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Linebacker Derrick Moncrief off to another strong start with the Saskatchewan Roughriders

Outside linebacker Derrick Moncrief is leading the Roughriders in defensive tackles
Outside linebacker Derrick Moncrief is leading the Roughriders in defensive tackles

Derrick Moncrief is off to another hot start at outside linebacker with the Saskatchewan Roughriders

Derrick Moncrief has been causing a great deal of grief for the CFL’s offensive co-ordinators.

The strong-side linebacker leads the Saskatchewan Roughriders with 23 defensive tackles in four regular-season games. He has also chipped in two sacks, an interception and a tackle for a loss for the Riders, who sport a 1-3 record heading into Saturday’s CFL game against the visiting B.C. Lions (1-4).

“He’s had a really good start and we’re excited for him and for our whole defence,” said Richard Kent, the Riders’ assistant defensive backs coach. “We’re looking forward for even better things from him. He’s on a good path.”

Moncrief was on a similar path as recently as the 2018 season. The 26-year-old native of Prattville, Ala., had 21 defensive tackles before suffering a sprained shoulder during a 31-20 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on July 19.

The injury led to Moncrief spending six games on the injured list. He started the final seven regular-season games and finished the season with 42 defensive tackles, an interception and four tackles for losses.

This season, Moncrief has picked up where he left off in 2018.

“I work out by myself and I don’t have a trainer,” Moncrief said when asked his about off-season preparations. “It’s all on me and I just work hard.”

Moncrief signed with the Riders in June of 2017 and made his CFL debut on Aug. 13, when he had two defensive tackles and an interception in the Riders’ 41-8 victory over the Lions. He has continued to improve while playing a position he was reluctant to fill during his college career.

Moncrief’s collegiate career started at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and by the end of his two-year stint, he was the top-ranked safety in the junior college ranks. He earned a scholarship offer from Auburn University, where he recorded 27 defensive tackles while dressing for all 14 games during the 2014 season.

The next year, Moncrief balked at being moved to strong-side linebacker and transferred to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. After sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, he played safety for the Cowboys.

“I still play safety in this defence,” Moncrief said. “I’m a versatile player. At the time, I didn’t understand (being a strong-side linebacker) because there was a lot going on. Now, I’m blessed to be where I’m at.”

The strong-side linebacker is primarily a coverage position, thus Moncrief works out with the defensive backs instead of the linebackers.

Moncrief, however, is also called upon to rush the quarterback in blitzes and tackle running backs. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Moncrief has the size, athleticism and football acumen that are required to excel at the position.

“Just watching him play on tape you can tell that he’s a physical football player,” Kent said. “He has a good understanding of our system because he has been around for a couple of years … He attacks the ball and that’s what you’re always looking forward in a defensive back.”

“Really, you can just call me a hybrid,” Moncrief added. “I can play linebacker or I can play safety. I try to mix up my game and I just work hard at it every day.”

Moncrief credits his parents — Erica and Derrick — for their support in helping him become a professional. He also has the backing of seven siblings.

“When I was younger, my parents sacrificed a lot,” Moncrief said. “Even though they weren’t together, they were always there for us. They pushed us to be good in sports and now that I’m here, I’m trying to represent them.”

The same goes for Prattville, a city with a population of 35,000. Moncrief is the first Prattville product to crack a CFL roster.

“There’s history in the making so I’m embracing it,” Moncrief said.

The Riders are also preparing to play host the Lions. Moncrief could pad his sack totals considering Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has been sacked a league-high 17 times this season.

“We know as a team that they are going to try and improve on their protection schemes,” Moncrief said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about execution and winning your one-on-one battles for four quarters.”

mmccormick@postmedia.com

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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