Before Adam Bighill set foot on the field in OTAs, minicamp and training camp this year, he’d been targeted.
Truth is, the New Orleans Saints wanted to sign the 28-year-old linebacker near the end of the last NFL season, after Bighill had completed his sixth CFL season with the British Columbia Lions.
“I think it was Week 15, I came in for a workout and that was when I was down from my CFL season,” Bighill said Sunday at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center. “They didn’t know I had to sign a futures deal from playing a full CFL season; that’s why I had to sign a futures.
“They wanted me to play last year, which was exciting for me and the commitment level from them at that time, definitely, it would be hard for other teams to match that. So that was part of the reason I chose to be here.”
Bighill, in fact, brought with him an impressive CFL resume and left behind a total comfort zone. Specifically, he was a four-time CFL All-Star and five-time West Division All-Star who totaled 489 tackles, 33 sacks, eight forced fumbles, eight interceptions and 69 special teams tackles in 99 games.
Check out the action from Day 14 of Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon.
“This is a great opportunity to come down here and compete with the best of the best,” he said. “My journey in the CFL, it was a good experience up there but the goal was to try to make my way back down here and compete. So I’m enjoying this camp, enjoying this competition.”
The road to the NFL has been an extended one for Bighill.
“Unfortunately, I came out in the lockout year, 2011,” he said. “I went to the Division II All-American game, and was talking to some teams about being an undrafted free agent. Once the lockout happened, I just kind of decided to take the CFL route.
“I think I played five games before the NFL even opened up training camps, and for a guy like me, I felt like I needed an extended camp to show coaches what I could do. Not two weeks’ worth of camp, where they’re going to probably be looking for more experience.”
Experience now is a trait that he possesses. Not NFL experience, but enough to help him along the way this summer.
The Saints have a deep competition at linebacker. Six linebackers in camp – Craig Robertson, A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o, Stephone Anthony, Nate Stupar and Michael Mauti – have started NFL games, and four of them (Robertson, Anthony, Stupar and Mauti) have started games for the Saints. And New Orleans drafted Alex Anzalone in the third round this year.
Yet Bighill has created his share of looks at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
“I think a couple of things he has are strengths,” linebackers coach Mike Nolan said. “He has played; experience is important. He’s got good speed, he runs very well. He’s tough as can be, he’s disciplined. I think he’s got a lot of really good intangible things – good person, a real hard worker, very competitive, very determined.
“It’s hard to find an intangible that’s not good about Big. Outside of that, the only real negative for Big is stature. I don’t know how tall he is, but he’s not as tall as you’d like, so he has to do some technique things that overcome that, that kind of even up the tables a little bit.”
Yes, there is the height deficiency. Bighill is listed at 5 feet 10, 230 pounds. But it wasn’t a hindrance in the CFL or at Central Washington University, where he was a First-Team All-American as a senior and earned a spot in the Division II All-Star Game, the Cactus Bowl, in January 2011.
He’s working to prove it wouldn’t be an obstacle in the NFL, either.
“One of my strengths is being smart within the playbook and knowing what to do, so I’m able to play fast right away,” he said. “Six years’ experience up there playing linebacker, a lot of experience in playing defense and being able to play fast, so that’s definitely one of my strengths.
“The games are slightly different up there, they pass about 75 percent of the time. So the coverage skills have got to be on point up there, you learn how to cover and cover a lot of space up there. The game down here is a lot more physical. You’ve got to be able to come downhill and bowl people over and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.”
Said Nolan: “As long as the things they already know are good qualities. ... I think he’s got good football in his background. His expectations for himself are very high, which is really helpful because he doesn’t look at things like, ‘I can’t do this or can’t do that.’ He thinks he can do everything and that’s a positive. But he still has to utilize the technique work and all that everybody else does to get better.”
Knowing that the Saints previously have taken chances on CFL players gave Bighill confidence that the franchise would give him a fair shot. In 2015, cornerback Delvin Breaux made the conversion and the roster and last year, it was safety Erik Harris.
“They’ve given guys here an opportunity,” Bighill said. “They’ve proven they don’t really care where you come from, as long as you come here and you can play, they’re going to give you an opportunity. That was definitely a reason why I made my way here.”