of these prospects are coming from. Here are five of the most interesting players at this year's E-Camp, with their position, school and some thoughts on what makes them intriguing:
— Thomas Hall, linebacker, Manitoba: Hall's had his own experience with traumatic illness, as his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during his Grade 12 year when schools were beginning to recruit him. As Justin Dunk details in this CFL.ca piece, Hall chose to attend the University of Manitoba so he could stay close to home, and he and his family became heavily involved in fundraising for cancer research. They were instrumental in the formation of the Challenge for Life campaign, which has raised millions of dollars for cancer research through annual 20-kilometre walks. Hall's also worked with Project Echo, which helped deliver food and other supplies to 20 families in Winnipeg at Christmas last year. He's won the Russ Jackson Award (named after the legendary CIS and CFL quarterback, who's pictured above presenting the award to Hall in 2009) the last two years as the CIS player who best exemplifies academic achievement, football skill and citizenship , and he's been selected as a two-time academic All-Canadian. He's no slouch on the field either, as his stellar play for the Bisons and his presence at E-Camp demonstrates.
— Marco Iannuzzi, wide receiver, Harvard: As Arden Zwelling relates in this profile for CFL.ca, Iannuzzi's quite the interesting story. For one thing, you don't see many Ivy League football players with a shot to play professionally. You particularly don't see many who grew up in Calgary and were taught by CFL alumni like Larry Deck. However, the tale about what Iannuzzi did with the game ball he got after helping Harvard defeat Yale this year (namely, donating it to a woman who's battling cancer) would fit right in with the charitable acts of many CFL players. We'll see if he's able to make the transition to the pros.
— Marc Mueller, quarterback, Regina: Mark Masters has an excellent piece on Mueller in today's National Post. Mueller hasn't received the attention of the other Canadian quarterback at E-Camp, Ottawa's Brad Sinopoli (the 2010 Hec Crighton Trophy winner as the top CIS player, one of my five players to watch and one of the poster cases for the cause of Canadian quarterbacks), but he's quite an interesting player as well. He was second only to Sinopoli in passing yards per game this past season (304.6), and threw 14 touchdowns with only five interceptions (versus Sinopoli's 22 and 13). Mueller also had a substantially better completion percentage (65.5 per cent against Sinopoli's 61.1). He isn't as imposing physically (he's listed at 6'0'' and 200 pounds versus Sinopoli's 6'4'', 210-pound frame) but he has the skills to be quite a capable CFL player if given a chance. As Masters notes, he's also spent plenty of time around the league, particularly around Hamilton when his grandfather, legendary CFL quarterback and administrator Ron Lancaster was running the show there.
— Scott Mitchell, offensive lineman, Rice: Mitchell had an extra spotlight on him at this weekend's E-Camp thanks to being the highest-ranked prospect there (the CFL's rankings have him at #2; top-ranked prospect Philip Blake of Baylor didn't attend thanks to having a year of NCAA eligibility left). By all accounts, though, Mitchell impressed CFL teams both on and off the field at E-Camp. He delivered in the speed and power drills and was particularly impressive in one-on-one blocking, but also showed versatility that could allow him to play a number of different positions on the offensive line. His off-the-field story is quite interesting, too; Mitchell was the first of many Canadians to make an impact at Houston's Rice University, and he's demonstrated a lot of leadership and a solid ability to adapt over the years. Those qualities might be just as much to Mitchell's advantage as what he's shown in the on-field drills, and they're part of the reason the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (who hold the first overall pick) may be very interested in him.
— James Savoie, defensive back, Guelph: If Savoie stands out physically amongst the E-Camp invitees, it's not necessarily in a good way; listed at 5'9'', he's one of the two shortest players who took part in this weekend's events (the other is Concordia running back Edam Nyamadi). There's been a trend towards taller and bigger defensive backs lately, with some teams even rotating guys who started at linebacker into a hybrid LB/DB role (like the B.C. Lions have done very successfully with Korey Banks, who signed an extension with them recently), so it may be tough for Savoie to get a solid look in the draft. However, height isn't everything in football; Savoie's had a great CIS career with the Gryphons, earning three All-Canadian nods, and he's also represented Canada internationally at the 2005 and 2006 world junior football championships. He's a leader on and off the field, has constantly worked to improve his play and is adept at both covering and tackling. He isn't the most conventional prospect out there, but he could be an excellent addition to a CFL franchise willing to take a chance on him.