Landry: Als’ defence has some Iron Mike in them
There’s a little Mike Tyson in that Montreal Alouettes’ defence, and that is by design, apparently.
Alouettes Defensive Coordinator Noel Thorpe likes to show his players video of the former heavyweight boxing champion in action, doing so on a number of occasions this season, including the week prior to his crew’s devastatingly disruptive performance in last Saturday’s Eastern Final win over the Toronto Argonauts.
It worked so well that maybe he’ll do it again this week, as the Als continue preparations ahead of Sunday’s meeting with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 110th Grey Cup game, at Tim Hortons Field, in Hamilton.
If you think those videos were shown in order to pump up that ultra-aggressive and hard-hitting Montreal defence by showing the furious attack that Tyson was famous for, you could be excused for that.
It’s an easy conclusion to draw. That Alouettes’ D has been hell unleashed for most of this season, and it’s a group that withered the Argos with lightning bolt after lightning bolt last week, something that Tyson was also famous for.
But it is not about the aggression, really. Not entirely, anyway.
“Mike Tyson was also really good with his technique, his fundamentals and all that stuff,” said lineman Mustafa Johnson. “That’s what (Coach Thorpe) more emphasizes with the videos.”
“Videos showing us how he prepared and then a fight that followed. How his practice approach affected his game approach, you know what I mean?
How he did the same thing in practice and that carried over and translated into the performance.”
The Alouettes defence has had a sensational season in being disruptive to opposing offences, causing turnover havoc with a mix of schemes and packages meant to confound, backed with speed, with effort, and with, yes, some fury.
But also, preparation. Meticulous preparation.
“Our message is: ‘success is in the dirt.’ and that phrase means it all starts in practice,” said Thorpe, launching into an explanation of why Tyson film sessions can play a part in the process he uses to prepare his defence for a game.
“I think the Mike Tyson video speaks for itself,” said Thorpe in reference to how images of Tyson shadow-boxing could be used to communicate a message to his players. “When you see him in the ring, with nobody else there, how violent and how technique-sound he is, that’s it.”
“And then, when the opportunity presents itself, the physicality is there.”
Against the Argos in the Eastern Final, the Alouette defence was responsible for an absolutely astounding nine turnovers, including two interceptions that were hiked back for touchdowns, and two more that gave the Montreal offence prime field position. There was a fumble recovery. And there were four turnovers on downs.
It is a defence that was good to begin with and then became great as the season progressed and has now made it to the Grey Cup in red-hot mode, hoping to do to the Blue Bombers what they did to the Argos last Saturday.
During the regular season, Montreal’s defence scored touchdowns on either interceptions or fumbles nine times. They stood second in the CFL in total turnovers created with 48, including 22 interceptions and 14 fumbles forced.
“If somebody’s getting tackled, you better believe somebody’s punchin’ at the ball,” said veteran defensive lineman Almondo Sewell, painting a picture of the full force, attention to detail defence that Thorpe wants his Alouettes to play.
“He points it out on tape,” said Sewell of Thorpe. “‘I don’t see a punch, I don’t see a punch, I don’t see a punch.’ Been teaching us since day one.”
The team sees plenty of punches when Thorpe fires up the Tyson video and using it as a teaching tool and motivator was the right move for him to make, according to linebacker Tyrice Beverette.
“It’s something that we all have in common, something that we all have interest in, which is boxing,” said Beverette, Montreal’s team nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player this season. “Everybody knows Mike Tyson.”
You then get a clear sense from Beverette that Thorpe’s point about what people truly know about Tyson’s boxing has resonated with the team.
“Most guys say he’s a hard puncher,” said Beverette, “he’s a knockout puncher.”
“But it’s bigger than that. A lot of people don’t give him credit on his (footwork) and that’s something that Coach Thorpe preaches. Everything starts from ground up and that’s just the message he tries to send to us.”
Footwork. It’s a pillar of what Noel Thorpe instills in his players and he’s found he could really drive the point home with video of Mike Tyson in the ring. He throws in a couple of other greats from other sports, too, holding up Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter as perfect examples of athletes who paid tireless attention to how they used their feet and legs.
“Mike Tyson was known for his footwork,” said Thorpe, holding court at the Alouettes’ Media Day on Wednesday. “We show videos of his footwork and talk about how everything starts from the ground up and how important it is.”
“We’re talkin’ technique here,” he continued. “How important it is for our feet to be in the ground and play with cleats in the ground. And that’s where it all starts. Where your power comes from.
“We talk about how disruptive we need to be,” continued Thorpe. “The disruption comes from being able to get twelve hats to the football. So that’s relentless in our pursuit, but also, when we arrive, arrive with impact. Those things that we show out of what Mike was doing, and how his power was generated from the floor, and how he unloaded his hips, and how he finished, it’s quite something to watch.”
It’s not all about technique, though. There is something to the notion that a football defence needs an attitude that might mirror that of a boxer. Call it a predisposition for relentlessness and a desire to dominate.
“I talk a little about ruthlessness and what that means,” said Thorpe.
“That’s a single-minded focus.”
“We’ve got a great group of guys that are determined and relentless football players.”
Those qualities are something the Als defence has had in common with a certain dominant boxer. And now, though a video presentation from their coach, they have the footwork to go along with them.