Barry Jackson

How Dolphins’ pleasant surprise benefited from Canada

Playing professional football in Saskatchewan, Canada, is hardly a prestigious gig, but linebacker Sam Eguavoen, the surprise of Dolphins training camp, believes his three years in the Canadian Football League gave him uniquely important preparation to assume Dolphins nickel package linebacker duties and potentially an even larger role.

Eguavoen, who has solidified his standing as one of two linebackers on the field (with Jerome Baker) in two-backer sets, said playing in the CFL helped him for this new role in two ways:

1) Eguavoen notes the CFL has a 65-yard-wide field compared with 53 in the NFL. “That’s huge,” he said. “If they throw a screen to the left side here and I’m dropping to the weak hook, I can get there. If I’m running full speed, I’m going to get there. In the CFL, sometimes you don’t get there; but you’re trained to go sideline to sideline out there since the field is so big.”

2) Eguavoen notes that “the CFL is more of a spread-out game. It was a lot of passing. There are only three downs, but there are 12 people on the field. The three-down thing, I got really used to. If you stop somebody for a 2-yard gain on first down, now it’s second-and-long and you’re thinking screens, draws and things like that. But then coming here, it’s way more condensed — tight ends, 21 personnel, 11 personnel, things like that — and then there are four downs.

“There is a lot more running and a lot more thinking you have to do here in the NFL. Going from the CFL into OTAs helped me a lot because I was pass heavy coming from the CFL and OTAs, it is pretty much all passes. There’s no pads. The transition from OTAs to training camp was huge for me because now I’m seeing the real formations, I’m seeing the heavy formations – 22 personnel and things like that – and understanding where to fit and how to fit on the run. That’s why I had to pick up and learn quick.”

If Eguavoen plays as well as he did last Friday against Tampa Bay, he also could end up being used in three linebacker sets, too — depending on what Miami does with Kiko Alonso. The Dolphins certainly could keep Alonso, but if they move on, they would save at least $4 million in cash and have a cap savings in 2020.

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“I never see myself being second to anybody,” Eguavoen said, speaking of nobody in particular. “That’s just my mindset that I grew up in whether it’s basketball, ping pong, anything. I never want to be behind anybody. I think that’s how a good team is built, if everybody has that mindset of, ‘I’m going to be the starter. I’m going to be the communicator. I’m going to run this team.’ If everybody thinks like that, we’re going to have a really good football team. That’s just my mindset. I’m ready.”

Eguavoen — who worked in a Texas sneaker store and trained briefly with the police academy before his three years in the CFL — feels appreciative of how far he’s come.

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“It’s great,” he said. “Just being in the NFL period, knowing that I worked so hard, I’ve dreamed about it, prayed about it, cried about it and now that I’m here, it’s just a huge blessing for me. Definitely I like being here rather than blizzards out there in Saskatchewan.

“The last game I played in, I think it was about 10 degrees and the ground was like frozen concrete. That was tough. It’s just a huge blessing.”

Besides the four linebackers, also missing practice both Monday and Tuesday: running back Kenyan Drake (foot), receivers DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson and safety Walt Aikens. Receiver Allen Hurns returned to practice.

Flores, on how unusual it is for a back as big as Kalen Ballage (6-2, 231 pounds) to be as fast as Ballage: “It’s unusual. He’s a very, very talented young man. He works hard. Football is very important to him. He’s a big man. He’s fast and he’s athletic and he can catch the ball. He’s doing a lot of good things for us, so we’re excited to see him perform this week and moving forward. Hopefully we can get the best out of Kalen. I think we will.”

Here’s my Tuesday piece on where the quarterback situation stands.

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