Potential vs. Experience

Courtesy Hamilton Spectator:

Calgary running back Joffrey Reynolds slices through the Ticat defensive front and into space, just one player to beat on the way to pay dirt. Sandy Beveridge is neither the biggest or the fastest of safeties but, using near-textbook positioning and technique, he hauls down Reynolds in the open field. The gain is 22 yards, but the scoreboard change is zero. Three plays later, Calgary is forced to punt.

Dylan Barker is second in the league in special teams tackles with 23. He has all the physical gifts — size, speed, strength — that you’d expect from the 2008 first overall draft pick. After missing all of his rookie season with a broken leg, Barker is slowly developing into the player the Ticats hoped he would become — a bona-fide starting safety.

But, for now, he is Beveridge’s back up.

“I’m happy with the progress of both those guys,” said defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall. “Dylan’s capable of being a starter in this league, but there’s no timetable. Sandy’s doing a great job and it doesn’t matter to me if your eighth year or first year, free agent or first-round pick, the best guy is going to play.”

What Beveridge lacks in natural talent — “It’s deceptive speed, it’s long strides,” he jokes — he makes up for with experience and smarts.

“I’ve been in this league seven years and I’ve seen a lot, I understand a lot. Maybe it’s the instincts, but it’s the film study and working hard in practice that makes it easier on game day,” he said.

Marshall joined the Ticats in the off-season, bringing his defensive scheme from Winnipeg. It’s a complicated defence that demands a lot from the safety position.

“Sandy’s basically the quarterback for us back there. He makes the checks and gets us lined up and gives us a chance to execute the call. It’s a very key position and he’s doing a very good job,” Marshall said. “He’s been around the block a few times and he’s seen a few things. He understands what offences are trying to do to us.”

Barker, meanwhile, has the raw physical tools but “raw” is the operative word.

“The reality is Dylan’s a rookie. He’s learning the game and doing a good job in trying to grow his understanding of what offences are trying to do and how that affects his role,” Marshall said.

“Slowly but surely, we’re bringing him along.”

Both Beveridge and Barker are quick to stress that, despite their competition for playing time, they have a constructive relationship both on and off the field.

“Dylan and I are a team. We work hard in practice, we watch film together. If I were to go down, I’d want him to go in there and make plays.” Beveridge said. “There’s no animosity between us, we were working together on a daily basis and we hang out together off the field.”

Barker said Beveridge has been open in sharing what he’s learned since joining the Ticats as a free agent in 2003.

“He’s really been helping me and we work really well together. There’s no feud or anything like that,” Barker said.

Like many young Canadian players, Barker is cutting his teeth on special teams, something he says will help his learning curve on defence as well.

“When you have those returners bearing down on you, it helps you get a feel for how shifty those guys really are, the Tristan Jacksons and Larry Taylors of the league,” Barker said.

If Beveridge is the present, Barker would certainly seem to represent the future at safety for the Ticats. But Beveridge says he’s just relishing the first starting job of his career.

“It’s a great opportunity for me right now and I’ve been waiting a long time for it and I’m just trying to make the most of it. I can’t worry about decisions that might get made down the road,” he said.

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