Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Redblacks believe ex-top pick Dontae Bull can be their starting tackle

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Dontae Bull understandably had a sick feeling of deja vu when he suffered a leg injury in the early days of Redblacks training camp.

“It was definitely stressful, like ‘damn, I don’t want to do this again,’” the 6-foot-7, 326-pound offensive lineman said Wednesday. “I want to be healthy and I want to be able to play in 18 games this year. I want to help us on our goal of winning a Grey Cup.”

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What the Redblacks want is for Bull to stay healthy and develop into the player they believed they were getting when they made him the first overall pick of the 2023 CFL draft.

After breaking his leg midway through his senior year at Fresno State, it took Bull almost 11 months of rehabbing before he was fit to play. It wasn’t until Week 10 that the 25-year old from Victoria, B.C. made his debut as a backup against the Argos.

Bull’s injury last week turned out to be not as serious as first feared and now he’s back on the field, competing with Zack Pelehos for the job as starting right tackle.

It’s a more welcome “challenge” for Bull than the one he battled coming back from the broken leg.

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“I think last year I performed underwhelming to my own standards and other people’s standards as well,” he said. “I don’t want that to be an issue. I want to be the best me I can.

“It was challenging being hurt last year and not being 100%, not being the player I know I can be and who I am. Coming back from playing in college and knowing how I played and how I felt, to being last year where I was … that was definitely frustrating.

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“But you can’t go back, can’t change it. The thing I think of is always look forward. What happened before is done and you can’t change that, so make the next step is getting better.”

That positive approach — and shedding a few pounds heading into this season — has Bull ready to give his best.

“I lost some weight and really focused on just working on my body composition, being healthier, move better, bend more,” he said of his off-season approach. “So that was the goal. I feel like I did a pretty good job. We’re not done yet. We’re going to continue working on that.

“I think (the mental part) is most important, because that’s what you can control. You can’t control getting rolled up on, or getting hurt, or things like that. You need to have the right mindset because, if you don’t, you will dip into a darker space and it won’t help you continue to progress and get better.”

Which was the case last year.

“I’ve dealt with that in the past, getting hurt in my senior year and coming here last year banged up a little bit,” Bull said. “Over the off-season, it took a lot of time to focus on mental health and just training the brain to be positive, to take what you can out of a situation and make it great.

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“It all kind of piggy-backed and snowballed last year. Getting hurt, I wasn’t able to run, wasn’t able to have a great off-season, I was hurt for 75% of that off-season and the other 25% I focused on just getting ready to play football, so I didn’t have a great opportunity to focus on losing weight. Being injured, it’s hard to manage weight. When you get into that dark side of the mental aspect I think it plays a factor.

“I just knew I wanted to get back to where I was, being healthy, being in shape, being able to compete and be the best me that I can.”

Head coach Bob Dyce thinks that’s where Bull is headed.

“I have extremely high expectations for Dontae and Dontae has high expectations for himself,” Dyce said. “He’s a great player, a talented player, and obviously we’ve shown that we believe that by where we picked him in the draft. Now he’s coming out, he’s getting the reps and he’s working with coach (Pat) Perles … I expect him and all the guys who are competing for the right tackle spot to be giving their best. We’ll see how it shakes out in the end.”

Dyce has an idea of how that will play out.

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“Dontae Bull has the talent to be a starting right tackle in this league,” he said. “I know he’s going to be.”

It’s important that either Bull or Pelehos, the second-overall pick of the 2022 draft, claims that job. Otherwise, the Redblacks might have to go with two American tackles, which would mean another they’d have to start a Canadian at a spot they currently have belonging to U.S.-born player.

In other words, it would mess up their ratio.

“Often the roster sets the ratio for you,” Dyce said. “Our goal is to have the best players playing at every position. When it comes down to identifying exactly who is where, when it comes down to our starting seven Canadians, that will be filtered out through camp. We want to have the best starters in the best positions that allow us to be successful as an offence, as a defence and on special teams.

“You can always have aspirations of things working out a certain way but I always say the roster is going to show you what direction you end up going in.”

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Bull plans to make an impact on which way the roster goes. But not because it is expected of him as the first player drafted in 2023. That tag, in fact, is something he wants to shed.

“Personally, It was a great accomplishment but it doesn’t define who I am,” Bull said. “Just being the first overall is not good enough. I want to be one of the best tackles in the league. That’s my goal. Can’t say I’m there yet, but just know I will be, and I’m going to do everything in my power to achieve that goal.”

GOING DEEP

OL Eric Starczala missed practice with an injury Dyce deemed to be a minor “soft tissue” issue … WR/return specialist DeVonte Dedmon still is not back on the field, but Dyce said he is not bothered by last year’s season-ending injury and that the speedster is “progressing well.”

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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