Numbers are down, but Bighill still a big contributor in Bombers' defence
It’s been a season of injury and lower statistical production for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ star middle linebacker, but Adam Bighill does not believe his play has dropped off one bit.
“I’ve seen it since I’ve been in the CFL — sometimes, plays come your way and sometimes they don’t,” Bighill said Thursday after practice at IG Field. “Sometimes you have three tackles in a game and you played a fantastic game and it’s hard for people to even notice because you only had three tackles.
“I feel like I’ve had a handful of those games this year.”
Bighill, 30, missed three games in July due to a hamstring injury but has been in the lineup for eight games this season. It would be fair to say he hasn’t been as noticeable as he was last season when he was the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player.
Bighill has recorded 32 tackles, or an average of four per game, which isn’t coming close to last season when he had 105 tackles in 18 games (5.83 per game). In 2016 with the B.C. Lions he averaged six tackles a game and in 2015 it was 6.33.
While he also has an interception, a sack and a forced fumble, he’s on pace for just 72 tackles this season and to put that into perspective, Calgary Stampeders middle linebacker Cory Greenwood leads the league with 74 already, in 10 games (7.4 per game).
“You’ve got to think too that teams are playing us a little bit differently this year, based on what we did last year and some of the success I had last year, scheming things differently,” said Bighill, who signed a lucrative three-year contract extension with the Bombers in the off-season. “That has maybe not allowed me to do some of the things I did last year.
“Tackles aren’t always super indicative of performance. It means that you’ve obviously had a chance to be productive but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been doing your job. Having a lot of tackles? Maybe you’ve made 70% of them eight or 10 yards down the field. As a linebacker, you’re flowing to the ball, you have a motor, but we also want to be making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.”
Bighill and the Bombers will take an 8-3 record into Saturday’s Banjo Bowl against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (7-3) at IG Field.
The Bombers, on the whole, have been a better defensive team than they were last year. The addition of havoc-wreaking defensive end Willie Jefferson has created a whole new dynamic up front. The Bombers D-line has been huge in stopping the run (the Bombers are first in the league by far with 69.2 yards per game against), and the linebackers simply haven’t been called upon to make as many tackles as last year.
“Sometimes it’s hard to make tackles when the guys up front are getting them all,” Bighill said. “Big Drake (Nevis) breaks through and makes a tackle for a loss or Stove (Steve Richardson) makes a tackle for a loss or Willie. Sometimes they’re just taking all the plays and it’s good for them. Our front is hard to deal with. From that standpoint, it’s great. We’ve got a bunch of guys who can eat on the defence.”
All you have to do is look at the Blue Bombers paltry passing numbers to know that this team doesn’t care at all about stats anyway. It seems it’s all about winning in whatever way possible and being team players.
“You’re not sitting in our meeting rooms or listening to the direction (Bighill) gives, the conversations he has with his teammates, the questions he asks,” Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said. “On the field you’re not listening to him put guys in the right spots and make checks to make sure everything is going smoothly. That’s the job of a middle linebacker. These are all things he does extremely well, besides his athleticism, besides his understanding of offences and plays and how he maneuvers around the field to give different looks and put himself in good position.”
Bighill is known as a linebacker who covers the field sideline-to-sideline as well as anyone but he has been used in varying roles this season, which is something he embraces.
“The good thing about our defence is it allows me to do everything,” he said. “I can drop into coverage, I can pressure, I can just play regular stuff. I have the flexibility to give different looks and we adapt as the season goes. It’s something that’s continually evolving and I think that’s the best way to do it … just see how many different things we can do as a defence.”
Former teammates Bighill and Elimimian set to square off in Banjo Bowl
Adam Bighill and Solomon Elimimian are two of the greatest CFL linebackers of a generation and their admiration for one another runs deep.
Former teammates with the B.C. Lions, they are now the starting middle linebackers in an age-old Prairie rivalry between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Bighill said the two are cut from the same cloth.
“We’ve gone through the same struggles,” Bighill said. “We both understand this game very well and we’ve had a chip on our shoulder our entire life. The worst thing you can do is tell me or tell him ‘I don’t think you can do it anymore.’
“He’s just a fantastic player with an extremely high competitive edge and level to him.”
Elimimian, who is 32, two years older than Bighill, said he respects his former teammate on and off the field and called him one of his closer friends.
“Dog … we use that word in football,” Elimimian said. “You don’t use that word for just anybody. The guys know what that means. Somebody that competes every play who has self-pride, who plays the game at a high level and is self-driven. He takes things to a level where he forces teammates to compete. That’s one thing you appreciate about Bigs.”
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