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This article was published 16/11/2018 (1288 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s a marquee matchup, even though two of the biggest stars of the show won’t be on the field together.
Alex Singleton of the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Adam Bighill, the CFL’s best middle linebackers, should have a big influence on who emerges from Sunday’s West Division final to earn a berth in the Grey Cup game on Nov. 25.
The West winner will face the East champions resulting from the showdown between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks, and a head-to-head competition between Bighill and Singleton is too close to call.
At least that’s the opinion of B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2014, whose Lions were eliminated by the Ticats in last week’s East semfinal.
"Honestly, they’re both phenomenal players, they’re both impactful players," said Elimimian via telephone Friday. "In terms of difference, I’ve played with Biggie and I haven’t played with Alex, so it’s hard for me to say accurately how different they are. In terms of similarities, they’re both playmakers, they both are able to command the field. Also, teamwise, they do an instrumental job of getting players lined up and in the right places.
"It’s going to be an interesting matchup. I’ll be excited to see both of them take the field and go at it."
Bighill’s inspirational leadership is well-documented but his technical excellence is often overlooked. Bombers safety Taylor Loffler has watched Bighill’s impact on the defence grow since the free agent was signed midway through training camp.
"He’s a very smart football player," said Loffler. "He’s always in the right spot, where he needs to be. It takes a lot of pressure off me, having not to worry about running backs coming through. He’s a great teammate overall."
Bighill also helped change the way Loffler, a league all-star in each of his first two seasons, plays his position. He’s no longer always looking for the big hit.
"I’ve always been an aggressive player and I always will be," said Loffler. "But it allows me to help out more on the passing game and not be as concerned about the run game. That’s been nice.
"... He likes to know what’s going on at all points. It kinda gives me the confidence when we do communicate exactly what we’re doing and what’s going on."
After an underwhelming start, Winnipeg’s defence has developed into one of the league’s top units.
"That’s what the whole season is — building towards becoming a dominant defence, and we’ve been able to put together big steps each week in the last third of the season to become that defence," said Bighill.
"That’s more about a feeling we have playing together. You can’t just say you have it and show up Sunday and expect it to be there. You still have to put the work in to make sure it shows up Sunday. We’ve gotta be humble enough to understand our success has come from hard work.
"We’re playing way better football. We’re way more consistent, we’re not allowing the home run, explosive plays. If you do that you give yourself a chance."
Bighill spent the 2017 season with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints after six impressive years in B.C., where he played mostly the Will (weak side) linebacker spot to Elimimian’s position at middle linebacker, filling in when Elimimian went to the NFL briefly in 2012 and when he suffered an Achilles injury in 2015.
Bighill believed he was always suited for a permanent move to the middle in Winnipeg.
"I prefer to play the (middle) because I can reach more of the field," said Bighill. "I can go left or right and use my instincts and my speed to cover the field. I have the ability to do the coverage stuff and be in space but allowing me to be in the middle allows me more opportunity to use my skill set."
Who has the edge Sunday?
"I think they’re two good teams," said Elimimian. "I feel like, honestly, the one thing Winnipeg has is confidence, which will help them. But I also feel like Calgary has one of the best players in the CFL and that’s (quarterback) Bo Levi Mitchell. So it’s going to be an interesting game."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.