CALGARY — The departure of two all-star cornerbacks from the Calgary Stampeders opened a door for Geoff Tisdale and Johnnie Dixon.
Tisdale, a free-agent signing on the off-season, and Dixon, a spare for Calgary most of last season, have the inside line on replacing Brandon Browner and Dwight Anderson, otherwise known as “B.B.” and “D.A.”
“We’ve been given an opportunity to go out and prove we’re among the top defensive backs just like Browner and D.A.,” Tisdale said Sunday on the first day of training camp. “We’re just going to go out there and try and do that.
“It’s something we both really want. We wouldn’t spend three to six months in the off-season putting in all that work to not come here and want it. I want this pretty bad.”
Browner, a CFL all-star the last three years, signed with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks in the off-season. At six-foot-three, 210 pounds with a wing-span like a wandering albatross, Browner is a fearsome sight for opposing receivers.
Anderson is a nimble, physical defender who had five interceptions for two touchdowns and compiled 49 tackles in 2010. He joined Browner on the all-star team and then signed with Montreal as a free agent.
So there’s two backfield vacancies to fill that seem large due to the departing level of talent.
Dixon was the youngest player on Calgary’s roster last season at 21. An interception in each of Calgary’s two pre-season games, including one for a touchdown, kept him on the team after training camp. Dixon toiled on Calgary’s practice roster until October when he was activated to play halfback for three of Calgary’s last five regular-season games.
Dixon is wearing Browner’s No. 27 this season after calling the former Stampeder and asking if he could.
“Just knowing I’m taking D.A.’s spot and B.B.’s number is a big thing for me, but I think I can handle it,” said the Belle Glade, Fla., native.
“I feel pretty good knowing I’m coming in as a vet and helping the young kids out like D.A. and B.B. did to me last year. I was close with both of them. I pretty much learned from them both.”
As part of the steep learning curve in his rookie year, Dixon says he’s broken a bad habit of watching the quarterback and trying to guess where he’s going to throw it.
“I was pretty much gambling instead of watching my receivers,” the five-foot-11, 190-pound defensive back explained. “I was watching the quarterback drop step. I worked on that during the off-season.”
Tisdale, a 26-year-old Pittsburg State product, spent the last three seasons playing halfback and cornerback for Hamilton. He had a team-leading four interceptions and eight pass knockdowns and led all defensive backs in tackles with 58 last season.
Watching Anderson and Browner play under Calgary defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones was one of the reasons Tisdale signed with Calgary.
“Those guys were out there having fun and the coaches had trust in them and they had trust in each other,” Tisdale said. “They were allowed to go out and do what they do best. I love the style of defence Coach Jones runs.”
The six-foot-one, 185-pound Tisdale is excited at the prospect of playing press coverage, which allows him to be aggressive and physical against receivers at the line of scrimmage. He says he didn’t get to play that style often in Hamilton.
“I watched Browner a lot,” Tisdale said. “He’s a lot taller than me and longer than me, but I move just the same. I watched him to try and pick up little tips.”
While Stampeder and GM head coach John Hufnagel conjured the names of Dixon and Tisdale as possible starters at the corners, both players know they still have to compete for the jobs at training camp.
“The two pre-season games (Dixon) played for us last year, he had an interception in each game. He is a playmaker,” Hufnagel said. “We hope he’ll take a bit step forward and claim one of those positions.
“Geoffrey has played the corner and if he’s the best guy there, that’s where he’ll play. If one of our young guys come in and competes very well at the corner position, then we’ll move Geoffrey inside at the boundary halfback position. There are all kinds of options.”