CFL Pass

Solomon Elimimian proving doubters wrong in first season with Saskatchewan Roughriders

Solomon Elimimian has managed to live up to his reputation with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

That isn’t easy considering Elimimian — one of the most decorated defensive players in CFL history — is entering the twilight of his career.

Not only has the soon-to-be 33-year-old veteran defied Father Time by solidifying the Riders’ middle linebacker spot, his leadership and experience have proven to be invaluable for the CFL’s hottest team.

“He has been as advertised,” said head coach Craig Dickenson, whose team (7-3) carries a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s road game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-3).

“He’s a very good leader not only on the field but in the classroom. (Linebackers coach) Chris Tormey coached him in B.C. for a couple of years and felt really strongly about him as a person as well as a player. When we signed Solomon we knew we were going to get a great player who also was a great leader.”

Elimimian joined Saskatchewan prior to training camp after he was dumped by the Lions in an apparent salary-cap move. It was an unceremonious end to an illustrious nine-year stint in B.C., where the four-time CFL all-star was twice named the league’s most outstanding defensive player (2014 and 2016) following top-rookie honours in 2010.

Elimimian was also named Most Outstanding Player in 2014, becoming the first-ever defender to receive the league’s preeminent individual award. He established a CFL single-season record for tackles that year with 143 — a number he eclipsed by one in 2017.

Just 18 months later, he was released.

“I’m always one who thinks things happen for a reason and if you have the right mindset things will always work out,” Elimimian said. “That’s why I never dwelled on it. If I was meant to be in B.C., I would have been in B.C. At the end of the day I’m happy where I’m at.

“I hear the questions all the time but I let people sort out how things went down (with the Lions). It wasn’t honest but sometimes the best situations come from the worst situations in terms of what they did over there. I’m in an organization I respect. This is probably the most fun I’ve had in many years.”

It shows.

Elimimian is ranked second on the team with 42 defensive tackles — just five behind Derrick Moncrief — despite playing in only seven games. The team has a 6-1 record since Elimimian debuted after missing the first three games of the season due to injury.

“I’m where I want to be right now (performance-wise) and I feel like I’ll keep getting better as the season goes on,” he said. “I think early on I was rusty. That’s to be expected. I wasn’t worried at all. Coming to a new place, you have to integrate to a new system. The terminology is totally different. You have to pick up on your teammates’ characteristics and mannerisms on how they play football and really how you fit within the defence. As the season progressed I feel like I’ve got more comfortable. I feel like my play has showed that. I’m having fun and I’m flying around playing with a great group of guys.”

There’s also an element of redemption for the wily veteran, who heard whispers that his best days might be behind him. After appearing in just four games last season due to injury, he was determined to show he still has it.

“When you have pride, you always have something to prove, maybe not to the naysayers but to yourself,” he said. “I feel like my resume speaks for itself. That’s why I never really focused on what people say.”

These days, there are a lot of people singing the praises of Elimimian, who’s having a positive influence on his new teammates. One of them is Cameron Judge, who began this season as the Riders’ middle linebacker before moving over to his natural weak-side spot to make room for Elimimian.

“It’s definitely a big tool for me to have someone like that next to me in the room,” Judge said. “With his experience, he gives me some things to look for — tendencies that he has caught onto playing against different offensive co-ordinators and stuff. His communication out on the field too helps take a lot of thinking out of my game. He has really helped me this year.”

Elimimian’s bounce-back season has also caught the attention of his opponents. That includes Bombers veteran linebacker Adam Bighill, a five-time CFL all-star and two-time most outstanding defensive player.

He and Elimimian were teammates in B.C.

“Solomon is one of the best to do it,” Bighill told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “I feel like we’re cut from the same cloth. 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.’ Watch out because he’s gonna come out and win defensive player of the year like he did after he tore his Achilles (in 2015).

“He’s just a fantastic player with an extremely high competitive edge and level to him. For him to be out there making plays, it’s no surprise to me.”

EXTRAS: Receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert, who was cut by the Chicago Bears on the weekend, has not rejoined the Riders. Not yet, anyway. “When he cleared waivers in the NFL, his rights revert back to us,” Dickenson explained. “It’s as much of a housekeeping thing as anything. We’ve talked to him. We certainly would love to have him back but there’s nothing going on any more than that. He has to want to come back. He’s doing some things down south, just making sure all of his options are explored.”

gharder@postmedia.com

Source: montrealgazette.com