EDMONTON - J.C. Sherritt admits his game has evolved this season.
The Edmonton Eskimos linebacker has gone from reacting to plays to reading them.
It's helped Sherritt become the CFL's leading tackler this season and best player through the first month of the schedule.
"To get that experience last year was huge Ñ that might be the most valuable thing you can get as a player," said Sherritt, who on Tuesday was named the Gibson's Finest CFL Player of the Month for July. "That's been big for me and also having the veterans around me, and learning how they approach every day, every week and just try to get better.
"I definitely think I'm reading the game better. Last year it was a lot of reaction and running to the ball. I think this year, just from game film and experience, there's some reads that have gotten a little better for me."
Sherritt, a native of Truckee, Calif., has been a big part of the Eskimos' stifling defence this season.
His league-leading 41 tackles include three for a loss, a forced fumble and two special teams tackles. The Eastern Washington graduate is currently on pace to break the single-season record for tackles of 129, set by Calvin Tiggle of the Toronto Argonauts in 1994.
Last week against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Sherritt, 24, was all over the field, making 10 tackles in a 23-22 loss.
It was a performance that earned Sherritt a player-of-the week award to go with his monthly honour.
"Awards like that are always an honour, especially coming off a tough loss like that," Sherritt said. "But you have to look at the big picture and know that there is still a lot of work to be done."
Sherritt and the Eskimos are off this week, enjoying their bye. They'll be back on the field next Friday when they play host to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Eskimos went into their break with a 3-2 record, tied with the Roughriders and B.C. Lions for top spot in the West Division.
So far this season, the Eskimos have allowed the fewest points in the league, giving up an average of just 15.8 per contest.
"I knew in the off-season that our defence was going to have a chance to be really good," Sherritt said. "You never really know until you get into the season. But I knew the guys that we had coming back and with the experience some of us had under our belt, we had a chance to be pretty special."
By virtue of their early-season success, Sherritt and the Eskimos defence is aware teams will be trying to make adjustments against them going forward in an effort to figure them out.
It's a challenge the unit looks forward to, having set such a high standard over the first five games.
"Teams are going to adapt," Sherritt said. "There's some great coaches and great players in the CFL and we know we're going to be tested every week. Teams get better, that's just how it goes. I'm sure we're going to see new looks week in and week out.
"But we expect a high standard from ourselves. That's a standard from our defence that we hold everyone to. We hold everyone on our defence accountable. That's how we're going to try and maintain that standard."
Sherritt personally has set the bar high for himself. He's getting the job done both on defence and special teams, which perhaps may be the biggest adjustment for the import linebacker.
"Yeah, that probably the toughest thing, going from special teams right to defence and the other way around," Sherritt said. "It's something that's tough to explain to your friends back home, how hard it is to run down the field to cover a punt and then have to line up and play defence on the next play.
"The first time I did it, I thought I was going to pass out, I was so tired. But that's part of the game and something you have to get used to."