Being versatile has become important no matter the workplace. Gone are the days when a person can get by doing one thing well.
Versatility was one of the reasons the Calgary Stampeders wasted little time in signing defensive end Julian Howsare on the first day of CFL free agency. In his four seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the 30-year-old from Altoona, PA, has developed into a Swiss Army knife on the defensive line.
“I definitely think one of my strengths is my ability to move around and play different positions, rush the passer, drop into coverage,” said Howsare. “That’s something I pride myself on, being able to do all those things and do them well.
“At the end of the day, that’s something I think can help a team a lot.”
Last season Howsare gave offensive line coaches fits.
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He could switch from end to tackle, then use his six-foot-five, 255-pound size and power to track down quarterbacks. He also could drop back into cover like a linebacker to use his speed and ball smarts to cover receivers.
“When I was at Hamilton, we were dropping the coverage a little bit and they liked the way I did it,” said Howsare. “We started doing it more and more.
“I would pick the DB’s brains, just trying to learn more about coverages and drops. I worked on it, did it more, and just got more comfortable at it. That’s just kind of how it came together.”
As a lineman, Howsare could focus on pass rushing or stopping the run. The more is role evolved, his understanding of the entire defensive scheme grew.
“Just understanding coverages and whole defence a little but more, rather than just my position on the D-line,” he said. “I felt I improved that mental side, learning everything.
“It helped me as a defensive end, knowing everything on the defence.”
Howsare was an East Division All-Star in 2022, recording 30 tackles and a career-high seven sacks in 16 games. He also nabbed the first two interceptions of his career.
His ability to be everywhere and do a little bit of everything put him on the Stampeders’ radar, especially after defensive end Folarin Orimolade decided to sign with the Toronto Argonauts and linebacker Jameer Thurman jumped to Hamilton.
“Julian brings a little more versatility that we lost when (Folarin) didn’t sign back on,” said Dave Dickenson, Calgary’s general manager and head coach.
“Julian is a hard-nosed and versatile player. He’s always played well against us.”
Earlier in the year the Stampeders signed defensive lineman James Vaughters who had played two seasons in Calgary and won a Grey Cup before spending four years in the NFL.
“I feel like the D-line is where we made some moves,” said Dickenson. “With Julian and James Vaughters, we have changed it up.
“We had a good unit last year. We still have a lot of foundational pieces on the inside. I feel good about our defensive line. I feel it will be the strength of our team.”
The Calgary defence gave up an average 22.1 points a game last year, second least in the league. Besides Vaughters, linebacker Cameron Judge signed an extension with the Stampeders while veteran defensive linemen Derek Wiggan and Mike Rose remain with the team.
The depth of talent, along with defensive coordinator Brent Monson and defensive line coach Juwan Simpson made the Stampeders very attractive to Howsare.
“I want to play on the best team and be surrounded by guys who have a lot of talent and can help us win games,” he said. “Looking at that coaching staff and that roster, that’s exactly what I saw, a great organization, a great roster.”
Like Hamilton, the Stampeders also have a reputation as a winning organization that treats its player fairly.
“Being in this league for five years, talking to other guys who played at Calgary and came from Calgary, I’ve heard great things about the organization,” said Howsare. “That played a role. That’s something you look at.
“As the week progressed, I was just talking to them more and more. Everything seemed to be a great fit. After talking it over with my fiancé and family it seemed like the right more for us.”
Knowing it was the right fit didn’t make the decision to leave Hamilton any easier.
Howsare joined the Tiger-Cats in 2018 after spending time with the NFL New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks.
In 62 regular-season games he had 112 defensive tackles, five special team tackles, 21 sacks, three knockdowns, one forced fumble and the two interceptions. He also played in two Grey Cup games, losing to Winnipeg in 2019 and again in 2021.
Howsare credited Tiger-Cat head coach Orlondo Steinauer for teaching him how to play in the CFL.
“He is such a smart guy and great coach, it’s hard not to learn a lot from him,” he said. “The whole coaching staff there, they really made an impact on me learning the game.”
Howsare and his fiancé spent the last two off-seasons living in Hamilton and had developed roots in the community.
“It was a tough decision but, at the end of the day, it was the decision I think was the best for us,” he said.
While excited about the Stampeders’ potential, Howsare said it could take time for him to adjust to his new teammates.
“You have to learn each other’s games,” he said. “The timing of things when it comes to stunts and twists up front.
“You’ve got to build that chemistry up front, know what propels a D-line forward. As the season goes on you, you want to keep getting better and better. You want to be rolling at the end of the season when it really matters.”