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Wakefield sets sights on adding grit, drive to Alouettes' defensive line

"We have some great pieces on the defensive line," interior lineman says after returning to training camp following his release on Monday.

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There were some surprises last Monday, when defensive-lineman Michael Wakefield was one of 15 players released by the Alouettes. And more surprises 24 hours later, when he magically reappeared and was added to the active roster.

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That generally means one thing in the Canadian Football League — a renegotiated contract at a reduced salary.

“Some things happened,” Wakefield said Wednesday during a video conference, clearly uncomfortable broaching the topic, following training camp practice at Olympic Park. “I’m just glad to be back. I’m naturally a competitor at heart. Every time you’re released, you’re always surprised. I’m excited to be back. That’s all that matters.”

Wakefield, a 6-foot-3, 270-pounder, was one of the Als’ significant signings on the opening day of free agency in February, as general manager Danny Maciocia overhauled his defence. Anyone signed that day probably didn’t come cheap. According to a league source, Wakefield signed for $100,000 in total — significantly more than he earned with the Ottawa Redblacks.

Wakefield spent three seasons with the Redblacks. Although not considered flashy, he’s active, uses his hands well and is disruptive; an interior lineman who can help collapse the pocket. In 39 games with Ottawa, the 27-year-old had 54 tackles, seven sacks and one interception, which came against Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.

The two players attended the Washington Football Team’s rookie mini-camp in 2016. While Adams was cut, Wakefield was invited to training camp and — despite displaying some flashes late in an exhibition game against the New York Jets — was among the team’s final cuts that September.

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“I gave it my all and do that for every team I play for,” said Wakefield, a native of Valdosta, Ga., who was a productive college player at Florida International University. “I felt I made a lot of plays and did exactly what they asked. I think it comes down sometimes to politics and numbers. That’s the game I fell into.”

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With Tuesday’s release of Datone Jones, a former first-round (26th overall) draft choice of the Green Bay Packers, it appears Wakefield will be part of the Als’ revamped starting defensive line, which includes newcomers Almondo Sewell and Nick Usher, both free-agent signings from Edmonton. Antonio Simmons and Woody Baron return from 2019.

“He (Wakefield) is a dog,” Adams said with admiration. “He’s in my face in practice and doing his job. All those guys are going to be scary to deal with. I’m excited to see them put pressure on quarterbacks.”

While the Als’ offence appears fairly set heading into their Aug. 14 season-opener at Edmonton, the defence remains a work in progress and must improve from 2019, when the team allowed an average of nearly 27 points per game, had a league-low 27 sacks and intercepted only 16 passes in 18 games.

Wakefield believes he’ll add grit and a relentless mentality.

“I feel like I have that mentality,” he said. “I get knocked down one play, but I’m going to come back at you even harder. We have some great pieces on the defensive line. I think we’re going to come together and be something to deal with.”

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Als head coach Khari Jones didn’t hide his enthusiasm over Wakefield’s return.

“I liked him all camp and noticed him all camp,” Jones said. “He’s been showing up (on film). I expect him to be a big part of what we do. He’s tough, gives a lot of push and has moves. He has experience and he’s hungry. I’m expecting big things out of him. I remember playing against him and liked what I saw.”

While this is the final week of camp, the Als have cancelled Friday’s practice, giving players additional time to find housing. Any additional cuts must be made by 10 p.m. on Friday.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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