#ProTops: Talkin’ Antwane Grant With The Onside CFL Fantasy Podcast

It’s the first day of football season! The Canadian Football League kicks off tonight with the Saskatchewan Roughriders visiting the Montreal Alouettes.

Why do we care? Because a former Topper, Antwane Grant, is himself a Roughrider!

Well, kind of.

Following a pretty successful preseason campaign (five total receptions, 90 yards in two games), Grant was placed on the Riders practice squad, a move that is a bummer, but as the Onside CFL Fantasy Podcast says, it isn’t an awful thing

A deep receiving corps, a chance to learn a somewhat new game — it could be worse for Grant.

So, with the season upon us, I reached out to the Onside CFL crew to break down Grant in Saskatchewan, what we can expect and what the differences are between American football and the CFL game.

Dan Ukrainetz is a big-wig with Onside CFL, and Adrian DeCorby is the go-to source for the Onside crew on everything Roughriders.

Ed. note — The interviews were conducted before this past week, when Grant was placed on the Riders’ practice squad, something that Adrian touches on in the interview.

The Towel Rack: Will Grant have to change the way he played in America to accommodate the Canadian game? What are the biggest changes individual players have to make? Have you seen instances of tremendous American talents that didn’t succeed in the CFL because they couldn’t make necessary adjustments?

Dan Ukrainetz: The biggest adjustment for Grant, to me, will be the “waggle.” In the CFL, the slot receivers are always in motion pre-snap and that’s where he primarily has been taking his snaps in training camp. As a result, most receivers coming north have to adjust to getting the timing down with hitting the line of scrimmage at full speed and then making the first cut. On top of that, it’s a wider field in the CFL (65 yards wide) and someone in his position will be getting targeted with very long passes to the wide side of the field.

I’ll give a couple of examples that many of your Conference USA followers will know. Tommy Shuler was of course a big name for Marshall for three years and came to the CFL in 2015 and stayed through last year (including a stint with these same Roughriders). He was not able to differentiate himself, bounced around on three practice rosters, and now is out of the league. His battery mate with the Herd, Rakeem Cato, has had moderate success at quarterback with Montreal in 2015 and 2016, but was himself released in February and remains a free agent.

There have been other notable talents even in the last two years that did not work out. This year, running back Kendall Hunter (former San Francisco 49er) retired early in training camp. A year ago, Jacoby Ford (former Oakland Raider) appeared on two rosters but did not see any game action.

Adrian DeCorby: The biggest adjustment Grant will have to make to his game is adjusting to “the waggle,” or pre-snap motion before the ball is snapped. He has been taking snaps on the strong side Slot WR position in camp and, in order to be successful in that role, he will need to learn how to best time up his waggle and to get off any press coverage near the line of scrimmage.

As mentioned by Dan, the field is a lot wider than the American field so being able to find soft spots in coverage in between linebackers and defensive backs will be crucial. (Also remember, there is an extra defender, 12 men, on the field in the CFL).

It is also a faster game up here: Play clocks are only 20 seconds long, so being in top physical condition is vital, as you don’t have 45 seconds between plays like in the NFL. You mentioned past talented American recievers having success or not having success in the CFL, that has a lot do with dedication to learning the nuances of the game and getting your head into the playbook. The CFL is a professional game and the athletes that play are very talented football players, even if they aren’t NFL calibre. The players that come in and treat it as a professional league will find success, but if they treat it like it’s “2nd rate” or a “scab league” they will get a wake up call right away.

Antwane Gran’ts official head shot for the Roughriders (via Riderville.com).

TTR: You've been at Roughriders' training camp— what have you been able to see from Grant that impresses you?

AD: I have personally attended three workouts during the Riders training camp and the Mock Game (scrimmage/intra-squad game). During those practices, Antwane has run mostly with the second team offence, and worked with the 2nd/3rd QBs.

Things I’ve noticed about his game — he runs good routes and gets in and out of his breaks extremely fast. He has adjusted fairly well to the waggle as well, as I haven’t noticed any offside issues during practice, and the fact he is being played there (the more difficult recieving position) speaks volumes for the way he has learned/adapted to the Canadian game.

He has done well when thrown the ball, as I haven’t noticed many drops in practice when I’ve been present. During the Mock Game, while a lot of Veterans sat out, he was able to catch a touchdown on a nice corner route in the back of the end zone. He also made 3–4 other catches and showed good yards after catch capability and was able to make defenders miss in space.

In the Roughriders’ first preseason game, Antwane was the leading receiver by yardage with three catches for 63 yards, but also a couple drops. Overall his performance was positive.

TTR: On the flip side of that, what in your view does Grant need to work on to become more effective?

AD: To be more effective, Antwane will have to eliminate the drops he had in the first preseason game. He showed good separation and was targeted six times in the game, but drops in the live game are going to hurt him making the team.

Also, CFL teams run a lot 5-WRs packages, so he will be responsible for a lot of blocking on run plays and will need to show he can be a physical blocker downfield on run and pass plays away from the ball.

TTR: How is he comparing to the other first-time Riders?

AD: The Roughriders brought a total of 18 wide receivers to training camp, seven of which would be first year CFLers. Of the newcomers, I would say he is in the top two of that group (slightly behind Jenson Stoshak, from Florida Atlantic, whom has been taking some snaps with the first teamers in camp).

The results after the first game would provide evidence of that as they were the two most targeted newcomer WRs in preseason action. Some veterans did not see action, however I would say Stoshak and Grant have moved their way up the depth chart and seem to be competing with the Vets for the available roster spots.

TTR: Will he have an opportunity to step in and become an immediate impact player or will he have to wait in the wings for a few weeks, or even a few seasons. What is the best-case scenario for Grant in 2017? How do you see his 2017 season unfolding?

AD: I do believe that both newcomer receivers, Grant more specifically, may have a tough chance cracking the opening day roster. The opening day roster is only 46 players in the CFL, so it does not leave much room to crack. That doesn’t count players on the IR or PR, so there will be room for players to make their mark and grab a spot on the roster, once some players get placed on those specific roster lists.

As mentioned earlier, CFL teams run mostly 5-WR sets on offence, and with that will dress 2–3 backup receivers on the gameday roster. Plus 2–3 WRs likely end up on each teams Practice Roster (made of 10 players). One thing working against Antwane is he doesn’t (or hasn’t been used so far) as a Kick/Punt Returner, generally one of those backup positions will be someone that handles those duties, so to make the opening 46 man roster I believe he has an uphill battle ahead of him.

BUT I see a good chance, based on the Mock Game performance and his preseason action, that he will be a top candidate to make this year’s Practice Roster. If he makes the PR, it will give him an opportunity to further learn the CFL game and with injuries and the extended season (18 games) he could see some Regular Season game action by the 2nd half of the season.

Last season, with rebuilding and injuries the Saskatchewan Roughriders had 13 different wide recievers start and catch passes for them, so there very well may be an opportunity for him to make some starts and become a part of the offence on the field this season. Saying that, for most American WRs to make an impact in the CFL takes being here for a full season learning the game. The CFL sees a lot of breakout 2nd or 3rd American WRs, that could be on their 2nd team before everything “clicks” and they become bigger actual impact players in the passing game.

TTR: Coming from a CFL Fantasy perspective, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask — if any of us Americans are interested in playing, what’s the best/easiest way to do so?

AD: The best place to get into CFL Fantasy Football right now is DraftKings, they have the best and most consistent product. This will be the second season for DraftKings and the CFL, and I noticed a huge change in the market once they got on board. For Americans interested it is definitely the place to start. For those not looking for a monetary commitment, the CFL (www.cfl.ca) and their sole broadcaster TSN (www.tsn.ca) have offerings in weekly fantasy football games as well. I wish I could better direct you to a Year long Fantasy game, but as of now the best product comes from Independent websites (ie. Fantaseh.com)

TTR: What are the essential CFL & Riders twitter follows so fans can keep up with Grant all year?

AD: Onside CFL Fantasy Football can be followed on Twitter: @CFLFantasyFTB or you can follow any of us individually

Dan — @Dan_Uk1 
Dave Dawson — @DaveDawson7
or myself — @decorbs

For Riders specific news the best sources are @rodpedersen (Riders play by play voice), @arielle_zerr (beat reporter), & @sskroughriders (The Saskatchewan Roughriders team twitter account). Those three outlets will get you most updated on Roughrider specific news.

As for CFL related news, you should have your readers check out the 3 Down Nation blog (www.3DownNation.com), as they are in tune with all news and goings on in the league and have team specific bloggers for all 9 teams. A great source for CFL information!

I’d like to thank Dan and Adrian to take the time to talk with us about Antwane, and the CFL in general. If you’re so inclined, give them a follow as they love trying to grow the game south of the border.

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