B.C. Lions rookie Menard quick off the draw
‘I’ve got to play this guy more,’ position coach Carl Hairston says of defensive lineman
It only took the kind of thing that happens every weekend outside a bar for jurisprudence to become a topic of discussion around the B.C. Lions this week, all because of an alleged punch thrown by Jabar Westerman.
The 25-year-old defensive lineman will have his day in court Wednesday morning and his status for Friday’s game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at B.C. Place Stadium will hinge out the outcome once he answers a charge of common assault.
What is not in dispute, however, is that a crime of a different description has already occurred involving the fellow Canadian lineman who appeared to benefit from Westerman’s absence in the Lions’ win over the Calgary Stampeders.
It could be argued that 24-year-old David Menard has been getting increased work only because the Lions have been aware of the nightclub incident involving Westerman more than a month ago.
Make that argument, and you’ll get one heck of a fight right back from the Lions. In his first CFL season a long way from home, the University of Montreal product is getting exactly what he deserves when it comes to playing time.
It’s not easy standing out when you are part of a defence that has six rookies, including three starters. But the speed at which Menard is improving since being taken in the fourth round of this year’s Canadian draft and spotted in the defensive rotation is matched only by his first-step quickness and the changes in his life as a whole.
“Everything really is going so fast,” admitted Menard, who can quickly spot the differences between his current surroundings and his hometown of Chicoutimi, Que.
“You prepare for the draft, you go to camp. I don’t think about it because I don’t have a lot of time, but I do miss home a bit.”
In the past, few rookies made a contribution on defence with the Lions. For a 265-pound rookie Canadian like Menard, who often gives way at least 50 pounds to an offensive line opponent, what he has done to get an average of 15 snaps in the rotation borders on the unfathomable, particularly considering the Lions often line him up at a tackle spot.
“He has excellent get-off. There was one time (in a recent game) he was off the ball so quick he thought he was offside,” coach Mike Benevides said of the only 2014 draft pick getting meaningful minutes at the moment.
“I explained to him after the season opened that he had just walked away with 17 snaps without having to be a ratio-changer or an injury thing. He’s a critical part of what we’re doing. All the reps he’s getting has no bearing (because of the Westerman charge).”
It may not have any bearing at present, but if Menard continues to improve it might be enough for the Lions to consider trading Westerman, and perhaps sooner rather than later, before Westerman becomes a free agent after the season.
General manager Wally Buono was rejected during the off-season when he attempted to extend Westerman. A nightclub incident might prompt the Lions to move more quickly, especially if there’s a prospect with promise who just needs a bit more grooming.
“I didn’t know what to expect when he came here, but if you notice every time he’s in there something happens,” defensive line coach Carl Hairston said of Menard.
“It comes from good instincts, and you cannot coach instincts. He plays like a vet. I’ve got to play this guy more.”
In the Lions’ defence, that would put Menard on equal footing with fellow rookies Ronnie Yell, who was named the league’s defensive player of the week with his two turnovers against Calgary, Alex Bazzie and Josh Johnson.
There aren’t Brent Johnson comparisons being made yet by the Lions, but there are plans to have Johnson work with Menard, and if nothing else that explains in part why the team made no effort to bring back Keron Williams during the off-season, or perhaps even why Chris Wilson didn’t make it out of training camp.
Heady comparisons, indeed, but nothing that Menard says he can’t handle.
“I’m like a hybrid. Some teams don’t know what position is best for me,” said Menard, who got his three-down grounding in college from CFL coaches past and present in Danny Maciocia and Noel Thorpe, respectively.
“My goal was always to make the active roster and now that I’m involved a bit I’m just enjoying being a rookie every time I’m on the field. I want to reach the highest goal. If it’s the hardest path, I’ll take it.”
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