- Free Agency
A lot of people spent last weekend going to the theatres watching either Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver or even Wonder Woman.
The movie of choice this week for Calgary Stampeder middle linebacker Alex Singleton is the BC Lions’ win over the Montreal Alouettes last Thursday night. Lions’ linebacker Solomon Elimimian has a starring role in the film, collecting a team-record 15 tackles which earned him a CFL Top Performer award.
In the film room Singleton is paying special attention to Elimimian and the part he played against the Als.
“I want to see how he played it,” Singleton said after a Stampeder practice. “What he does, what made the ball either go to him or not go to him. How he played off the running backs, what kind of cuts the running backs did based on how he played.”
Knowledge is power, so the better Singleton can understand what the Lions did in their 23-16 when over Montreal, the better prepared he can be when the Stampeders play in Montreal Friday night.
In just his second year in the CFL Singleton is already establishing himself as one of the best linebackers in the league. In three games this season he has collected 24 tackles. Only Elimimian has more with 29. The six-foot-two, 235-pound Singleton also has four quarterback pressures and a forced fumble to his credit.
The 23-year-old has already proven himself as good, but Singleton believes watching and learning from a player like Elimimian only makes him better.
“He’s a good player, he gets to the ball,” Singleton said. “He’s always around the football, he’s always making plays. Those are a lot of the things you want to replicate.
“You can tell he’s always talking, he’s the leader on that defence. All those things you want to take from him and add them on your game.”
A lot of people only see brawn when they watch a player like Singleton unload big hits. They might miss the brain that goes into the position.
Singleton spends a lot of time studying his opponents. He uses that knowledge to bark out defensive alignments between plays.
“I would say I don’t shut up before the play,” he said. “I’m always talking, trying to get guys lined up, trying to tell them from the film study what’s going to happen.
“I try to make sure everybody is on the right page, try to take an educated guess on what they are going to run.”
Singleton had some big shoes to fill last year after the Stampeders released eight-year veteran Juwan Simpson. The popular Simpson helped Calgary win two Grey Cup and twice was a CFL West All-Star.
The transition was made easier when Simpson was a guest coach during last year’s training camp.
“Instead of not knowing who I was trying to fill in for, what kind of leader he was, I got to actually know him and learn what he knew and what he saw during certain plays,” said Singleton. “It made it a lot easier.
“It was fun. He saw the game like I did. Not just go on the field and run around and hit people (but) the X’s and O’s behind it. He helped me understand a lot of it faster than I think I would have without having him.”
Being a linebacker is following in a family tradition for Singleton. His father, uncle and younger brother all played the same position in high school.
“It’s a family thing to hit people,” Singleton laughed. “Linebacker was the spot to do it.”
The native of Thousand Oaks, Calif., followed a twisting road to the CFL. He attended Montana State University where he had 246 tackles and four interceptions.
Singleton wasn’t taken in the 2015 NFL draft although he did spend time in camps with the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s not a one-person defence. If I’m in coverage all the time and all I do is make tackles, that’s fine with me.”
Since his mother Kim was born in Toronto Singleton qualified for dual citizenship. In October 2015 he became a Canadian citizen and the Stampeders selected him sixth overall in the 2016 CFL draft.
Singleton said being a citizen of two countries has advantages.
“I can have more acceptance I guess,” he said. “Instead of just one country I can wreck another one.
“When the Olympics are happening, who ever is winning I can pick them. It makes it a lot easier.”
Singleton played 18 games in his first season in Calgary, including 10 starts at middle linebacker. He had 65 defensive tackles, including five for a loss, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four knockdowns and nine special-team tackles. In last year’s Grey Cup loss to Ottawa he had nine tackles and recovered a fumble.
The one thing Singleton hasn’t done is sack a quarterback.
“They just always fall before I get there,” he said. “You know they will come. We have guys that are getting all the sacks.
“If I ended the season with 100 tackles and 20 sacks we’re not going to win a lot of games because that means no one else is doing anything. It’s not a one-person defence. If I’m in coverage all the time and all I do is make tackles, that’s fine with me.”
Now into his second season Singleton is becoming more accustom to the tendencies of the teams and players he faces each week.
“I know when we are playing a certain team or a certain coordinator what to look for, what they do,” he said. “Last year was the first time around learning from scratch.
“Now I know what certain running back can do, what certain quarterbacks do, offensive lineman how to play off them.”
Looking ahead to this week’s game, Singleton knows Montreal has the league’s leading rusher in Tyrell Sutton, sure-handed receivers in B. J. Cunningham and Tiquan Underwood, and a veteran quarterback in Darian Durant. He also knows about the Al’s Mack truck of a slotback Nik Lewis.
“He brings a bigger punch,” Singleton said about tackling Lewis.
“Me and Nik will definitely have choice words. He’s a good dude. We give it to each other because it’s game time.”