Eiben, Mariuz follow same path

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

On and off the football field, Ray Mariuz and Kevin Eiben seem to cross paths.

The Argos' Canadian linebackers, who appear destined to be linked for quite some time, shared yet another storyline during the off-season when they spent a couple of months traveling through Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Coming off a Grey Cup season, during which Eiben and Mariuz led the CFL in their respective specialties, the duo bonded further while staying in hostels and touring a brand new part of the world for both of them. "It was fantastic," Eiben, 25, says.

A little R & R was in order for both players after a rewarding and grueling year on the field. Eiben, in his fourth year, led the CFL in defensive tackles and was named the Argos' Outstanding Player, Outstanding Canadian and Outstanding Defensive Player.

Mariuz, meanwhile, led the CFL in special teams tackles, an area where Eiben cut his teeth before taking a starring role on the league's top defence. In fact, Eiben led the league in the same category just one year earlier.

"On our team we put a lot of emphasis on special teams," Mariuz, 24, says. "It's not just a filler. We go out there and we know a lot of games are decided on it."

Just ask Eiben. An unheralded fourth-round draft pick, just like Mariuz in 2003, Eiben made his mark on special teams after graduating from Bucknell. "Moose (Mariuz) led the league in special teams last year and, eventually, he'll get a chance to play at the defensive level. He's good enough and strong enough. Me and him should have a lot of fun in the middle."

While Mariuz would welcome any opportunity to help out on defence, last season's special teams captain is more than happy to continue developing at a steady pace under Eiben and another fine Canadian linebacker, Michael O'Shea.

You won't find the McMaster product whining about his duties. "I'm competitive and you want to get out there on the field, but at the same time I know I've got two great guys like Eiben and O'Shea ahead of me," Mariuz says. "I realize I have a certain role on this team, whether it's being a backup or just playing specials. I'm just waiting for my opportunity."

One of the best Canadian players of his time, O'Shea raises the bar for Mariuz and Eiben. "We both look up to him. O'Shea definitely is a role model for both of us. He set the path for us," says Eiben.

With all the starters returning on defence, the Argos figure to be tough to score against. With Rich Stubler back as defensive co-ordinator, Eiben and his fellow defenders knew exactly what to expect. "This camp I wouldn't say was easier because they worked us pretty hard," Eiben says. "But getting the defence and the terminology down was a lot easier because we've been together three years. We're family, we treat each other like brothers."

While Eiben calls last season the highlight of his career, he is predicting bigger and better things in 2005. "Last year we had ups and downs," he says. "We finished 10-7-1 and we could definitely get better than that. We could get first place in the East and get that first-round bye. There are still improvements we could make."


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