MONTREAL — It’s the Canadian Football League. We shouldn’t be surprised when someone whose team lost is named the defensive player of the week.
Just as we shouldn’t be surprised if the Alouettes complete the regular-season with a losing record, yet Chip Cox is named the league’s defensive player of the year.
In a season of disarray — one that has been filled with injuries, the firing of head coach Dan Hawkins and twice as many defeats as victories — strong-side linebacker Cox has been the one constant.
On a defence that has improved exponentially over 2012, Cox arguably has been its best performer.
“He’s having the most disruptive year that a defensive player has had since I’ve been up here,” said defensive-back Billy Parker, who joined Montreal in 2009. “So many good things have happened to our defence, if you look at where it started. And it started with something Chip was doing.”
Although the Als lost, 28-26, to Hamilton last weekend in Moncton, N.B., Cox was named the league’s defensive player of the week on Tuesday. He had eight tackles, two quarterback sacks and one interception against the Tiger-Cats, limiting Henry Burris and the high-powered offence to 248 yards’ net offence.
Cox, in his eighth season with the Als, leads the CFL in defensive tackles this season, with 86, a career-high. He has six sacks and two interceptions. Ten of his tackles have been for losses, and he also has recovered a fumble.
With six games remaining, the 4-8 Als will be hard-pressed to complete the season with a winning record. That might be taken into consideration when voting for players of the year is conducted.
However, only last season, Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt was named the defensive player of the year, the Eskimos going 7-11 but Sherritt producing a league-leading 130 tackles. So the precedent has been established.
Cox, only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, remains one of the CFL’s most instinctive and quick players. He seemingly always is around the ball.
It’s likely no coincidence that Cox, named a CFL all-star for three successive seasons, beginning in 2009, is thriving under defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe. Thorpe was the Als’ special teams coordinator from 2002-07. He also coached Montreal’s defensive backs those last five seasons.
Cox started his career with the Als in the team’s secondary.
“It goes back to his relationship with Thorpe,” Parker said. “I haven’t seen him take coaching and put it on the field so fast with any other coordinator — and we’ve had some good ones.
“Thorpe knows how to talk to Chip and handles Chip very well. Chip has responded with production.”
While Thorpe acknowledges Cox has been put in a position to make plays, the coach said the production is a direct result of the player’s dedication and relentless pursuit to the football.
“I knew from Day One, when I first met Chip, what his ability could be,” Thorpe said. “You’re seeing that again, his experience, his understanding of defence and this defence — the design and what it’s supposed to do — and his fit within that defence. His role and his function. Having clarity in what he’s supposed to do. You’re seeing that execution on the field.”
Cox, now 30, admits he’s comfortable and happy again. He was among many players who struggled in 2012 with former coordinator Jeff Reinebold’s concept and philosophy. Things are more structured and organized under Thorpe.
“I feel like I’m doing the same things — getting to the ball and that’s it,” said the unassuming Cox.
Cox said he wasn’t aware of the weekly honour until late Tuesday. And don’t even begin to speculate with him about his chances of winning individual awards.
“I can’t think about that. We’ve got to win,” he said. “I can’t sit back. We’ve got to get a win.”
The Als host Saskatchewan this Sunday afternoon at Molson Stadium. While the Roughriders are 8-4, the team’s on a three-game losing streak, like Montreal.
Notes — Concussed quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who hasn’t played since Aug. 17, has received clearance to resume exercising on a treadmill for now. But that doesn’t mean his return’s imminent. ...
The Als have signed Walter Spencer, one of the league’s better special teams players, and added him to the practice roster. Spencer was with Montreal from 2007-11. He played with Toronto last season, winning the Grey Cup. ...
Kyle Graves, a former Canadian university quarterback and punter, could replace Sean Whyte in that capacity — if not this week, in the future. General manager and head coach Jim Popp admitted there’s now a competition between the two after Graves handled some punts in Wednesday’s practice. Whyte punted for only a 32-yard average against Hamilton, and struggled into the wind.
“There’s going to be some competition,” Popp said. “We’ll figure out whether we go in a different direction. Kyle’s learning. He’s behind the eight-ball, but he has a big leg on him. It’s a matter of change or we don’t change, but we’ll make it a competition for now.”
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