MacKinnon: Eskimos offensive lineman finally gets opportunity to play

 

Coleman waited patiently all season for his number to be called

 
 
 
 
Edmonton Eskimos offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman, right, lines up against Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Alex Hall during a Canadian Football League game at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 12, 2013.
 
 

Edmonton Eskimos offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman, right, lines up against Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Alex Hall during a Canadian Football League game at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 12, 2013.

Photograph by: Liam Richards, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Thaddeus Coleman, all six-foot-eight, 320 pounds of him, was making his habitually unobtrusive exit from practice when he was told his number had been sharped onto “the board,” meaning reporters wanted to talk to him.

His offensive line colleagues began teasing him theatrically, as football players will do.

“You’re a commodity now,” one teammate said in a stage whisper.

“I just want to play football, man,” replied Coleman, who will make his first start of the Canadian Football League season when the Edmonton Eskimos play the Toronto Argonauts at 7 p.m. Friday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Hey, the Eskimos all want to play. And in the plug-and-play, “next-man-up” world of pro football, sometimes it doesn’t take long until the coach hollers, “Next!”

Except when that call doesn’t come.

In 2013, for example, Coleman started at left tackle in all 18 regular-season games for the Eskimos. The certainties for the club that grim 4-14 season were that Mike Reilly would start at quarterback; Coleman, playing left tackle, had his quarterback’s blind side; and the club was probably going to lose.

But just two games into the 2014 season Coleman suffered a dislocated right elbow in an Eskimos’ victory against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He hasn’t made a regular-season start since, although he did start at right tackle in both the West Division semifinal and final last season.

“Once you get hurt, man, the next man is up,” Coleman said. “If they’re playing well, you don’t want to mess up that chemistry.

“As a pro, you’ve got to understand that if your team is going well at the time, a coach does not want to make that change.”

As things worked out, Eskimos head coach Chris Jones didn’t want to make a change in Coleman’s favour all season.

And then on Thursday, Jones hollered, “Next!”

Tony Washington, the starting left tackle on the depth chart in all but one of the 5-3 Eskimos’ games this season, had been added to the one-day injured list. So Coleman goes in at left tackle.

“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Coleman said. “I’ve been practising hard, being well-prepared so when my name’s called and I’m ready to (play), baby.”

Not that he had any choice.

“You know how Jones is, man,” Coleman said. “Everybody on this team is going to be ready.

“Whether he’s practice squad, second-string, third-string, everybody’s going to be ready to play. So when your name is called, you’d better be ready to step right in and do it just like the man ahead of you.”

Staying fit is one thing, something Coleman has worked diligently at from the day he was injured. For example, one blazing hot midsummer day last year, a visitor found Coleman, who had ridden his bike to Commonwealth Stadium, running the stairs by the stadium box office over and over.

“That’s part of being a pro,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare yourself whether you’re hurt or not.”

That work ethic was drilled into Coleman by his father, Michael, a linebacker who played for the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints during his NFL career.

“I talk to my father every other day,” Coleman said. “We talk about football, we talk about life.

“When I started my career as a pro, that’s what he always used to talk to me about, just being a good pro, whether you’re playing or not. Letting the coaches know that this is what you want to do, that it’s something you have a passion for.”

Father and son upped the frequency of the phone chats to a daily basis while Coleman was recovering from his injury, the regular dose of moral support helping him stay focused on the drudgery of workouts that may or may not lead to game action. Which is not easy.

But how about jumping from a prolonged absence from game action into the violent contact and trench warfare of the CFL. That must be a tricky transition, no?

“It’s not difficult,” said Coleman, who started three years at Mississippi Valley State and had NFL looks with the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets, among other teams, before finding a pro home in Edmonton in 2013. “I’ve been around a while; I’ve been playing ball for a while.

“Things happen where you can’t play for a while. You’ve got to be well-prepared ... just like you’ve been playing the whole year.”

Nor is he fixated on the prospect of keeping Cleyon Laing, the Argos’ marauding defensive tackle who three times over the last three years has been involved in plays on which Reilly has been injured. That includes the knee injury the Eskimos leader suffered in the season-opening 26-11 loss to Toronto.

“He’s just a guy across from me that I have to block, that’s all,” Coleman said.

A game-day assignment, in other words. But that’s something Coleman hasn’t had in the regular season since July 2014.

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/rjmackinnon

Check out my blog at edmontonjournal.com/Sweatsox

 
 
 
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Edmonton Eskimos offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman, right, lines up against Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Alex Hall during a Canadian Football League game at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 12, 2013.
 

Edmonton Eskimos offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman, right, lines up against Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Alex Hall during a Canadian Football League game at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 12, 2013.

Photograph by: Liam Richards, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
Edmonton Eskimos offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman, right, lines up against Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end Alex Hall during a Canadian Football League game at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Oct. 12, 2013.
Edmonton Eskimos offensive tackle Thaddeus Coleman suffers a dislocated right elbow in a Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 4, 2014, at Commonwealth Stadium.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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