Until he arrived at Alouettes training camp in June, Scott Paxson had no idea about the Canadian game being “wider, longer, faster.”
But the six-foot-four, 298-pound defensive lineman has learned a cardinal rule as Canadian as saying “eh”: “We have to play the best football at the right time and we can be the hot team in the playoffs,” he said.
|Bringing the Noise|
Paxson was certainly at the right right place in the right time in the trenches for the Als’ dramatic goal-line stand Sunday against the Riders, one that saw him record his first two CFL sacks.
“I feel like I’m still shaking off some rust...not in terms of football awareness, but playing in the games,” says the Philly.
“That was really only my third game. Long season? Hell it’s a beginning...it’s Game four for me (against Edmonton Saturday). My best football is ahead of me.”
His last sack came with the Cleveland Browns in 2011, but there was no sack celebration amidst the “Angry Birds” of the Alouette defence that inflicted a total of four sacks and 16 hits counted by defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe.
“Sack celebrations are just not my thing,” says Paxson. “I’m all business. Sacks are what I get paid to do. Some of the guys got on me. I’m more than happy to watch them.”
He’d kept an eye on the CFL in recent years, and the Alouettes had kept an eye on him as well.
Now he’s part of a Montreal defence that is #1 against the run (4.7/attempt) and #2 in fewest yards, 1st downs and touchdowns allowed.
Paxson had to be a quick study after leaving his college 4-3 scheme for the Steelers’ 3-4. Pittsburgh veterans like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel helped him out.
Concidently, another ex-Steeler Keith Willis is the Als’ defensive line coach, encouraging Paxson’s new lease on football life.
“We both came out of college undrafted,” points out Paxson. “As a free agent you’re looked down upon. You have to make your own way. No one reads about you, no one knows about you. But Coach Willis is among the Steelers all-time sack leaders.”
“He’s not a quick twitch guy, but he can really push the pocket,” says interim Head Coach and GM Jim Popp, who scouted Paxson himself.
“For a d-lineman he has to get used to that first step and getting your hands in. We’ve tried to get him up here for a number of years.”
“He’s a great guy...you wouldn’t even know he’s next to you because he’s so quiet.”
Paxson says giving a yard is an adjustment, and he figured it gives any offence the edge by the goal-line. Defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe insists Paxson is poker-facing it.
“He must be pulling your leg because every practice we open by touching the goal line, that’s very important for us,” says Thorpe, who has impressed in his first CFL season as a DC in his second tour of duty with the Alouettes.
“We protect our goal-line and we take that very seriously. I think that’s reflected in how we play in goal line situations.”
True enough: the Als are ranked third in stingy Red Zone D.
Paxson is impressed with Thorpe’s knack for dialing up the right blitz package at the right time.
“I’m just starting to realize how good a mind he has...the picture he can draw up and the in-game decisions he makes are amazing.”
“We do different things; he likes to show different looks. I’m the nose, but I might be over centre, tackle or guard. I know what I’m doing before the snap. I have to get him before he gets me.”
Like Paxson, Als defensive end Aaron Lavarias wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the season, but has fired up his game.
“It’s like we’re plug and play,” says Thorpe. “The guys understand the system and when they get the opportunity they do very well.”
Getting the players to buy in and implement the system should win Thorpe, a DC at the Université de Montréal last year, status as leading in-house candidate for a head-coaching interview in 2014.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” insists Thorpe, schooled under Don Mathews a decade ago. “I’m only thinking about winning the next down. That’s what I tell our players- ‘win the next down.’”
One year does not a guru make, just as one upset win does not a season make. Paxson is taking a coach’s mentality---don’t be content with your accomplishments.
“I feel like for four quarters we haven’t played consistent. We came close to that Sunday.”
“We understand who is playing better at certain times, but when it comes to the common goal we know we need each other. That’s what makes it easier to stay together.”
“That’s what we’re hoping, that’s the game plan. The best is yet to come.”
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.