LaRose ready to bloom

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

A year ago J.R. LaRose was just trying to make the team.

This year the local product is vying for a starting spot.

"I'm taking the same approach as I did last year and that's going in and trying to prove to the coaches that you deserve to be No. 1," LaRose said yesterday at Edmonton Eskimos training camp.

"I just want to come out and help the team any way I can to get the victories and to end up (at the Grey Cup) in Toronto."

LaRose, 23, is just three years removed from his playing days with the Edmonton Huskies junior football team.

He was invited to camp as an area-protected junior two years ago.

Last season LaRose played in all 18 regular-season games and started the last 11.

He finished with 26 defensive tackles, 13 special teams tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

He's currently in a battle for the starting safety position with veteran William Loftus.

"I don't know if it's his spot to lose, he hasn't won the spot," Maciocia said.

"The spot was given to him last year because we weren't satisfied with our play at free safety. I would say they're 1A and 1B."

Loftus, 31, was limited to eight games last year with the Eskimos due to injury.

Yet he's come to camp in great shape and has so far been impressive.

"On the field it's been a battle and off the field we've been really tight," said LaRose. "It's been great. He's a veteran leader, he teaches me a lot still and I appreciate having him with me."

Loftus was originally drafted by the Montreal Alouettes in 1998.

He played in more than 100 games in seven seasons with Montreal and was traded to Edmonton in the deal that sent Terry Vaughn out East.

LaRose has 19 CFL games under his belt. But having been given the starting assignment late last season, is confident in his ability to earn the job this year.

"My confidence level is high," LaRose said.

"As a defensive back your confidence level always has to be high.

"I just want to show them that I belong in this league and hopefully I'll be the No. 1 safety when camp breaks out."

Just coming in with an opportunity at the top spot is big for LaRose.

"It's huge," Maciocia said. "At some point and time we decided to give these young guys an opportunity and go through some of those growing pains that come with the opportunity. I thought he hung in there pretty well. He grew with the position and now he can come in knowing what to fully expect."

To better prepare for the battle, LaRose bulked up this off-season and studied a lot of game film.

Having been a cornerback in junior, LaRose is still getting accustomed to reading the game from a safety's standpoint.

"Last year I was a little too light," he said.

"I was blitzing through the A gaps at 192 pounds and I was getting tossed around. I needed to put on some weight, so I hit the weight room a lot.

"Last year I got kind of thrown into the fire and I had to learn on the fly.

"So this year I spent a few months watching film and it's paying off now. I feel a lot more comfortable in coverages and I'm able to break on balls a lot faster."

Sunday's scrimmage and two exhibition games will ultimately determine who lines up as the starter come the season opener on June 28.

"He's not coming in as the projected starter, he's coming in as a guy who has the ability to play there for us," Maciocia said.

"He's done a pretty good job to date, but it's not a given that he'll be there when we open up against Winnipeg."


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