- Free Agency
Troy Smith only wanted to revive an Alouettes’ pre-season tradition, but I had other intentions. Hook him up to the CFL.ca lie detector test.
(DISCLAIMER: no former Heisman Trophy winners were harmed in the writing of this column.)
The official team introduction in downtown Montreal on the eve of the pre-season home opener spoke volumes. While Chad Johnson may have won some of the loudest cheers on stage, only Troy Smith represented the players at the microphone.
“We’ll throw the air out of the ball,” he promised. But the Alouettes need more than just good intentions.
So I hook the electrodes to Troy. He must tell the truth.
Having heard the tales of Anthony Calvillo’s early morning study sessions in the bowels of Olympic Stadium and his late-night bedtime stories reading the playbook to his daughters until they fell asleep, I have one question in mind.
Troy will be zapped if he fails to deliver the truth.
“True or false: you have actually fallen asleep studying your playbook cramming late at night?”
“True, true, very true,” the 29-year old in his first full CFL season admits. Hold the shock therapy. “Too true…you try to put yourself in a situation where you fall in love with the offence. You can’t put enough time into studying the playbook.”
He’d better, or the Als’ hopes of getting back to a Grey Cup game will be zapped.
Knowing the playbook is one thing. Knowing when to recite chapter and verse is quite another. That’s where Troy must rely on another formerly prolific US college passer who once set his sights on inheriting Calvillo’s job.
Ryan Dinwiddie is only 4 years older than Smith, 8 years younger than AC. Recruited to the Als’ practice roster by Jim Popp around the time Smith was building Buckeye legend status, Dinwiddie had set an NCAA 1-A record 168.9 career efficiency rating, earning him looks from the NFL’s Bears and the NFL-Europe’s Hamburg Sea Devils. He was smart enough to realize Calvillo wasn’t going anywhere for years, but to the Hall of Fame one day.
Dinwiddie, who will call the plays for Troy, looked for opportunity elsewhere. Then it ate him alive.
His was one of the most meteoric crash and burns in CFL history. His first start in Canada—the 2007 Grey Cup for the Blue Bombers. He kept hope alive, only to be haunted by James Johnson’s hat-trick of interceptions.
Dinwiddie is a man who learns from his mistakes.
Now, from the wreckage of the 2013 season, his first as a coach, the man from Elk Grove, California must mind-meld with the Ohio legend.
Dinwiddie may have been raised for this. His Dad was a local legend high school football coach.
“He was defensive guy so I learned just as much from him,” Dinwiddie tells me after another long day of film study, hawkishly watching Troy’s reps followed by more film study.
Dinwiddie coaching mentors are many and varied. He was schooled by Dirk Koetter at Boise State, now the Atlanta Falcons’ OC (following a stint with the Jaguars). Ryan went from the gimmicky Wing-T in high school to a variation of the West Coast offence under Chris Peterson, now University of Washington head coach. Boise went 13-1, racking up more than 600 points scored.
Not coincidentally, Dinwiddie was hired in Montreal last year with a strong recommendation from Doug Berry, the Winnipeg coach forced by injury to give Ryan his Grey Cup sink-or-swim.
“Having Doug Berry let me call my own plays sometimes was a huge responsibility,” recalls Dinwiddie, yet to officially be given the title of Offensive Coordinator. “I’d go in with ideas and have to prove it on film. He wouldn’t allow you to do it if you didn’t put in the time.”
If you’re ever on the 5:30AM first train of the Metro system (Montreal’s underground subway) chances are you’ll see Dinwiddie heading into the office. Smith will arrive by 7.
“It’s very different calling plays for someone else,” Coach admits. “I’m still finding what he sees through his eyes and what’s opportune for him.”
“So much is still new to Troy…studying and learning how to be a pro up here. He saw Anthony and how much he put in the time preparing.”
Smith’s most impressive play of his pre-season debut was one you can’t draw up in a playbook. Flushed right, he rolled back deep, then left, zigged right again, back to the left, more squiggles and doodles than X’s&O’s finally resetting the GPS to throw down field for a 1st down. The Heisman magic can still extend plays.
“I would have liked him to check it down earlier,” Dinwiddie says with the emotionless tone of a “quality control” coach.
So the QB has been through his first CFL mini-camp, training camp and pre-season with a 1st-time playcaller. At least they avoided procedure and delay penalties. Sometimes any call is better than the wrong call.
Back to the lie detector. Last season during a Montreal visit, Don Mathews told me he thought Smith had the strongest arm he’d seen in Canada since Moon. So Troy, who was you’re QB idol as a kid?
“You’re going to laugh when I say this but….Warren Moon.”
“Stuff that he was doing with the Edmonton Eskimos then in the NFL…that led into my love for Dan Marino. Moon and Marino, those were my top guys.”