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Henoc Muamba remembers it was around Week 3 or Week 4 that he realized just how special defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was.
Slowik, in his first season coaching in the CFL after spending over 30 years bouncing around the NCAA and NFL, decided he wanted to see exactly what he was working with on defence.
He lined his players up in their respective positions and then asked them to do different assignments in certain schemes that Muamba explained would accentuate each individual’s strengths.
“Patrick (Levels) didn’t change necessarily positions and Bo Lokombo didn’t change positions but within a scheme where Lokombo was doing Pat’s job and Pat was Lokombo’s job, he switched them and said, ‘hey, you would be better at doing that,'” Muamba said following the team’s walkthrough at Olympic Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
“I just thought it was genius. He’s been doing that throughout the season. It wasn’t necessarily that MIKE (middle linebacker) was playing WILL (weak side linebacker) or defensive end was playing linebacker, it was more of the job that they do.”
Asking each player to do what they’re best at, instead of doing certain assignments because that’s what’s always been done at that position, allowed every player on Montreal’s defence the chance to succeed.
Every player, including Muamba himself.
Muamba, in his eighth CFL season, has been a constant presence so far in 2019, swarming around the field making tackles and wreaking havoc on opposing offences. In 15 games, the 30-year-old has tallied 77 defensive tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles.
But it’s not just the statistics that the middle linebacker’s defensive coordinator likes. It’s the leadership that Muamba brings to the table.
“First thing, he’s a coach on the field,” Slowik said of Muamba. “It’s just like having someone out there that no different than coaching in the meetings and then being able to play at the same time. He’s phenomenal. I’d say there’s no question in my mind that he’d be undoubtedly the very best at those two things.”
The six-foot, 230-pound linebacker has also worked on his pass coverage skills this season, dropping back when he needs to in order to break up a play down field.
Coach Slowik took notice of the veteran perfecting his craft as the season progressed.
“He’s most definitely gotten better in his coverage this year, as opposed to previous years,” said Slowik. “The biggest thing that he does too is he controls the whole defence. He can get us out of bad plays and into good plays and things of that nature. And then when the ball’s snapped, he’s an awesome performer.”
With this being Slowik’s first season coaching in the CFL, he’s leaned on the veterans of the group like Muamba, John Bowman and Tommie Campbell. It’s that open communication between the coach and his players that Muamba appreciates.
“What he did was, he brought his system, he installed it and he created an environment where guys can ask questions,” said Muamba. “Guys are comfortable to ask questions and then also what he’s done that I’ve found is really cool, as the season progressed from training camp on, he was leaning on a lot of the veterans on defence. You’re not used to seeing here (in the CFL). It’s not always the case with defensive coordinators. They like to do what they do.”
Slowik takes wisdom from his players but it’s just as important for him to give it right back.
“Every day three when we have a home game, he does a little something. I started calling it Slowik’s Story,” said Muamba. “We run to the bench at the end of practice, we sit down and he gives us some type of motivational or inspirational story.
“This past week, he talked about the line that we’re supposed to cross. He made us stand on the line and he said if you’re crossing over this line you’re agreeing to get into a world where you have to be relentless and you have to fight and things like that. We all chose to cross the line.”
The entire team will have to be relentless for the rest of 2019 as they fight for the final prize given out in late November. With just three games left on the regular season schedule, Montreal has already clinched a home playoff date – thanks in large part to an outstanding defence performance in Week 17 against the Stampeders that punched their ticket to the post-season.
They’ll face the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night and some veterans will sit out of the contest, including defensive end John Bowman. Despite the double blue being eliminated from the playoffs, those who do suit up for the Als will need to bring their best.
And Saturday night’s contest will be another opportunity for the rookie defensive coordinator to continue to learn the ways of the Canadian game.
“Probably the best way to describe it is a learning experience,” Slowik said of his first year north of the border. “I learn everyday, every week, every game. The players have helped as far as the transition goes and hopefully I’ve helped them in some areas too.
“It’s fun. I love it. It’s fast. It’s fast paced. It’s challenging. It’s fascinating.”