It was no small risk Tracey Gravely took last summer when he agreed to switch from defensive halfback to linebacker for the Baltimore CFLs.
Yet, as the CFLs go down the homestretch, the 26-year-old West Virginia native is one of their most dependable players.
After getting six tackles last night against the Las Vegas Posse, Gravely leads the team with 52. He has also knocked down four passes.
He plays the run and the pass equally well.
"He played in the league as a man cover guy," coach Don Matthews said. "He's a hair away from being as good as any halfback in the league.
"We thought there was an opportunity to move him to [strong-side] linebacker. He made the transition mentally, and now he's playing like a linebacker with defensive back skills."
Gravely intercepted four passes in 18 games while playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders and British Columbia Lions the past three years.
"A couple of coaches asked me to try linebacker," he said, "but they never went through with it."
Gravely joined the rookies in camp last May to see if he could make the switch.
"[The coaches] wondered, and I wondered," he said. "It wasn't a quick start. I felt like I was caught between positions. But it's fine now."
Shooting the moon
Baltimore running back Mike Pringle, who gained 133 yards on 22 carries last night, leads the league with 1,444 rushing yards. He is on a pace to gain 1,856, and now has his eye on the magic number of 2,000.
"I'm trying to get as many yards as I can, as long as I contribute to wins," Pringle said. "In the NFL, a 1,000-yard season is what they shoot for. I don't know how they judge 1,000 yards for a running back in the CFL.
"To run for 2,000 in any league would have to say something about the running back and his offensive line."
Baltimore's offensive line thinks 2,000 is a reachable number.
"Yes, it's very possible, the way Mike is running and the way the offensive line has come together," said tackle Shar Pourdanesh. "We get him two or three, and he gets the rest on his own."
Said tackle Neal Fort: "Anything is possible the way he's running. The fact is, this month we play a lot of good teams. It'd be a nice record, but the point is winning."
Pringle also leads the league in yards from scrimmage (1,840) and all-purpose yards (2,430).
No hometown favorites
CFLs defensive halfback Charles Anthony, a Las Vegas native, isn't surprised the Posse turned off the hometown fans this year.
"They started off wrong, the way they treated the locals," Anthony said. "The team said right away it didn't want to look at any local players. I had friends who went to other CFL teams because Vegas wouldn't give them a shot."
Anthony, who went to minicamp with the Cleveland Browns, talked to the Posse about signing. "It wasn't negotiations," he said. "I knew they weren't running a good operation. First impressions are lasting."
Coming into Week 14, Winnipeg had an easier path to the Eastern Division title than Baltimore. The Blue Bombers' last five opponents have a collective record of 22-43, while the CFLs' last five foes -- including Las Vegas -- are 38-25-2.
Staying put for now
The Posse will play its final two home games of the season in Las Vegas, according to Baltimore owner Jim Speros, a member of the league's marketing and TV committee.
The committee met Wednesday in Toronto and decided to keep home games scheduled for Oct. 15 against Winnipeg and Nov. 5 against Edmonton at Sam Boyd Stadium.
"It would have been a disservice to try to have Vegas play at a different venue," Speros said. "They'll finish the season there."
The CFLs will hold an educational free clinic, "Football is Funball," for kids ages 9 to 15 tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. Fifteen players, including Pourdanesh, Karl Anthony, Alvin Walton, Ken Watson and Walter Wilson will serve as coaches.
The clinic will feature a punt, pass and kick competition. Top scorers in the competition will advance to the finals during halftime of the CFLs' Oct. 29 game against Winnipeg. Winners will receive a trip to the Grey Cup. Registration begins at 10 a.m. at stadium gate W1.