Strange ways, indeed

Eskimos defensive line assistant coach Don Wnek uses a plastic knife to get a point across at...

Eskimos defensive line assistant coach Don Wnek uses a plastic knife to get a point across at practice on Tuesday. (Sun Media/James Maclennan)

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

Don Wnek pulled a knife on his Edmonton Eskimo defensive linemen in practice this week.

The D-line coach had the knife hidden underneath his white shirt before suddenly using it in a drill.

It needs to be noted that it was a plastic knife - but it still qualifies as one of the strangest things you will ever see at a CFL practice.

In his short few months with the Eskimos, Wnek has quietly earned the reputation as being one of the most unique coaches on the block.

The 55-year-old Illinois native actually uses toy bowling pins and a swinging towel with a large knot on one end in other drills to get his players trained to embarrass offensive linemen.

"It's like a corner of the playing field (is) almost a daycare centre with all his toys," cracked Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia on Wnek.

"I found it interesting. I noticed the knife, picked it up to make sure it wasn't a real knife.

"It is a plastic knife.

"I thought maybe we could use it on the quarterback and accelerate their speed out of the pocket."

But once Maciocia stopped joking, he made a serious and true point this week.

"(Wnek) is big on martial arts and using your hands. And the success speaks for itself," said the bench boss.

Edmonton enters tomorrow's game at Commonwealth Stadium (7 p.m., CHED, TSN) against Saskatchewan with 15 sacks.

At 4-3 in the West Division, the Esks rank second in the division for most sacks.

In rushing yards against per game, Edmonton has gone from being the second worst team in the league last year to being in the top four.

Replacing Malvin Hunter as D-line coach this year, Wnek has brought new toys and new results.

"In pass rushing, it is basically free-form fighting," said Wnek. "They (offensive linemen) are grabbing, holding. You either want to avoid being held or you want to avoid their hands the best you can.

"I have always coached the D-line and in the off-season, when you are sitting around watching film and trying to think of ways to train your guys, you are thinking training tools."

And that is where the plastic knife, bowling pins and whipping towel were born.

Wnek brought all those toys out - once again - during one practice this week, much to the delight of his players.

AVOID THE KNIFE DRILL: THE MOST BIZARRE OF THE TOY DRILLS, WNEK TRIES TO SLASH AND STAB HIS PLAYERS WITH THE PLASTIC BLADE.

It's a one-on-one exercise with Wnek standing within an arm's length of a defensive player, who is trying to avoid the blade.

Dario Romero and Brandon Guillory came through clean but Joe Anoai wasn't so fortunate.

"They want to get into a football position and play the game a little bit," said Wnek.

"The knife is a focal point. Focus on this, focus on the attack point - it could be in reference to an offensive line-man's hands - know what angles you are being attacked from and dodge it."

BOWLING PIN DRILL: THEY MIGHT COST A DOLLAR AT A STORE, BUT THE BRIGHT ORANGE AND YELLOW TOY BOWLING PINS ARE PLACED AGAINST A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN'S CHEST BY WNEK'S HANDS.

From there, the lineman is taught to knock the pins out of Wnek's grasp or at least move them.

"That gives you the feeling of the offensive lineman's hands on your body or their hands away from their body," Wnek explained.

"(The pins) are a focal point. Either strike it, destroy it, avoid it and work to get by it."

Romero used several different types of hand strikes to hammer the pins in Monday's practice.

SWINGING TOWEL DRILL: THIS MIGHT BE THE MOST ENJOYABLE DRILL FROM A COACHING PERSPECTIVE BECAUSE WNEK CAN WILDLY SWING A TOWEL - WITH A BIG KNOT AT THE END - TOWARD A PLAYER'S HEAD.

The idea is to duck the flying object and then move upfield.

"You are being attacked by something. Do the best you can to dodge it and find an opening to get by it," said Wnek. "When you see the towel going back, explode past the guy."

A veteran of more than 25 years coaching the defensive line, Wnek is trying to use every bizarre drill to teach a technique that can be used to defeat the opposing offensive line.

"We aren't trying to learn how to knife fight, we are trying to apply it to the (football) game," stated Wnek.

The players seem to embrace the strange ideas. Instead of hammering their bodies into tackling dummies or pushing sleds around the field every day, they get diversity.

"They are all great things," said Romero on the funky toys. "They all focus on getting the hands off you, working our hands, working our bodies - it all helps on the field."

Added Davis: "Coach Wnek is the most unique and most creative defensive line coach I have ever had.

"He has a unique style of getting linemen to use their hands. It is great. It keeps the guys interested.

"We play games on who can break the toys.

"It is cool. But it really does help because it is visual. The toys are pink and neon green and orange. Visually you can't miss it so it helps you focus better."

JONATHAN.HUNTINGTON@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos