DeVone Claybrooks talks about coaching, the defensive line and what fans should expect

DeVone Claybrooks has lived the game of football and knows it well.

Before hanging up his cleats last season to pursue a job as the Calgary Stampeders’ defensive line coach, the six-foot-three, 300 lb.pound Claybrooks played in both the CFL and NFLNational Football League and Canadian Football league – winning a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

In his second season coaching with the Stampeders, Claybrooks took a bit of time during training camp to talk about what fans can expect out of the team this season, as well as insight as to what it is like to coach the defensive line.


In the Western Division it’s always competitive between all four teams. How do you think the Stampeders stack up against Eskimos, Roughriders and Lions this year?

We’re neck and neck with anybody. I’ll put my guys against any team in the whole league and I think 95 per cent of the time we’re going to come out on top.

Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel (back) watches practice during training camp. The Stampeders opened the regular season at home against the B.C. Lions on June 28.

Photo by Ian Esplen
Every year there is always goals for a team, besides winning the Grey Cup, what are some of the Stampeders’ goals for this season?

Our goal every day is to get better. As a defensive line, we just want to be one of the best in the CFL. At the end of the day we might not have the most talented guys, but nobody’s going to work harder than us or put forth more effort. And if we can build off those two platforms, I think we’ll be successful.

Last year the Stampeders finished second in the CFL in sacks. Will this year’s defence try to build on that and lead the league?

We’re in a “what have you done for me lately” business, so if I live on our laurels and the defensive line lives on theirs, then we all better start getting our resumes ready.
I want our defensive line to get vertical and get up the field. If we’re doing that thean the sacks will come.

But, sacks are, in my opinion, the most overrated stat in football because a quarterback can fall and someone touches him they get a sack. Do that five times in five games and you got five sacks, and the perception is you’re a good rusher. But I’ll take a good rusher over a high sack guy any day because he’s going to affect the game more than someone who just gets 10 sacks.

So with that in mind, how big of an eaffect does a player like Corey Mace have on the game?

He has a great impact on a game. The inside guys are the forgotten ones because all you hear about are the defensive ends. Corey Mace is just like having a coach on the field and he leads by example. He’s always the first one to the meetings and he’s always the first one onto the field. I really can’t ask for much more out of him.

Every season there is always a player or two that breaks out and takes that next step as a player. Who should Stampeders’ fans watch on the defensive line that might be ready to take that next step and move forward in their career?

It’s still early, so it’s tough to tell at this point, but honestly, I expect big things out of all of the guys. I love the group we got. I think we did a great job of meshing some older guys with some new guys and I expect all our players to have a good season.

Stampers all-star slotback Nik Lewis goes through drills at training camp.

Photo by Ian Esplen
Was it a hard adjustment last season transitioning from player to coach?

It was a hard adjustment because now I’m not only their friend, but now I’m also an authority figure.

But, we do a good job at separating the two. I still talk to them about their family, know everyone’s family and care about them as friends.

However, at the end of the day, we all have jobs to do. My job is to teach them, so that they get better. Their job is to listen so that they get better and grow as players.

Is it more work preparing for a season now that you’re a coach as opposed to when you were a player?

Actually, yes, it’s a lot more work and I didn’t realize that before I started coaching. But, it’s one of those things that is part of the job and I love it. I’ve had this job a little more than a year now and I haven’t had to go to work yet. So, to me, it’s the perfect job.

The greatest reward I get from coaching is when you see your player do something that he maybe couldn’t do before, but through listening to you, they improve and do it. For me, that’s just as fulfilling as getting a sack back when I was playing.

But the funny thing last year was everyone asked me if I missed playing. What I always used to tell them is you don’t have time to miss it as a coach. When I was a player I only had to worry about getting where I needed to be. Now as a coach, I have to worry about the whole group being where they have to be.

And lastly, the Grey Cup is always everyone’s ultimate goal at the start of each season. What do you think the Stampeders’ chances are this season?

We’re just looking to win games and get better. Right now, every team is zero-and-zero and thinks they have a chance to win the Grey Cup.

In training camp we’re laying the foundation and that rolls over into weeks. The weeks than turn into months and before you know it you’ll be playing in Saskatchewan playing for the Grey Cup.

iesplen@cjournal.ca