November 21, 2018

“Quarterback of the Defence”

EDMONTON – In his role as back-up, Adam Berger used to get Josh Bell’s back up.

In a kibitzing kind of way.

“He made me go make plays,’’ grumbles the loquacious Stampeders’ secondary coach, feigning exasperation. “I didn’t, he’d go in and shame me.

“The football gods are on his side, for some reason.

“The ball always seems to find that Berger.

“There’s stuff you simply can’t explain about some guys. Can’t teach. Can’t explain. Can’t fathom.

“And that ball, man, it trails him around like a devoted puppy.

“He’s one of my favourite guys but I hated that as a player. Hated it. I’d never get the ball and then he’d go in, and in three plays, guess what? He’s got the ball. And I’m like: ‘Gol-ly!

“We’ve got two great guys back there in Berger and Tunde (Adeleke). Best 1-2 safety punch in the league. Outrageously good. I’d stack ’em up against any of the other eight. You want proof? We can go watch the film.

“As a coach, they give us security. As a teammate, they both give you what you need.”

Sunday in 106th Grey Cup when they take the field against the Ottawa Redblacks, the 28-year-old Berger may draw into the starting lineup in centre field, as he did in the Western Final against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

There’d be a measure of poetic justice in that, him being one-season with the Redblacks before this season returning via agency  to the organization that drafted him and where he played from 2013 through 2016.

“As soon as they hired coach Bell, I knew this was the place I wanted to be,” says Berger, a B.C. Lions supporter growing up on the West Coast. “I had a great time in Ottawa and it was actually pretty hard leaving. They were always very honest with me, told me they wanted me back. Nothing but good things to say.

“It’s just that Calgary’s always been special. You get drafted somewhere and it’s, well … special.

“Kinda like your home.

“Then when Bell told me he’d be coaching, I thought to myself: ‘Well, well.’ He’s taught me so much. The biggest thing I picked up from him was the amount of communication you need.

“You are the QB back there. You have to know not only what you’re doing but what the guys beside you is doing and then what the outside guys are doing, too, because you have to make everyone right on any given play.

“That’s the biggest thing I picked up from him – seeing plays, being able to play off and with our guys.”

In Ottawa, he slotted in as the second safety behind East Division all-star Pruneau. Still, the ties developed while playing in the nation’s capital remain sturdy.

“My favourite part is standing there for the national anthem, looking across and seeing all the familiar faces,” says the SFU grad, Calgary’s fourth pick in 2012 and a 2014 Grey Cup winner with the Stamps. “Maybe give them a little smile or a nod.

“Especially the DBs. Guys that were there last year – (Jean-Phillippe) Bolduc, Pruneau, (Sherrod) Baltimore, (Jonathan) Rose. When you spend every day with people, four or five hours, pretty much for six months or whatever, you get close to them whether you want to or not.

“So this will be fun. I haven’t gone out of my way to talk to them. If they message me, I’ll message back.

“There’s only going to be one winner at the end of the day and I sure hope it’s us but it’ll be good to see ’em.”

As someone who practiced every day against the Trevor Harris-directed offence, the Eastern Division Semi-final blowout of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last weekend didn’t come as a total, faint-dead-away shock.

“You realize just how explosive they can be,’’ says Berger. “You can’t take a play off. As much as you say that against everyone, it’s very true against them.

“I mean, Trevor goes out last week and puts up six touchdowns in a playoff game that’s supposed to be close. They can go off that like any given day so we’ve got to be on our stuff this week.”

Given the stage, the opponent and the opportunity, Bell fully expects Berger will be.

“He epitomizes what you want in a quarterback of the defence. He understands the 12 guys on our defence and the 12 guys who are going to attack us.

“He understands concepts and tendencies. He’s an extension of the coaching staff on the field. And a calming voice to the other 11 guys on the field.

“You got Pruneau over there. Pruneau is a helluva athlete. And they had a great defence last year.

“But now he comes back home and gets to be in the mix.

“Sunday, mentally he’s gonna be on his game. I have no doubt.

“I’m excited to see it unfold. He should feel secure playing against a Jaime Elizondo offence.

“And, I mean, it’s a dream script, right? To go up against the team you left for in free agency? You maybe get to start? In a Grey Cup game? And you are a competitive person?

“Man …

“I’m thinking somebody gonna get that boom! – a couple times.”