Baggs back from NFL, ready to win

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:19 PM ET

HAMILTON — At first glance, it appears Stevie Baggs is a little bigger than the defensive dynamo who wreaked havoc in opposing backfields when last seen in three-down football.

Baggs admits more than a few followers of the pigskin have made a point of reminding Baggs of, well, his excessive baggage.

But to hear Baggs tell it, he’s actually lighter than when he played in last year’s Grey Cup as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The CFL is dotted with Americans who head state-side in pursuit of greener pastures after making an impression in Canada.

Some become victims of NFL politics, while others find themselves in an environment that isn’t conducive to their skill set.

When they resurface in the CFL, many have added extra weight, returning with less speed and sometimes less inclined to leave everything out on the field.

And then there’s Baggs, who played his finest game as a Ticat in last week’s beat-down of the Argos, a 30-3 Hamilton win that earned Baggs top defensive honours for the week.

“It may look like I’ve put on a little weight, when in fact I’ve lost weight,’’ Baggs began on Thursday as the Ticats wrapped up their walkthrough in preparation for Friday’s visit by Montreal.

“What people don’t realize is that right now I feel much better. What I’ve basically been able to do is remove that extra roll off my belly.”

By his own admission, when Baggs lined up in the Grey Cup against the Als last November, he weighed 258 pounds.

When the Arizona Cardinals signed Baggs and asked him to audition at linebacker, Baggs had to get quicker, which is kind of scary given how quick he already was, to play the position.

“I weigh 245 pounds, but my strength has never been compromised and my quickness remains,’’ he said. “In the NFL, they wanted me to be a little quicker and faster.”

That is until the Cardinals cut him, opening a window that quickly closed when Ticats GM Bob O’Billovich swooped in on a guy who makes plays and who changes games through Baggs’ ability to apply heat on the quarterback and disrupt a backfield.

The same day the Ticats signed him, Baggs was informed by the Cardinals that an opening at linebacker was created in the wake of an injury.

Baggs wears No. 55, the same jersey Obie’s late brother, Jack (Mad Dog) O’Billovich wore from a bygone era.

Baggs has a lot to live up to, but he’s getting more comfortable in his new surroundings and slowly beginning to understand the nuances of his new teammates.

“It’s little things, but knowing how a guy runs his stunts goes a long way in helping you run yours,’’ Baggs continued. “I’m getting more comfortable, but there’s much room for improvement.”

Last week marked Baggs’ fourth game as a member of the Ticats, a tour de force that produced two sacks and seven tackles.

His learning curve has been increased because Baggs played under Greg Marshall in Winnipeg, a defensive familiarity that goes a long way in re-establishing oneself.

“I’m re-acclimating myself to the plays,’’ Baggs said. “Once I can just play my game and just trust my reads, we’ll be more dangerous.”

At this point in the season, players have fine-tuned their game and are getting ready to pick up their intensity level in anticipation of the post-season.

“By this stage in the game,’’ Baggs conceded, “everything should be second nature. When you’re at your best, you’re playing off your instincts.”

Baggs knows he and the rest of Hamilton’s defence will have to be at their best against Anthony Calvillo.

Friday marks the first time Baggs will play the Als since last year’s Grey Cup heartbreaker.

“It’s always good to be playing a quality team,’’ he said. “Throw in the added stipulation of who they are and it makes it even better.

“But this is money time, it’s statement time and it’s time for our team to come together. Our mindset is championship and if you don’t believe, then you won’t achieve.”

An improving Baggs makes Hamilton’s championship aspirations more believable.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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