Johnson: Former Dinos star Mike Edem is becoming a revelation for the Montreal Alouettes
Hard-charging free safety has nine tackles, a pick and a sack in two games so far
Rubber-necking, no. Double-takes, ditto. Surreptitious iPhone photos, embarrassing sycophantic small talk and flat-out slack-jawed gawking? All also strictly forbidden.
“The one thing I didn’t want to do, the one thing I promised myself I wouldn’t do,” says Mike Edem, “was show up and look like a fan.
“I mean, that’s . . . awful.
“These guys are your teammates. You can’t be star-struck. You’re part of the same team. You’ve got to act that way.
“At the same time, I’m still amazed I’m getting a shot to play with someone like A.C. (Anthony Calvillo). He’s going to be a Hall of Famer when he retires. It’s a pleasure to be around a guy like that every day.
“And Arland Bruce . . . I remember I used to watch him play in Toronto when I was in high school. The Argos would give us tickets and I’d go to watch him score touchdowns and do his celebrations.
“I told him ‘Man, I remember the first time I saw that celebration. I was at the game with my high school teammates . . .’
“And now we’re teammates.”
And Arland Bruce quite likely feels as ancient as Stonehenge.
Edem, the third overall pick in this year’s CFL draft, converted from his days at linebacker at the University of Calgary, has made quite an impression in the early going of his rookie campaign.
Why is obvious.
He makes plays. Simple in the saying. Complicated in the doing. He’s already become a vital component at free safety in secondary coach Noel Thorpe’s scheme.
“We have three criteria for our defensive backs,” explains Thorpe. “One is the ability to cover man-to-man. Two is the ability to tackle and Three is the ability to make plays. Mike fits those three criteria.
“We’re going to spend the time it takes to get him up to speed to the level of the veteran players who’ve seen it, who’ve seen the formations and made the adjustments, played against the Drew Tates and Kevin Glenns and Nik Lewises.”
He’s certainly on the right track. Through two games, Edem has already accounted for nine tackles, as well as one pick and a sack on Blue Bomber quarterback Buck Pierce.
Not that he’s preoccupied pounding his own back in gooey self-congratulation.
“Everything,” Edem says, “is built on trust. If they didn’t trust me, I wouldn’t be out there. They trust in me, and I trust in myself, to get the job done. But there’s still a lot to learn, a lot to cover. As for my performance . . . Am I happy? No, not at all. Am I where I think I ought to be? No, not at all.
“The fans see something different. The learning curve I judge myself on is not the same as other people’s. I’ve still got a long way to go.”
And, turning only 24 tomorrow, a lot of years ahead to get there.
What’s made him so pro-ready so quickly, he’s quick to repeat, is the Dinos’ program, and the way boss Blake Nill handles things.
“The most important thing it did,” he reasons, “was hold me accountable. Everybody had their job, their role, to help our team win. I think before I got there I was kind of off in space, just doing what I had to to get by. But there, that just wasn’t going to cut it. Coach Nill told me right away: ‘If you’re going to be here, you’ve got to buy in, focus, and can you do things, go places.’ ”
The transition from college to pro, doubtless ushered along by a posse of ex-Dinos — Steven Lumbala, Jordan Verdone, Michael Klassen — also being on the Als’ roster to provide familiarity and a sense of insulation, has been smoother than anyone could’ve anticipated.
“We drafted him with the thought that he was going to be a ratio-breaker for us,” says Thorpe. “And he’s done everything we thought he would do. For him, the last two years in college he’s been a little closer to the box, at will linebacker, but he fits right in to how we use the safety in our scheme.
“The learning curve was steep for him coming into training camp, but I’ve been impressed by his attention to detail, his study habits, his work ethic in the classroom and on the field.
“But there’s a lot of calls. Adjustments he needs to make. Whenever you’re talking about a younger player, the speed of the game is an issue. So he’s got to process a lot of information in a short period of time. Multiple sets. Multiple motions. Personnel groups. And that’s before the ball is even snapped.
“We’re two games in. Hopefully by the six-game mark things are going to start slowing down for him.”
Upcoming for Edem on back-to-back weeks, the opportunity to test himself against the big team from the town in which his talent blossomed. Friday in Montreal versus the Stamps and eight days later back here at McMahon.
“Oh, yeah, it’ll be something special,” he acknowledges. “Definitely. Calgary is like my second home. But I’ve been on that field so many times . . . the game’s hard enough as it is without getting caught in the hype.
“A few of my close friends play for the Stampeders. Junior Turner. (Anthony) Parker. Watching that team, using the free tickets they’d give us to go to the games, and now to be out there playing against them . . . yeah, pretty special.
“And you kinda want to show them what they had in their own back yard. They have pretty much a back-door access to our training. So a few of us expected to get picked up by Calgary, but that never happened.
“Nothing personal, though.
“As long as we get the wins, that’s all that matters.”
Spoken not like a fan, but like an emerging pro who’s in the process of making quite a few of his own.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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