May 15, 2024

Excitement Around New Look Elks Defensive Line

EDMONTON – It’s still early in Training Camp, but the Elks new-look defensive line is starting to take shape.

The quartet of Elliott Brown, J-Min Pelley, Noah Curtis, and Robert Nkemdiche have been Head Coach Chris Jones go-to group when it comes to the first reps of practice. For Brown, who is the sole American with Canadian Football League sacks on his resume, it’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for.

“It is as bad as anything I’ve wanted,” Brown said about waiting for his shot. “Here I am with the ones, so it’s really important to me to take off this year and show people who are coming up behind me what it takes.”

The 26-year-old features many of the traits the coach Jones seeks out in a defensive player. At 6-5, Brown has the height and wingspan that can make him a menace knocking down passes, but he also features rare explosiveness at his position.

The Virgina grad was timed at a 4.59 forty-yard dash, and paired his speed with a 37-inch vertical jump – both marks superior to that of another long and athletic Canadian football defensive end in five-time CFL All-Star Willie Jefferson.

It’s a hopeful comparison but all the raw traits are there to be molded and crafted.

“There’s no doubt,” Jones said about the similarities between Brown and Jefferson. “The length and the ability. Now it’s a matter of, can he settle in and get a feel for settling in the throwing lane on a three-step drop? There’s a lot of field stuff that has to happen for Elliott, but as far as length, speed and explosiveness — they’re like parallels.”

Not to put such lofty expectations on the second-year player, but there will be plenty of snaps available for Brown, and the long-list of other young pass rushers on the roster, to prove themselves.

Another youthful defender looking to prove themselves is National D-lineman Noah Curtis. The 2023 fourth-round pick in the CFL Draft picked up two sacks and 23 tackles last season, while battling through injuries as a rookie. After having a full offseason to heal, and a newfound commitment to his diet and training, Curtis enters 2024 a transformed player.

The Keiser university product says he’s gained about 25 lbs of muscle during the offseason, and he figures to factor in heavily to coach Jones’s D-line rotation.

“He had a really good offseason. He came back a lot stronger,” Jones said. “He’s going to play inside and outside for us. He’s got a lot of length, and he’s a lot bigger than you think. When you see him and you stand next to him, you recognize how large of a human he is.”

Noah Curtis (#92) navigates the bags during D-line drills in Elks Training Camp

That added size is going to benefit Curtis, especially going up against top-tier offensive linemen.

“I can’t get thrown around like it did last year,” Curtis said. “I could be a little bit more firm and stronger at the point of attack, and go more power in the pass game.”

Brown and Curtis are just two members of a defensive line looking to establish themselves as the next wave of CFL pass rushers. The competition for playing time on the line is fierce and should only benefit the Edmonton Elks in the long run. However, as a CFL inexperienced group, the coaching that molds the cadre of athletes will be just as important as the players themselves.

Defensive line coach Nate O’Neal has been busy preaching technique the group, but he’s been joined by a pair of EE legends in Odell Willis and Almondo Sewell that have been guest coaching throughout camp. With over 20 years of Canadian Football experience and 142 career sacks, plus an understanding of the skills coach Jones covets having played for him, they’ve been a valuable addition to Elks camp.

“Anytime you can have future hall of famers, guys that are going to be remembered forever for their play on the field, it means a lot to me,” Jones said. “I told them, ‘just get what’s in your brain and your heart to these guys that are new and teach them exactly how much this game means to all of us that have been here. This is how we’ve earned our living for a long time’. So, that’s what we’ve been trying to get them to do.”

As for what Jones has seen thus far, it is far from a finished product just four days into Training Camp. Still, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for what the future holds in the Elks trenches.

“We’ve had flashes of some really good things, and then there’s been a couple of days to where we didn’t look near as good as what we’re going to need to,” Jones said. “So the consistency needs to be there, but I feel like we’ve got the pieces in place to be a solid unit.”