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Thursday, November 26, 2015

REDBLACKS DEFENSE WANTS TO BE HEARD

Ottawa DC Mark Nelson inspects the Grey Cup
WINNIPEG - The fledgling Redblacks have wasted little time branding their defence.

Ottawa's defensive linemen and linebackers are dubbed Capital Punishment. The defensive secondary is known as D Block.

"There is definitely the same swagger but we go about things a little bit differently than D Block does,'' explained six-foot-two 251-pound defensive lineman Shawn Lemon.

"Capital Punishment is a little more hands on,'' he added with a menacing smile.

While the Edmonton Eskimos and head coach Chris Jones, a defensive guru, have occupied most of the defensive spotlight going into Sunday's Grey Cup, the Redblacks have their own defensive chops.

Overseeing the Ottawa defence on the sidelines - with help from head coach Rick Campbell - is veteran co-ordinator Mark Nelson.

Nelson, a Nick Nolte lookalike complete with gravelly voice, is old-school football through and through.

"An old, tough ball coach type of guy,'' said linebacker Damaso Munoz. "He's a great coach, man, and I'm happy to play for him.''

His late father, offensive tackle Roger Nelson, is on the Eskimos Wall of Honour. He played 13 seasons for Edmonton between 1954 and 1967, was named the league's Most Outstanding Lineman in 1959 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

Mark Nelson made his CFL debut in 1980 with Calgary, playing six seasons as linebacker and fullback before retiring in 1987 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

His oldest son Kyle Nelson, one of his kids, is a long snapper for the San Francisco 49ers.

Campbell brought Mark Nelson to Ottawa. They met in 2006 and worked together in Winnipeg and Edmonton.

"The players believe in him,'' said Campbell. "He was a player and gets what it's like being a player, interacts well with them.''

Nelson, who manages to come across as a craggy but youthful 59 year-old, is equally complimentary about his 44-year-old boss.

"Not very often have I heard a coach just talking to his players and at the end the players start clapping,'' he said.

Campbell's forte as an assistant coach was defence and special teams although he has worked with the offence.

"Football is his speciality ... he has an unbelievable football mind,'' said Nelson.

"I don't like to compare him to his father but Hugh Campbell was always ahead of people and Rick Campbell is the same way,'' he added. "He's ahead of everybody.''

Nelson plays down his own contribution.

"I always tell people I've never really worked. I played and then when I couldn't fool them any more that I could play good, I thought, 'Well shoot I'll coach.' I've been fooling them since.''

Nelson, a native of Edmonton who won Grey Cups as an assistant coach in 1993 with the Eskimos and 1996 with the Argonauts, says the Ottawa defence is more than the sum of its parts.

"We're slowly getting better,'' he said.

"We may not be the best in everything but as a unit we really play hard - and play for each other, as corny as that sounds.''

Nelson's resume reads like a bus route. He estimates there have been 16 stops. Home is now Ottawa although the family has a base in Tulsa, Okla.

"I've moved a little bit,'' he acknowledged with a chuckle.

"I was always told when they chase you out of town, make it look like you're leading like a parade.''

Nelson says some of his defence's statistical pluses are simply due to the good play of the offence or special teams, allowing his charges to rest.

Ottawa led the league in sacks (62) and was No. 1 against the rush (70.8 yards a game allowed). No team was stingier than the Redblacks when it came to net yards offence allowed (297.6 yards a game).

Edmonton allowed the fewest points (341) and was No. 1 in pass defence (245.2 yards a game).

Lemon is unimpressed.

"I know our defence is better than theirs,'' he said matter-of-factly. "I'll take the group of DBs we have over theirs any day. I'll take the group of linebackers we have any day. And I'll most definitely take our D-line over them every day.''

The Eskimos led the league in total yards allowed per game (321.8), with the Redblacks second (322.8).

"They have a yard over us,'' said Munoz, a Rutgers alumnus who plays bigger than his listing of 5-11 and 219 pounds. "It's going to be a tough match. It's going to be about a yard type of game.''

(Canadian Press)

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