Defensive backs fall into place

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

Tim Burke is playing a chess game with secondary pieces.

Fourteen different talents are being moved with precision in an attempt to create a defensive masterpiece.

By the start of the CFL season, the Calgary Stampeders defensive backs coach will be ready to call a checkmate. Until then, even third-year veterans such as Joey Boese are pawns in Burke's shuffling.

"I'm starting to get an idea of where guys should play," said Burke, who's in his first year with the Stamps.

"I'm down to about seven or eight guys on who should be starters and then leading on to who should be backups.

"We have to go through the exhibition games, too. Anybody can be good on the practice field -- when it comes to a game, there's pressure, fans, media attention.

"It's a different offence and players are trying to make the other team. Guys have to take it to a new level."

Boese expected another shuffle when he arrived at training camp. In his three CFL seasons, the Wisconsin product has worked under three different secondary coaches.

Each time he's come back from California, the 25-year-old has had to work his way into a position.

During this year's training camp, Boese has lined up at boundary halfback but also has taken reps at free safety.

The position doesn't matter to Boese. He picked off quarterback Henry Burris yesterday playing halfback -- his natural position -- but prefers not to worry about where he shakes down in the secondary.

"You could drive yourself nuts thinking about everybody else," said Boese, who led the Stamps in defensive tackles last season, good enough for second in the league.

"You would never sleep. I just try to worry about myself and do well every practice. It will all fall into place.

"I played halfback last year so I feel comfortable in this scheme playing boundary half.

"As long as I can get to the football and be on the field, I'll be happy."

One of the only DBs who's been stationary all training camp is free-agent pickup Anthony Malbrough at field halfback.

And that's because he missed two days with an injury.

Burke has some tough decisions to make -- he won't be able to keep everybody. Newcomers Jermaine Chatman and Rashard Anderson have caught his eye, while non-import returnee Pascal Masson has really impressed the coach with his athletic ability.

In Denny Creehan's 30 defence, a nickelback is almost never used as a linebacker drops into coverage during passing situations. No more than five DBs will see the field, so backups will need to be versatile on special teams to stick around.

Masson was one of the two gunners on punt coverage last year and proved to be quick downfield.

Burke likes what he is seeing.

"He's having a great camp," Burke said. "He's as athletic as anybody here. People say if Pascal plays, he can change the ratio.

"If Pascal plays, it just means we have him playing because he's a good player."

The best-looking newcomer is Anderson, who's been out of football for two years after being suspended from the NFL for violating the substance-abuse policy.

Burke said Anderson has shaken off the rust and steadily improved each day.

The former NFL first-round pick feels mentally fine but his body isn't cooperating through 10 practices.

"I surprised myself. I came in doing pretty good," Anderson said. "If I did get a little frustrated, it was because I did get a little sore.

"I don't know if I'm any worse than anybody else but it sure felt like it."

Another player that could be added to the mix is non-import safety Stephane Fortin, who was released Wednesday by the Montreal Alouettes. Head coach Tom Higgins said the team has already put in a call to the 30-year-old to discuss coming to Calgary.

EXTRA POINTS: The Stamps released LB Bryant Brown and DB Marcus Stenix yesterday. Brown nearly flattened QB Darnell Kennedy in the first practice but GM Jim Barker said it had no bearing on his being cut before the second workout ... Rain forced the team onto the turf at McMahon Stadium for the second straight day, then cut short the second workout ... Rookie WR Brett Ralph returned to practice for the first time since tweaking a hamstring opening day.


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