Mike O’Shea put one topic of discussion to bed for now when he announced at Wednesday night’s fan forum that Maurice Leggett will make the full-time switch to strong-side linebacker this season while Chris Randle moves back to corner back.
Leggett originally took over the position after Randle suffered a torn ACL in the Labour Day classic. Although, similarly to Randle, he struggled at first in the new role, Leggett eventually really settled in and even became an upgrade over Randle at the strong-side linebacker position. While the Bombers are fortunate to have two solid options to play one of the most important positions in the game, the decision to continue with Leggett at strong-side linebacker was likely a no-brainer.
Although Randle is an upgrade in pass-coverage, Leggett is significantly better as a run-stopper. He is far more aggressive at the point of attack, shedding off blocks and delivering better open-field tackles. Randle, meanwhile, does a good job reading the play and flowing to the ball carrier, but he simply does not attack with the aggressiveness that Leggett does. As a result, defensive coordinator Richie Hall used the former Kansas City Chief closer to the box and in the blitz, which we didn’t really see with Randle.
Leggett isn’t far behind Randle in pass-coverage, either. The strong-side linebacker spot is essentially a strong-safety position, anyway, and we already know Leggett is an elite safety. The 29-year-old shows great awareness in zone coverage, quick-hips, ball-skills and an overall knack for reading the play as both a safety and strong-side linebacker, where the coverage responsibilities are actually very similar in many CFL defenses.
While Randle is, indeed, quite better in man-coverage, Leggett isn’t that terribly far behind, and you could technically point to a lack of experience as a reason. Also, many of the man-on-man assignments for SAM linebackers are against fullbacks and no. 3 slot-backs, anyway – not elite, go-to receivers. And it’s not like Leggett is a liability in man-defense – see Washington, Demond – but perhaps just not the guy you’d want covering no. 1 receivers on a consistent basis.
Randle, on the other hand, is an elite cover-man, and would immediately become the league’s best wide-side corner. The Bombers may look at playing him at the vacant boundary halfback position, but with his press-technique – and also lack of aggressiveness in the run game – he could be best suited for the wide-side position, with Johnny Adams firmly entrenched in the boundary. The Bombers also already have some promising candidates to play boundary halfback in Louisville’s Johnny Patrick – seriously, keep an eye on this guy in training camp – and Ohio’s Julian Posey, who looked more than serviceable in his week 20 start against Toronto.
Although the Bombers could still be tempted to keep Randle at SAM linebacker and Leggett at safety since it would only create one position to fill – Washington’s boundary halfback position – the Bombers should feel confident in the players they have brought in to compete for that safety spot. Former Detroit Lion Jonte Green is a natural corner, but could be better suited to play safety in the CFL with his tackling skills and ability keep the action in front of him and react in zone. The Bombers also signed Macho Harris in January, supplying a veteran presence and fall-back option if training camp doesn’t uncover a solid, rookie safety.
Regardless, it’ll be hard to not play Leggett at strong-side linebacker this season, as he’ll still get to roam the secondary often as the Bombers run plenty of cover-4, and will be closer to the action in the run-game. And this move will allow the Bombers to play Randle at field-side cornerback, which isn’t fair for opponents – he’s far too good for that position. The idea of having Randle as the wide-side corner must have Richie Hall salivating at the mouth over Winnipeg’s loaded secondary, which will be even better as a result of having anyone but Demond Washington at halfback, and perhaps spectacular if Washington’s replacement, Johnny Patrick, is as good as advertised.
But a secondary can sometimes only be as a good as the strong-side linebacker, and the Bombers are fortunate to have two excellent options to fill that spot. And while playing Randle at SAM linebacker does have it’s own advantages for filling out the rest of the secondary, Maurice Leggett remains the best option.