August 27, 2015

Landry: Agnew ready for the physical demands of playing inside the box

 Don Landry | Argonauts.ca Insider

Vincent Agnew gets around.

The second year Argo might be embarking on another adventure for the next few games, should Head Coach Scott Milanovich go ahead and have the Central Michigan grad play in the linebacking corps against Edmonton on Friday night.

“D tackle is probably the only one I haven’t played yet,” Agnew wisecracks, when asked just where he hasn’t been stationed on the Argos’ defence in his year and a half with the team. “I don’t know how much I’d have to eat (to bulk up enough to try the interior line), he jokes. “I’ll leave that to Cleyon (Laing), he’s pretty good at it.”

He means playing defensive tackle, I’m assuming, not eating. Although, the big men up front do have pretty good reputations in that area.

In his rookie season in 2014, Agnew played across the board in the secondary. Both corner spots, both halfback spots and even a little bit of time at the position he might fill against Edmonton, the one that has been manned by Brandon Isaac.

With Isaac nursing a sore knee, the Argos need another plan at a position that’s known by a number of names; Strong Side Linebacker, SAM, even Nickel. Some teams call it “cover linebacker,” because of the pass defence duties that come with it.

“It’s basically a SAM outside linebacker,” Agnew explains when asked about the term he uses most – nickel – “but somebody that has a little more responsibility in the pass game and is tied into the run game in some situations.”

With Isaac on the sidelines for at least this week after injuring his knee in last Sunday’s win over the Ottawa Redblacks, could be that Agnew will take on the position for a full-time basis while Isaac mends, though Milanovich is not confirming just who will start in that spot against Edmonton.

Agnew, as mentioned, has seen some time there but, this season, has been used a fair bit as a free safety, filling in when starter Jermaine Gabriel and his back-up, Matt Black, were both sidelined with injuries earlier in the year.

“One of our more physical secondary guys,” says Milanovich, praising the adaptable abilities of the 27-year-old native of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“An intelligent guy,” the coach continues. “Obviously, you can’t do all those things if you don’t have the brain power to understand your assignments.”

Agnew does, indeed, come across as a well-spoken, intelligent young man, as well as one that is eager to be on the football field, no matter where the coach wants to play him. That includes his repeating tour of duty on special teams, a place where he has excelled. In the Ottawa game, Agnew proudly notes, he worked on both cover and return teams, as well as playing defence when Isaac went down.

“I just enjoy being out there,” Agnew says. “I like having the opportunities to make plays. You can’t make plays if you’re not on the field.”

Having already spent a little time playing the SAM linebacker spot, Agnew can readily compare those duties to those that come with any of the five positions in the secondary. On the comparison between SAM and free safety, he says,there are some similarities, but more than a few differences.

“Nickel and free safety are pretty similar, in the fact that you have to know where the puzzle pieces fit around you,” he says. “It’s like free safety but from inside the box.”

“There’s a lot more physical demand. You’re gonna get some guards, some big 300 pound offensive linemen that are gonna see you lined up there and they’re gonna get real excited. Physically it’s a lot more demanding, at nickel, I believe, than safety and things do happen a little bit faster down there in the box. You have to be able to react a little bit quicker and not be scared to get dirty.”

Funny that Agnew should use that last term. Milanovich used it as well when describing the attributes Agnew has displayed as an Argo.

“A guy that’ll do the dirty work,” the coach says. “I think he’s an instinctive tackler. Kind of finds the ball. A good core guy to have on your team.”

Agnew has enjoyed all the positions he’s played and while he might not be able to narrow it down to a favourite, he does say that he enjoyed his newest experience, which saw him start at free safety in a trio of games while Gabriel and Black were returning to health.

“Free safety is a ton of fun. You get to run, read and hit. That’s always fun. Takes the thinking out of it a little bit. And you get to play fast. I enjoy playing back there,” he says.

We return to the subject of playing on the defensive line and when it’s pointed out that rush end might be kind of a hoot for him, Agnew agrees, but has conditions.

“I could do some rush end,” he says, smiling. “Not on the goal line, though. I don’t wanna do it on the goal line.”

There he goes, flashing those smarts again. The smarts that have helped make Vincent Agnew a valuable and adaptable player on the Argos’ defensive depth chart.