If you think all the Alouettes did during the CFL Draft was fill an organizational need for Canadians on the defensive side of the ball, you’d be reaching the obvious conclusion.
Jim Popp, of course, will always find a way to outfox obvious.
Holding the third and fifth overall picks in Monday’s CFL Draft, the savvy GM touched almost every corner of the Draft spectrum with his picks.
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With his two first round choices, Popp selected a pair of stars from the University of Calgary program in linebacker Mike Edem and running back Steven Lumbala.
He then looked South of the Border and took Rice DL Hosam Shahin in the second round and followed that up by picking UCONN rush end Jesse Joseph in the third, Quebec native Nicolas Boulay and another Dino Mike Klassen in the fourth, OL Jake Piotrowski in the fifth, University of Montreal offensive lineman Simon Legare in the sixth and capped off the draft by choosing Saint Mary’s receiver Damone Blackman in the seventh.
At the end of the day, Popp seemed almost ecstatic with his day.
“Mike Edem will have a role on special teams and he can compete for a job at Will linebacker or safety, while Steven Lumbala could be another ratio changer in the backfield,” said Popp regarding his two prized first round picks.
“To be honest we’re thrilled to get both and would have been happy with only one or the other.”
Standing tall at six-foot-one, 200-pounds, Edem is confident to the point of brashness. Born in Nigeria and raised in Brampton, ON, he’d been mentored by Stampeders linebacker Junior Turner since his days playing pee-wee football and with the Brampton Bulldogs varsity squad at the ripe age of 16.
“Feels like all the work I’ve put in is finally worth it,” said Edem at a gathering of Dinos in full draft celebration mode.
“I’m ready. I don’t think I have anything left to prove.”
Edem is not saying he’ll steal a starting job, but he may be capable of it under a new defensive scheme devised by defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe.
He’d been on the move his whole life in a sense; leaving the Toronto area for Quebec’s Champlain College then heading to McGill for a year until he left the Montreal University for Calgary.
Turner was already a Stampeder by then, but their schedules were too busy for a close reconnection.
“I wanted a fresh start, I needed to mature…I was making mistakes at 19,” he said of his move to the West prior to the 2010 season.
Now Montreal is his home again. Turner was among the first to call on Draft Day.
“Training camp should be fun… it will feel like home,” said Edem regarding the prospect of entering the league with both Klassen and Lumbala.
“Klassen’s a hard working, high motor guy. Lumbala – he’s the hardest running back I’ve ever had to tackle,” he admitted. “You really have to get low to bring him down.”
Popp couldn’t agree more with his top draft pick.
“He’s an outstanding blocker,” said Popp of Lumbala, knowing better than anyone that a tailback’s top priority in Montreal’s backfield is to assist in the protection of QB Anthony Calvillo.
“You’ll see the stats; he has great hands and is an all-around back. The one thing he does really well is block…and that’s a big deal for us.”
Popp also offered his admiration to University of Calgary Head Coach Blake Nill, who should take on a bulk of the credit for instilling a pro-like setting in his program.
“The Dinos are really coached well; they have a great thing rolling just like Laval does. There are some prospects that didn’t get drafted who could have or should have. We had interest in drafting two other guys.
“They (Nill and his coaching staff) need to be commended for that.”
Just over 3,500 KMs East of Calgary in Sherbrooke, Boulay – the lone Vert et Or draftee – was happy to be staying close to home.
“I was expecting a fourth-round pick, but I was just happy to see my name called. I was telling myself I have as much chance as the first-round guy,” said the Magog, QC native.
“I went to an Als’ game two years ago, my brother (current free agent Mathieu Boulay) was playing for Saskatchewan…I’ve been watching them on TV,” he added.
If Als fans are looking towards a current CFLer for a comparison of their newest linebacker, Boulay believes he has a perfect match.
“I would compare myself to JC Sherritt, smaller guy but always running sideline to sideline. I’m strong but my strength is covering,” he said.
Another confident draft pick the Als managed to dig up from a deep list was Blackman, a speedy and rangy receiver out of the AUS conference.
“We took a young man that is by far the fastest player in the draft. He can flat-out fly, he has world-class speed but he’s still learning the game,” said Popp.
Blackman, who wasn’t at the 2013 Combine, believes he’s faster than Blue Bombers draftee Kristopher Robertson who registered a 4.423 40-time at the Combine, the fastest among all participants.
“I’d like to say so, I feel I’m quicker than Kris Robertson,” he said.
Confidence aside, Blackman is thrilled for an opportunity to haul in passes from one of the CFL’s all-time greats and learn from receivers, who like him, use their size to their advantage.
“I’m really excited to join a team with such a great QB like Calvillo, a winner. Those massive receivers…I can learn from them and be physical.”