Brandon Isaac plays football the way he talks. Loud. Aggressive. Non-stop. With exclamation marks!
“I’ve always been a loudmouth who wanted to go out and play hard. Just go out and have fun. That’s all I wanna do,” Isaac said Tuesday.
“Sometimes I probably talk too much. But talkin’ makes you want to work hard because now you gotta back up what you talkin’ about or they’re gonna come back at you and tell you that you’re no good.”
There have been few times when anybody has been able to tell Isaac that he has been no good.
A free agent from Calgary, Isaac is one of eight new faces starting on defence this season and one of the leaders of the linebacking crew that includes middle linebacker Robert McCune and rookie Marcus Ball. Together they have made 64 tackles with McCune ranked No. 5 with 30. Ball has 19 and Isaac has 15 as well as a forced fumble and two game-changing quarterback sacks, one that led to an interception by McCune against Winnipeg.
They play with an abandon that is both endearing and more than a little on the wild side. When he isn’t screaming at opponents, he’s yelling encouragement to a teammate and sometimes he’ll even give himself a good talking-to. According to Isaac, all that yappiness is in the family gene pool.
“I always played that way, even when I was a kid coming up. The family that raised me is very loud. My grandma is an outspoken person. I have that same kind of passion and I try to feed that to my teammates,” said Isaac. “I think it motivates us. I’m motivating my teammates and getting inside the head of others.”
So far all that talk has been more than just trash.
After six games, Toronto’s defence is second behind B.C. in allowing the fewest yards per game (311) and fewest passing yards per game (226.7). Toronto also leads the CFL in allowing the fewest passing attempts (105) after six games.
“They play hard and they play fast. They don’t always do it right. But they play with abandon. Even when they do it wrong they get to the ball and cover up their mistakes,” said head coach Scott Milanovich, who along with assistant head coach Chris Jones has almost completely retooled the defence. “Those guys are energy out there. They don’t miss many tackles. They fly to the ball. They can stop the run. It’s their aggressiveness, their effort and speed that makes them so good.”
A lot of that has to come from inside a player. It’s not something a coach can teach.
“It’s in you or it isn’t. It’s something that Chris really looks for in all his players but particularly in a linebacker,” said Milanovich. “When you do as many different things as we do; they have to be able to rush the passer, they have to know how to pass drop, stop the run. You have to be a dynamic player to do those things.
“Some of it, like speed is God-given. Some guys can’t make a mistake and recover because of their athletic ability. Our guys can.”
Despite losing 18-9 to the Grey Cup champion Lions in their last outing, the defence played well enough to win. Except, Isaac doesn’t look at it that way.
“We might become a great defence but right now we’re just a good defence. We’ve lost three games. Therefore we’re not a great defence.”
So, it is that the Stampeders East prepare to meet the original version Saturday in Calgary. Five Argonauts, including McCune, defensive back Ahmad Carroll, lineman Tony Washington, Jones and Isaac have ties to the Stampeders.
“They’re a bunch of good guys who I hung out with, but this is a business ... I’m gonna run my mouth. They might get tired of hearing me. But they know what type of guy I am, so they expect it,” said Isaac, who’s verbal battles with Nik Lewis were legendary.
And, that was just during Stampeders’ practices.
In their first meeting at the Rogers Centre, a 39-36 win for Toronto, Isaac had a big game against the team he played for the previous two seasons, with six defensive tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Calgary’s offence will be a challenge. They have Lewis. They have Larry Taylor.
“They’re a good offence. (Kevin Glenn) is a smart quarterback and reads defences well. The offensive line is aggressive and we have to stop Jon Cornish, as well as Lewis. He’s a talker,” said Isaac, “just as well as I am.”
The Stampeders have one of the league’s most impressive rushing attacks, averaging 101 yards a game. Last week Cornish shredded Hamilton for 170 yards earning CFL player of the week honours.
It might be surmised that kind of ground game might give Jones’ attack-oriented defence pause to stay home? But no, said Isaac.
“Actually you want to be more aggressive. You want to mess with him. You want to hit him hard. You want to let him know he’s been hit and it’s going to be that way all night.
“Now he’s second-guessing himself, second guessing his offensive line. And its causing confusion amongst each other. We want to get at him, stay at him until the end of the fourth quarter and when it’s all over,” said Isaac, “then we can talk some more.”
KACKERT WORKS ON BALL SKILLS
The most important thing for Chad Kackert on Saturday in his first game as the Argonaut’s tailback won’t be how many yards he gains on the ground.
It will be whether he can keep the football off the ground, that counts most.
Kackert became a bit of a fan favourite last year when, filling in for an injured Cory Boyd, he ran for 139 yards in a game against Edmonton.
In a part-time role, he finished the season with 349 yards. But people never forgot that one big game. What many did forget is that he also fumbled once in that game. And, along with his 57 carries there were also three fumbles.
“Kack knows that’s on his name. You can’t play if you turn the ball over as a running back. You can’t. He knows that. I expect him to do fine,” head coach Scott Milanovich said Tuesday, as Kackert went through his first full-pad practice as the No. 1 tailback. “I thought he did a nice job. He looked sharp. We’ll see how it goes.”
Kackert spent the off-season reworking his grip on the ball. “First thing was I had to figure out how I was holding the ball and how I could improve on that,” said Kackert, who admitted part of the challenge is that he has shorter arms than the average running back.
Then, he worked on strengthening his hands. “Pullups ... using a towel.”
Here’s hoping it works. If it doesn’t, chances are Kackert won’t long remain a fan favourite. Or an Argonaut. On the upside, sounds like he has got a ready supply of towels if he needs them. You know, for the crying game.
RAIN NO DRAIN ON ARGOS
A little rain must fall and, it turns out, it brought out the best in the Argos.
The team had to move its practice from the rain-soaked grass at their Erindale practice site to the artificial turf at an Oakville high school.
Chad Kackert and backup tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. looked energized and made some nifty moves in the downpour.
“They both looked explosive, sharp and hungry. It was good. It was a fresh atmosphere after a tough loss. Guys are eager (to play the next game),” said head coach Scott Milanovich.
Jason Barnes showed soft hands on a nifty catch.
“Learn a little toughness, maybe,” Milanovich said, after 90 minutes of dodging raindrops. ”It was good energy. We haven’t had one of these all year really. Maybe a little sprinkle in training camp. You get out there in a downpour ... It was fun.
And, every kid who’s ever escaped a mom’s tackle and done an end around into a puddle can identify with that thinking.