CFLs' duo seeks jackpot playing Winnipeg's slots

October 27, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The job description calls for size, speed and a short memory.

To play defensive halfback in the CFL is to play dodge in rush-hour traffic. It is the equivalent of guarding your aisle in a blue-light special.

It doesn't hurt to have masochistic tendencies, either.

Baltimore halfbacks Ken Watson and Charles Anthony work in the fast lane of CFL defense.

In Saturday's Eastern Division showdown with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, they will be key players in one of the game's critical matchups.

Halfbacks cover slotbacks in the CFL. In Gerald Wilcox and Gerald Alphin, the Blue Bombers have two of the best slots in the league.

"They're very good," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said of the Winnipeg tandem. "They're big, they run good routes and [Matt] Dunigan goes to them."

Often, the record shows.

Wilcox is having a career year with 97 catches (second in the CFL) for 1,465 yards (third) and 11 touchdowns. Alphin has 66 catches for 900 yards and 17 touchdowns, second most in the league.

They are Dunigan's favorite targets in a passing game that generates 331 yards an outing. They are a veritable storm warning.

"I know I have to be physical in this game because they're big guys," said Watson, who is 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds.

At left halfback, Watson will be lined up most often on Wilcox (6-2, 215) when Baltimore is in man-to-man coverage. That leaves Anthony, the 6-2, 195-pound right halfback, playing against Alphin, a 6-3, 210-pounder.

As if the matchup itself isn't tough enough, there is the motion element. Because of the league's unlimited motion rule, slotbacks can hit the line of scrimmage at full speed. The technique is called the "waggle," and the league's best receivers use it to their advantage.

It took Anthony three years to defend it properly, he said. "The first year, I was totally lost. It's unnatural to the American game. It puts you on your heels if you're not ready for it."

At halfback, a player must be ready for almost anything. But playing to the quarterback's right side, as Watson does, means something more. It means you are likely to see more passes than any other defender on the field because a right- handed quarterback will throw most often to his right.

"On the strong side, I look for the ball to be thrown my way almost every play," said Watson, who is second on the team with 54 tackles. "I've seen more balls this year than I have in my [six-year] career."

Through 16 games, Watson has faced 79 passes in man-to-man situations, just one fewer than left cornerback Karl Anthony. Watson has given up 39 completions, a success rate of 49 percent. Karl Anthony has allowed 35 completions, or 43 percent.

On the other side of the defense, Charles Anthony has faced 51 passes in man-to-man (17 completions, 33 percent) and cornerback Irvin Smith has faced 49 (24 completions, 49 percent).

"At halfback, you're on an island in the middle of the field," said Bob Price, Baltimore's defensive coordinator and secondary coach. "Sometimes you're going to look bad. You've got 25 yards to each side to defend."

The Blue Bombers' Wilcox had a big night July 28 when Winnipeg erased a 25-10 deficit and rallied for a 39-32 victory over Baltimore. He had 11 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Alphin had three catches for 48 yards.

Watson said one of Wilcox's touchdowns came against a Baltimore zone. What he also remembered was the two pass interference penalties he picked up late in the first half. One was valid, he said, the other not.

"They said I bumped him going for the ball on one," said Watson, who disagreed. "The other was a hold."

Even though Dunigan threw for 312 yards in the second half, Watson said the first-half flags did not knock him off his game.

"I'm not going to back off no matter how many they throw," he said. "I'm not letting a ref or a player take me out of my game."

Matthews remembered Dunigan being precise with his passes in the comeback.

"He threw some pinpoint passes," Matthews said. "And they made good catches. It wasn't bad coverage."

One favorite ploy of Dunigan's is the throwback. He takes a half roll to one side, then throws back the other way.

That's where free safety Michael Brooks comes in. Brooks, who was cleared to play in Saturday's game despite a broken right hand that will require a cast, learned his lesson in the preseason game against Winnipeg in Baltimore last June.

"He got me on a couple in the preseason game," Brooks said. "When we went to Winnipeg, I got a pick [interception] and a couple of knockdowns.

"He's best at getting the safety to go to one side and then throwing back. You've got to be real patient when you play him."

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