“He’s a damn good football player”
Jordan Younger spent hours and hours poring over game footage and prospect highlights passed to him by Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant general managers Danny McManus and Ted Goveia, as well as serving club scouting.
But when Younger, the Blue Bombers defensive backs coach, started rewatching Deatrick Nichols’ tape, well, let’s just say it didn’t take long for him to recognize he was looking at some future talent.
“I watched five games of his highlight reel and said, ‘That’s our weak halfback,'” Younger said in a recent chat with bluebombers.com. “It was his college highlight tape mixed in with some of his XFL stuff. There was a range of different plays a DB can do – play close to the box, play in space from the second tier, and then pressure and be able to blitz. He could do all three.
“And when we brought him here for training camp last year, we knew early on that we had something special. We had Josh Johnson in the weak half and then he broke his jaw in his first game. When we saw that (Nichols) was a good locker room guy and fit the culture here, we said, ‘OK, he has to go.’
Nichols not only started as a 2021 CFL rookie, but he’s also seemingly improved with every shot. He was named CFL All-Star and capped off his first season by being part of the game that sealed the Gray Cup by giving a pass to Winston Rose which was then picked up by Kyrie Wilson for a championship-winning interception in overtime. .
This game and the entire season meant so much to Nichols, a product of Miami, Florida, who had a tryout with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 and was with the Houston Roughnecks in the XFL when that league folded. because of the pandemic. He had looks from both New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins in 2020 before signing with the Blue Bombers in 2021. And it’s clearly his football home now.
“I had the opportunity and the decision to come here and it was a no-brainer,” Nichols said Tuesday. “It meant I could still play football and do what I love, so it was easy.
“I came here with the mindset that I wanted to play, and I wanted to be someone and take full advantage of my opportunity. That’s all I was worried about. Sometimes you can’t worry about the worst things that can happen, but you’re just trying to stay positive and keep growing.
“With the XFL (folding) and with the COVID situation, obviously there will be bad times, but you just have to find the positive in the negative things. I like what I do. I wake up every day and I play football. I don’t take that for granted. Nothing lasts, so you have to love what you do. And I like being here.
The Blue Bombers pass defense gave up a ton of yards in the first two games — but only one touchdown — and as the secondary welcomes new faces and awaits the return of all-star safety Brandon Alexander, the one who is consistent in this unit was Nichols.
“It’s hard to find a word or two that sums it up,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “You could talk for a while about his quality, his quality for his teammates, what he means for the defense, what he means for the team.
“He’s a damn good football player. He makes the guys around him better. He’s made a lot of plays for us over time, and I expect him to continue to do that. He’s expecting that too, but now he’s at that point – and he was there also very early last year – where he’s helping the guys around him be better and make plays.
Nichols was arguably Winnipeg’s best defenseman in last week’s win at Ottawa with six tackles, one tackle for a loss and three knockdowns – two in the end zone. He also had four tackles and a knockdown in the season opener.
“I will never be complacent,” Nichols said. “There is always room to grow and find new ways to improve.”
It’s this attitude – coupled with his hunger to improve and study the game – that has convinced many in the organization that he will only get better. And that’s saying something for a player who is already one of the best at his position in the league.
“Period, at close range, he’s one of the best DBs I’ve come across in a number of areas,” Younger said. “He is physically capable, so he has good speed, good quickness, good movement. He’s physical so he’s going to hit and really hit, not just make his shot, but he’s a striker. He’s an exceptional pre-snap communicator and he’s also an exceptional post-snap communicator. It’s two different things – being able to talk through a play as they come to the line of scrimmage versus having the comfort level that once the ball is broken to know I’m fit I can talk what I see.
“He’s good that way. Really gifted. He’s been a great addition to our defense and that’s because he has no obvious weakness in his game. All you can give him is B-minus and plus. He’s an “A” tackle, he’s a really solid coverage guy, he can play high and low zone defense, he’s a really good blitzer with good timing… there’s no weakness in his game.
“We were lucky to have him here.”