Just as Ticats strong side linebacker Markeith Knowlton seemed to be returning to his 2010 Most Outstanding Defensive Player form, an ankle injury put him on the shelf.
“He was getting back to that level, middle linebacker Rey Williams said.
“At the beginning of this season I was fully healed and I felt like my old self,” Knowlton said. “But stuff happens that you can’t control.”
It was clear that Knowlton quickly became comfortable in first year defensive coordinator Casey Creehan’s scheme. He made 19 tackles in the first four games of the season, a number he didn’t eclipse until Week 7 in 2011.
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There were a coupleof factors in Knowlton’s lack of play-making last year: The type of defence he was asked to play and the other was nagging injuries that had him playing at less than 100 per cent health for most of the season.
“Last year I was injured in more than one spot,” Knowlton explained. “And my stats were down because I played man the entire season.”
“The other teams just ran me off or to the other side of the formation – I couldn’t do anything. You can’t make any plays when your back is turned and you’re running down the field.”
“In Coach Creehan’s defence it’s about 50-50, you play man and some zone - I can free up, I can read what the offence is trying to do. It allows me, and us as a unit, to make plays and mix it up.”
Despite his comfort within the new defence, Knowlton has been forced to sit on the sidelines since suffering an ankle injury against Montreal on July 21. Admittedly, it has been tough for the 29-year-old to be off the field, unable to help his defensive unit, but he has experienced some joy in his life.
Knowlton’s wife Erica gave birth to the couples’ first child on July 30. A baby boy named Markeith Junior helped put Senior in a better frame of mind.
“It hasn’t all been so bad. I’ve been enjoying him and my wife,” the proud new dad said. “Me having a kid kept my mind calm and where it needed to be.”
Knowlton’s fellow linebacker running mate Williams has a teenage son of his own so the pair, who are close friends away from football, now share dad among other titles in their lives.
“Everybody who knows Markeith knows he’s kind of mean, he’s not the nicest guy,” Williams joked. “But he’s been a lot happier now that he has a son, that’s all he talks about.”
“I think kids change everybody for the better.”
As much as the two enjoy sharing stories about fatherhood they can’t wait to get back on the field together as well.
“It’s been me and JJ [Jamall Johnson] out there and it’s like we’re missing another leg,” Williams said.
“He’s one of the best defensive players in the league you can’t replace him. He brings a different dimension to our team. He can play two gaps, rush the quarterback, cover receivers and knows where the ball is and how to get there – just a smart football player.”
With the revolving door since Knowlton’s injury – rookie Brock Campbell five starts, Carlos Thomas four starts, and rookie Ricardo Colclough two starts - at the strong side linebacker position, his return to the starting lineup against Calgary should stabilize and enhance the production from the SAM ‘backer spot.
“That’s one of the most difficult spots on the field. You have to be able to cover receivers, tackle running backs, take on offensive linemen – it’s a hybrid, it’s a defensive back that’s also a linebacker,” Williams said.
“He’s seen it all. You play in the league as along as he has and you’ve seen every situation on defence. He won’t be running around with his head cut off, he knows where he needs to be.”