Willis getting wound up

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:14 PM ET

Recording sacks by the bucket load is nothing new to Odell Willis.

The Calgary Stampeders defensive lineman planted the quarterback into the turf five times in one Arena Football League game.

Yeah, that's a surprise since we all figured defensive linemen just counted steamboats like those days at the park, but Willis has found that form in the CFL.

Willis goes into tonight's clash against the Saskatchewan Roughriders having recorded five sacks in the last three contests and went into the week's action tied for the league lead.

Sure, it's a small sample, but that kind of production will soon have tongues wagging around the league.

Willis, the first-year rush end out of West Georgia, has a simple theory as to why he's been knocking down pivots the last few weeks and why the Stamps defence has surrendered only 19 points over the past two games.

"Preparation," he said succinctly. "Putting in the extra preparation. In the first couple weeks, we just came out and just played, but after that, we realized we had a bulls-eye on our head and had to prepare harder, work harder, stay in the film room and do what we got to do."

His part is sacking quarterbacks, a trend he'll try to continue against Saskatchewan's starter Darian Durant.

Of course, one player can't take down a QB by himself.

It's no co-incidence Willis, as well as other ends Malik Jackson and Juwan Simpson, have taken it up a notch the past couple of weeks.

A big key, make that a couple of big keys, have been interior linemen Mike Labinjo and newcomer Tom Johnson.

Labinjo showed how effective he can be en route to last year's Grey Cup championship. Adding Johnson, who missed the first two games of this season due to his grandfather's death and a leg injury, has brought the puzzle together.

"Tom is our true nose tackle," Labinjo said. "When Tom was out, we didn't have a true nose player. He's a big guy, powerful. You have to account for him. He's a hard worker, real low, pushes the line of scrimmage and that's what you need out there."

In turn, opposing teams have been forced to pick their poison.

Concentrate on the outside linemen, and suddenly, Labinjo and Johnson are knocking quarterbacks on their keister.

Double-team the interior brutes, and Willis, Jackson or Simpson are tracking down the pivot.

"They don't know who to match up," Labinjo said. "I think we have guys right now that understand how to play our position.

"Last game, three of our sacks were on a three-man rush.

"Last year, we weren't able to get a lot of pressure with three men, but with Odell and myself on the edge in that play, we both bring something to the table teams have to account for."

The season is still in wind-up phase and nobody will confuse the Stampeders with the New York Sack Exchange, but considering how this team is not traditionally known for its sack attack, it's a big difference.

And it's only going to become better.

"We're clicking on most cylinders, but there's always room for improvement," said Johnson, the first-year product of Southern Mississippi.

"Once we get everybody hitting on all 12 cylinders at one time, it's going to be a beautiful thing."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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