Sometimes the hardest lessons are the best teachers.
In Alex Bazzie’s case that lesson came in week three of the CFL season during the B.C. Lions’ 26-13 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The rookie defensive lineman thought he had Darian Durant wrapped up like a Christmas gift only to see the veteran Rider quarterback squirm free and throw a touchdown pass.
Seeing the play the next week in film sessions was like being forced to watch a bad horror movie over and over.
"That was something that haunted me," said the 24-year-old. "I carried that attitude all through that week of practice."
"I was so frustrated and mad that the only touchdown given up (by the Lions) came from me missing that sack. I also used that frustration and madness and learned from it. I sat down and watched the film and saw what I did wrong."
Bazzie proved to be a quick learner. The next week against Winnipeg he drew a bead on Drew Willy but was ready when the Bomber quarterback stepped up into the pocket.
"I remembered that scene from facing Durant and it kind of scared me," laughed the Marshall University product. "I hurried up and took on the up-field shoulder."
"I did learn from my mistake."
Bazzie and fellow first-year player Ronnie Yell have both had an impact on a Lions’ defence that has helped keep B.C. in games all season. That defence will be tested again when the Lions (3-3) host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1-4) Friday at BC Place Stadium.
Yell, who turns 23 next week, was a little big man in B.C.’s 25-24 win over the Calgary Stampeders last week. The strong-side cornerback opened the scoring by returning an interception 34 yards for a touchdown, then forced a fumble late in the game that sealed the Lions’ victory. The performance earned the San Diego, Calif., native the CFL’s defensive player of the week award.
The touchdown came on Yell’s first professional interception.
"It was an amazing feeling," he said. "You only dream about things like that."
Coming out of San Jose State Yell had all the tools to play corner but his five-foot-10, 185-pound size made him a question mark for the NFL. He signed with the Lions last October but stayed on the practice roster. Before that he spent time with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent.
"I would say playing up here is actually harder than playing in the States," said Yell, who majored in sociology at college. "You have to use a little more technique."
"With the waggle, the switching, all the different plays, it’s harder than being stationary and covering one person. You have to cover multiple people at times, communicate and talk every play."
Bazzie, a free-agent signing in April, also had a good game in Calgary. The six-foot-one, 228-pound native of Silver Spring, MD., picked up his fourth quarterback sack of the season and forced a fumbled.
"Each week that goes on I learn something new and I get better at my craft," he said. "Luckily it’s been going good for me so far."
Mark Washington, B.C.’s defensive co-ordinator, has been impressed by the two players.
"They have a high skill level,” said Washington, who played 11 years in the CFL with Montreal and B.C. “They are fast, they are big and they are strong.
"They are fundamentally strong. They bring a spunk with them. Both these kids can play." Washington said Yell showed his football smarts when he stripped the ball from Calgary’s Martell Mallett late in the Calgary game.
"That was done purposely," he said. "He knew he could do it. It’s something he’s worked on."
Washington also doubts Bazzie will let another quarterback wiggle off the hook again the way Durant did.
"There are several different ways of learning," said Washington. "Some people have to sometimes make a mistake in order to learn." Bazzie said parts of the CFL game are still a puzzle to him.
He sometimes forgets about being one-yard off the ball when a team goes into the hurry-up offence. He’s also still trying to wrap his head around the idea of a team kicking the ball out of the end zone in a close game. And he was left confused last week when the Lions were given possession after a loose ball was batted out of bounds by a B.C. player.
"I’m trying to figure it all out every week," he said.
The Tiger-Cats limp into Vancouver with just one win this season but three of Hamilton’s losses have been by four points or less.
Quarterback Dan LeFevour, playing for the injured Zach Collaros, can be a double threat. He’s completed 57 of 85 passes for 696 yards and also is Hamilton’s leading rusher with 33 carries for 169 yards.
"That puts a lot of pressure on you," said Bazzie. "It kind of slows your game down."
"You need to plot out your game plan. When you are dealing with a quarterback like that it really sits you down to study film (to) try to pick up some tendencies."
After winning two of their last three games, and handing the Stampeders their first loss of the season, it would be easy for the Lions to look at the Ticats as easy pickings.
Not a chance said Washington.
"Are they getting paid?" he said. "Are they in the CFL? Then we’re not taking them lightly."
"They’ve lost some games but they have been battling. We have a challenge on our hands."