Out to beat that jinx

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

Robert Grant has kept the most outstanding rookie curse at bay thus far. And this season the Edmonton Eskimos linebacker is gunning to beat the sophomore jinx.

Dodging the latter will go a long way to furthering the 24-year-old Grant's efforts to avoid falling prey to the former.

The four players who received the nod as the Esks' most outstanding rookie from the local chapter of the Football Reporters of Canada prior to Grant are all outta here.

Donnie Ashley (1999), Jerome Peterson (2000), Yves Dossous ('01) and Kelvin Powell ('02) hung around after getting the nomination, but were eventually let go.

Obviously, Grant isn't a superstitious individual. He simply smiled when the subject of the most outstanding rookie jinx was dredged up.

"I'm starting to understand the game a little more," said Grant, a running back at the University of Hawaii before he was converted to a defensive back. "Now I'm just trying to work with my teammates around me and make plays."

The six-foot, 200-pounder made his fair share of big plays on the way to earning the most outstanding rookie nomination last season.

Grant's CFL debut came last July versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the same club the defending Grey Cup champs face tomorrow night at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Lining up at free safety for that game, Grant recorded his first CFL interception. And after picking off the pass, Grant's running back instincts kicked in as he returned the ball 71 yards for his first CFL touchdown.

SOME FINE NUMBERS

By the end of the '03 campaign, the Oakland-born defender was the Green and Gold's starting middle linebacker.

On top of four sacks, Grant picked up 35 defensive tackles and finished the last season with five interceptions. As well as the 71-yard return versus the Ticats, Grant parlayed another of his picks into a six-point play last year.

"The biggest challenge was just trying to adjust to the run and understanding run gaps and run support," Grant said of his move to the box.

"I think this year I have a much better understanding of that and I've been a little more effective at the linebacker position.

"I miss playing running back sometimes, but that's why I try to get my hands on the ball as much as possible."

Away from the field, Grant is an accomplished artist. His latest work is an oil he's dubbed Generations.

It features the faces of 40 musicians, including Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Mary J. Blige, Tupac, Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix.

Grant plans to market prints of the collage at malls throughout North America once the season is over.

"I was working on that six or seven hours a day, but during the season I don't play with it too much. I try to focus mainly on football," explained Grant, who is now bookending with Singor Mobley at the outside linebacking spots.

Grant's path to the linebacker position isn't radically different from the one Mobley followed.

MR. VERSATILITY

Mobley was a running back in high school, became a defensive back at college and spent three seasons as a backup safety with the Dallas Cowboys.

Following his stint in Dallas, Mobley spent the 2000 season in Edmonton's secondary before joining the linebacking fraternity full time the following year.

"He sort of reminds me of myself," Mobley said after a moment of reflection. "When I first came in here, I played halfback. I could cover, but they thought I'd be a better tackler so they moved me down to linebacker.

"That's the same thing with Rob. He can cover, but he has a knack for the ball and playing linebacker is a good position for him."

Through the first 14 games this season Grant has 39 defensive tackles to go along with a pair of pass knockdowns, a sack and two fumble recoveries.

He's also picked off a couple of opposition passes, but couldn't convert either into a quick six points.

According to Esks' defensive coordinator Greg Marshall, while Grant has made incredible strides he's not yet earned his journeyman's ticket.

"The biggest thing with Rob is he has to be consistent every game," Marshall said.

"He has a penchant for making the big play, which everybody notices. But sometimes he has to be a little bit stronger in some of the little things he does.

"Overall, Rob's doing fine. He's a guy that's playing a position that has to be an impact guy. When he's been able to do that, we've played well. When he hasn't been able to do that, those are some of the games we've struggled."


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