Linebacker's role reduced

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Brian Clark had heard the threats -- that no one's job was safe this year as part of a renewed sense of urgency in Stamps camp.

He also heard his name mentioned far too often as fans and media types tried hard to figure out which of the big name veterans coach Tom Higgins was talking about when suggesting open competition at every position would prompt shakeups. Heck, it was only a year earlier the team rid itself of Clark's star linebacking colleagues George White and John Grace.

Well, yesterday Clark finally learned of his fate.

He's safe. Sort of.

Higgins informed the American linebacker he was not part of yesterday's final cuts. However, he was told that due to an all-American defensive line his role will be significantly reduced as the team juggles various ratio formations. He'll play about 60% of the time, said Higgins.

"It does bother me because I want to be out there all the time," said Clark yesterday following the team's first rundown with its opening day roster.

"But I understand for the team to get where we're going this is the role I have to take right now. All I can do is play the best I can out there and hopefully make them feel that they need to keep me out there more."

Higgins said the undisputed defensive leader of the club will continue playing middle linebacker when the ratio permits but will have to focus more on special teams.

Tough news for a man who was without question the best defensive player Calgary had last year.

"It seems that for whatever reason I always feel teams are always trying to get rid of me," shrugged Clark, who quite frankly deserves better.

"It was frustrating coming off a year like last year... it's a good lesson that nothing is guaranteed. In the back of my mind I never really thought there was a chance I wouldn't be here."

True to the character that has made him one of the most respected players in the locker room, Clark's response to sharing time with his good pal Scott Coe has been to respond publicly with the same sort of team-first "One" attitude the organization now preaches most.

Simply put, no significant veterans were cut yesterday, although all-star corner Coby Rhinehart was traded to Montreal after camp superstar Brandon Browner beat him out. So much for threats of major upheaval.

"If someone tried to pick the team at the beginning of camp and went with the veterans you'd be pretty darn close to what we ended up having," said Higgins, whose club opens the season Saturday as hosts to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"You don't make changes just to show your authority -- you make changes because it's what's best for the football team. In this case they actually earned their spots back. They accepted the challenge."

Heck, Jeremaine Copeland even quit smoking to stay.

"Copeland was our leading receiver (in camp) and how do you say 'jobs are open' and then cut the guy who had the best training camp in terms of production?" asked GM Jim Barker.

"Same thing with Clark -- we're a better team with him than without him."

So, while the Stamps added a bunch of young newcomers who will play special teams roles, the team is essentially the same as last year with a few tweaks. Akili Smith shone during camp to shore up the Henry Burris insurance policy, Browner could be CFL rookie of the year, the d-line is new and Ken Simonton is Joffrey Reynolds' hotshot backup, prompting the trading of Wes Cates yesterday.

Otherwise it's same old, same old, which in this case is a good thing.


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