Dalton Sneed and Dru Brown are young American quarterbacks trying to learn the intricacies of the CFL game.
Both are raw rookies, but they have an edge over the typical greenhorn. Both signed with the Blue Bombers more than 15 months ago and are well known to offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce, having been involved in frequent Zoom calls with the new boss. They had a head start in learning the playbook and got a virtual insight into the club’s inner workings.
How much that will help remains to be seen.
But without the test provided by pre-season games, they’ll need to perform well in training camp drills if they hope to earn a steady job or a spot on the practice roster before Winnipeg’s home opener on Aug. 5.
“I think just the (missing) experience (of pre-season) is what’s going to hurt,” said Sneed after Day 6 of Bombers’ training camp Thursday. “… You learn best under fire. You learn best with with those live reps in that true game atmosphere. So, without that you’ve gotta take (from) practice and every rep what you can. Treat it like a game every time you go out there, whether you’re in or not.
“I mean coach Pierce has us standing at the back, you’re taking a mental rep, you’re looking at your wristband, you’re taking that play and you’re running as such.”
Sneed passed for 3,436 passing yards and 25 touchdowns with the University of Montana in 2019 while Brown threw for 810 yards and seven touchdowns in seven appearances during his final college season at Oklahoma State.
Pierce is looking to see how those credentials translate to the Canadian game.
“They’re both very competitive individuals, which you love at this level and at that position,” said Pierce, who was named offensive co-ordinator in January 2020 after the departure of Paul LaPolice to become the head coach of the Ottawa Redblacks.
“(They’re) still a little quiet but they’re learning and the more reps they get you learn a little bit more about their football mindset. Can they process information? Are they looking to take the quick easy throw or are they pushing down the field a little bit more. Are they more poised in the pocket or are they more apt to escape and try to stay on the move?”
With veterans Zach Collaros and Sean McGuire firmly entrenched as the Nos. 1 and 2 men at QB, Brown and Sneed are focused on adjusting to the the bigger dimensions of the Canadian field. A third quarterback would likely to land on the 10-man practice roster or the five-man taxi squad the league has added this season as a safeguard for a COVID-19 outbreak.
Brown, undrafted by the NFL, got some early insight into what he might expect north of the border from all-American running back Chuba Hubbard, his Oklahoma State teammate. Hubbard hails from Edmonton.
“When I initially signed (with Winnipeg) back in March of 2020… it might have been a day after my pro day and Chuba was still on campus and he was asking me… what went into that decision? And he kind of gave me the lowdown on how it goes up here and what to look forward to.”
Sneed has been doing his best to glean whatever knowledge he can from Collaros, who’s in his ninth CFL season.
“Obviously everyone’s super fast, super athletic, so you’ve got to be quicker and I think that adapting to that, getting more reps and watching Zach, learning from Zach is is huge part of that,” said Sneed.
“… He knows the the nuances behind — ‘OK, this safety is two steps out of place. Why? Why is he there? What am I seeing?’ And he knows how to direct his eyes and always be in the right spot. He picks up on little things that obviously the younger guys, myself included, are going to not see.”
Both newcomers have been impressed with the professionalism and willingness to help they’ve experienced in camp.
“It’s amazing,” said Sneed. “Everyone is so welcoming and I think the biggest thing is the vets, I mean they’re extending hands out to everybody — to rookies, to guys who are on their second year and still trying to learn.”
Added Brown: “I think it’s just the epitome of being a professional. You go from college (where) you’ve got probably 50 per cent of the guys are hard workers and they want to be there and then there’s 50 per cent of the guys that are just complacent in being there. Here it’s like we’re all here to do a job and do it well. And we’re all on the same page.”
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