CALGARY - They have arrived in great numbers, a youthful army of large men trying to knock DeVone Claybrooks off his pedestal.
It’s happened before and Claybrooks has survived, so there’s no reason to panic now. In fact, the Calgary Stampeders defensive tackle has taken the opposite approach.
He’s become a second coach, which seems natural since he’s eight years older than defensive-line coach Brent Monson.
“They are in the shoes that walked the walk that I once walked before,” Claybrooks said about his younger competition.
“If I can make the transition a little easier and a little better, that’s what I’m here for. I’m trying to lead by example.
“I’m trying to make sure we get things done right. With such a young group, you don’t have guys from other teams with bad habits you need to break. That’s one of the pleasures of having so many young guys.”
At the end of last season, it appeared Claybrooks was on the outs with the Stamps. As a healthy scratch due to ratio confinements, Claybrooks was passed by Corey Mace and Miguel Robede at the tackle position, where the team needed to go Canadian.
Despite this issue, he was still voted a West Division all-star, meaning he made an impression when was in the lineup.
The Stamps seemed set with the other tackle spot occupied by all-star Tom Johnson.
Things changed when Johnson signed an NFL deal.
To start training camp, the team made replacing Johnson a priority, and there were five players listed behind Claybrooks on the depth chart.
Only one of those players — Andre Coleman — has CFL experience and he’s the only one over the age of 24.
“The one thing I can say about these young guys is they are eager and are learning,” Claybrooks said. “Unfortunately they are trying to take my job.
“Good teams are only as strong as their weakest link and we don’t want any weak links.”
Once Mace returns from back surgery, the Stamps should have a set rotation of linemen.
Charleston Hughes and Robert McCune are the proven import defensive ends, while Canadian Justin Phillips is a reliable option and Adrian Davis provides some veteran depth behind Mace.
The spot most up for grabs is the one where Johnson was a man-eating force.
“This is the nature of the beast and I’ve been around it for so long,” said Claybrooks, who won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002.
“You want to get bigger, faster, stronger and cheaper. That’s how you get better. You need to fight for your job every day. No job is given. I know every day I have to come out here and put my best foot forward.
“If I take care of my responsibility I will be fine. My biggest competitor of my and my job is myself. I will push myself to the limit and I won’t worry about anything else. Once I do that I will be fine.”
Claybrooks is the fourth-oldest player on the team but he doesn’t need to be reminded he’s the oldest one on defence.
“We go by the old adage of what Jay-Z said: ‘30 is the new 20.’ I feel like I’m 18,” Claybrooks said with a laugh.
“Now watch me get in the cold tub.”