Landon Rice came into training camp prepared, but most Ticat observers assumed the preparation was to play right guard.
Instead, the 29-year-old Landon from Brandon has been one of the talking points of the early CFL season as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ tight end, lining up as the fifth blocker on the line – either side – more than 50 per cent of the time, as June Jones opts for a little extra quarterback protection over an extra target for Jeremiah Masoli.
“I feel that as a player you’re told what the team needs you to do and you go out there and do it, ” says Rice who has, accordingly, gone out there and done it.
For the most part Masoli has had time to find his receivers and the Ticats’ run game has also benefitted immensely, at least for nine big quarters. They didn’t run enough in game one (and lost) and struggled overland after the first quarter of game four (and lost). Between the opener in Calgary and the final three quarters of the (what-really?) loss in Saskatchewan prior to this week’s bye, the Ticat offence owned the ground game.
When all-star Ryan Bomben was traded at draft time, it was anticipated that Rice would step into his spot to the right of centre Mike Filer, with newly-unretired Mathieu Girard also making a pitch for the job once he got back into game shape and size.
Rice was entering his sixth year in Hamilton after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He spent his first year on the practice roster; dressed for all 18 plus the Eastern Final and Grey Cup, with a handful of starts, the following year; missed half of 2015 with injury; and as a backup got some starts and rotational action the next couple of years.
But as training camp progressed it became clear that Rice would play tight end when Jones wants one – which is a lot – and No. 6 overall draft choice Darius Ciraco was going to play right guard. Meanwhile, Girard is still recovering from a camp injury.
“I was working (at guard) all training camp, but at the same time I was working at tight end and I think at the end of the day they just wanted to put the best group they could out there, ”
Rice says, noting that he also played a lot of tight end in 2014, including during the Grey Cup loss to Calgary.
“I had a few starts here and there, but it was mostly tight end all the way into the Grey Cup.”
Jones has praised Rice’s play and joked that “we’re going to throw him a pass soon.”
He was just planting a public seed for opposing defensive
co-ordinators to consider, but Rice wouldn’t mind the chance. He was the team’s regular-season leading scorer in his senior year at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School in Brandon, Man. He played a lot of fullback and tight end, and when he went to the line, it was on defence.
“It was nine-man football. That’s all we had. It was the
Rural Manitoba Football League, Brandon and a bunch of small towns. They transitioned to 12-man a couple of years after I left.”
He did play 12-man football during his final years of high school, but it was provincial ball. He was with the Football Manitoba when it won the Canada Cup title in 2005.
He later played five years at the University of Manitoba, helping the Bisons to the 2007 Vanier Cup. He’s playing at 300 pounds now, down from 325 to 330, and it’s one of the reasons he’s been able to work the outside of the line so well this year.
“I had a good off-season, ” he said.
“I leaned out a bit and they like me out there. Losing the weight was on me: critiquing myself and how I played. One of my goals was to get a little more fast twitch, a little faster, better side-to-side for lateral coverage.
“You just prepare yourself for a good season. I feel like I’m having success out there and I’m to feel like I’m making a contribution, ” he added.
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