July 9, 2024

Elks load up on defence during the bye week

EDMONTON – Help is on the way.

The Elks loaded up with some bye week reinforcements, making several roster moves on Sunday, highlighted by a pair of former CFL All-Stars in defensive lineman Shawn Oakman and linebacker Derrick Moncrief.

The duo should be familiar names if you’ve followed the Canadian Football League, with Oakman having been a dominant piece up front for the Toronto Argonauts during their 2022 Grey Cup Championship run. For Moncrief, this is his second stint with the Elks having joined the Green and Gold from the Los Angeles Rams midway through the 2021 season.

The veteran presence on defence could be what Edmonton needs to get their season on track. The Elks have been on the cusp of a breakthrough, having dropped all four games this season by a combined 17 points. In that time, their opponents have established themselves as the CFL’s elite, sporting a combined 15-3 record and a +108-point differential.

A play here-or-there is the difference between the 0-4 record Edmonton currently sports and the three of four wins that could have been – and it’s exactly why General Manager and Head Coach Chris Jones sought out some veteran leadership and talent over the bye week.

“Our last three games we’ve played have been field goal game. With that being said, you just really needed one more play on either side of the ball or on special teams,” Jones said. “We’re hoping that with some tweaks here or there, maybe we get that one or two plays that we need.”

Shawn Oakman (#91) takes a drink of water during Monday’s Elks practice

The competitiveness of the Elks roster was a selling feature for Oakman, who spent half a season under Jones while in Toronto in 2021. It also doesn’t hurt that Oakman’s quarterback during his Grey Cup championship run is currently at the helm of the Double E.

“We’ve got everything we need. We’ve got McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Geno Lewis, Kurleigh Gittens, Robert Nkemdiche,” Oakman said about the roster. “You know, sometimes it just takes a little piece, and hopefully, I’m that little piece.”

Familiarity with the organization and coaching staff was also a big reason in Moncrief coming back to Edmonton. Chris Jones was his first head coach in the Canadian Football League, while defensive coordinator Jason Shivers has also been tied to Moncrief for roughly half a decade.

“It’s a match made in heaven for me to get back into this system with these guys,” Moncrief said. “Getting back into this system, there is not much of a drop off from where I left and I’m just excited to get back into the process.”

Derrick Moncrief (#29) runs through practice drills on Monday

Moncrief has seen a lot of success playing under Jones and Shivers. He was named a CFL West Division All-star in 2019 and 2022 in the defensive system similar to the one the Elks currently run. His 2019 CFL All-star performance playing under Jones and Shivers earned Moncrief his look down south with the Rams in the NFL.

The 31-year-old has been a versatile player in his time in the CFL. In nine games with the Elks in 2021, the linebacker racked up 23 tackles and four sacks – following up the performance in 2022 with a career-high four interceptions while with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“Before (signing Oakman and Moncrief) we only had really Nyles Morgan and Lucheiz Purifoy who had more than two years of experience that were starting on defense,” Jones said. “Now it gives us a couple guys who have a little bit more experience.”

The leadership the pair of vets can bring off the field will be just as valuable as the impact they can have on the field. For most around the league, a name like Shawn Oakman carries a fair bit of cache among players of a certain age.

Oakman was a highly touted prospect who garnered a place in internet cultural significance due to an image of him that was shared while he was at Baylor University in 2015. The meme was shared thousands of times over Twitter (now X) and made Oakman a viral sensation overnight.

It has been nearly a decade since the photo first was shared, but Oakman still accepts his moment of internet fame. The now 32-year-old knows he can use his reputation to establish himself as a locker room leader, something he hopes to do with the Elks.

“I’ve definitely embraced it. It is who I am, you know, I can’t change it,” Oakman said. “A lot of these young guys, they watched me play when they were in high school and all that, so I have still got to be that role model. No matter what, I’m still that guy that they watched on tv.”