'Shakespeare' makes big plays for Ticats

Stevie Baggs, nicknamed Shakespeare, has become a more well-rounded defensive player for Hamilton....

Stevie Baggs, nicknamed Shakespeare, has become a more well-rounded defensive player for Hamilton. (Alex Urosevic/QMI Agency)

Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:47 PM ET

To the untrained eye, Stevie Baggs, who has become known for the extraordinary, has been reduced to the status of ordinary.

For those strictly inclined to judge a player on stats alone, Baggs is playing well below expectations.

Like a receiver who is measured by the amount of catches he makes, touchdowns he produces and yards gained, Baggs gets judged by sacks recorded.

At least that was the perception and reputation.

Six games into the season and the second-year Ticats defensive end isn’t posting the staggering numbers he piled up when he joined Hamilton, but his presence hasn’t gone overlooked.

In fact, Baggs, to hear those in the Hammer tell it, has become a more complete defensive end, even it means fewer sacks and tackles.

“I’m a better player, but my stats don’t show it,’’ Baggs said as the countdown to Saturday night’s visit by the Argos continues. “When people watch film and understand the game, hopefully they can see what’s going on.”

What’s going actually began during his exit meeting with head coach Marcel Bellefeuille shortly after the Ticats’ bitter semifinal loss to the Argos, a loss that would lead to assistant coaching changes and a philosophical change to Baggs’ role.

No longer would Baggs simply line up at either end of the line, get into his three-point stance and simply attack the backfield.

At no point last season was Baggs as dominant than during Hamilton’s dominating 30-3 win over the Argos at Rogers Centre, where Baggs has seven tackles, two sacks and one special teams tackle that would earn him the league’s most outstanding player award for the week.

As the Argos get set to invade Ivor Wynne Stadium, Baggs has two sacks this season, both produced in Hamilton’s first two games, which happened to end in losses.

Baggs is now being asked to drop into coverage, run stunts along the line of scrimmage, close gaps and with the Ticats’ new-look defence featuring plenty of zero coverage, schemes aren’t designed for Baggs to make the play.

Dubbed Shakespeare given his penchant for making big plays, Baggs, admittedly, found it difficult adjusting to a role that didn’t result in sacks, tackles, forced fumbles and scoring touchdowns, the glamour numbers associated with defenders, measuring sticks voters, at least among the uneducated, use when all-star teams and league honours are announced.

“At first, I must admit, I had a problem with it,’’ confided Baggs. “I want to be the greatest, it’s why I play this game. The greater your name and the greater that comes with everything in the game, now you can help and bless more people. That’s my intent.

“I’m now becoming a better football player all around because I’m learning more. I pretty much know what everyone on defence has to do. Before, I was not necessarily paying attention to it.”

Those who are paying attention, namely his teammates and the coaching staff, see the impact Baggs has made with the Ticats.

“He’s a more polished defensive end,’’ Bellefeuille said. “He’s learning run fits, run stunts, how to create for the linebackers. It’s why Rey Williams and Jamall Johnson have become the recipients of that because Stevie is giving up more opportunities to make plays in order to set up those guys.”

In time, Bellefeuille believes, the big-play sacks fans equate with Baggs will be produced.

“More importantly, he’s running the defence by becoming a better defensive end,’’ the head coach continued. “Last year there were plays, but then he’d be out of his gap and allowed runs getting inside of us that you (fans/media) don’t see. He’s taking it upon himself to be a team guy by becoming more well rounded.”

While his patience has been tested, Baggs’ will to be the best will never waver.

“It’ll come around,’’ he added. “I know one things about God’s universal law: When you work diligently and have a passion for something, it’ll come to pass.

“I have to stay patient and keep working. It can be a little frustrating, but it will get greater later.”

Which plays into Baggs’ platform to effect change.

Recently, a friend asked Baggs to attend a youth football practice, where at first he stood to the side until his passion for the pigskin forced him to become completely engaged.

As someone who has his own foundation, giving back is as important as any quarterback sack.

“It’s all about heart work,’’ Baggs said. “When you have a passion, it takes hard work to get you to a place like the pro level, but if it’s heart work it’ll be more rewarding in the end.”


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