- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2018

RICHMOND — Edmonton, Alberta, can be surprisingly hot this time of year. Redskins safety Kenny Ladler would know.

Before this year’s training camp, Ladler spent the last two summers living in Canada — trying to restore his value by playing in the Canadian Football League with the Edmonton Eskimos. The 26-year-old had no other choice. After the Buffalo Bills released him prior to the 2015 season, Ladler went the entire year without hearing from another team.

If Ladler wanted to keep playing football — and more importantly, get back to the NFL — he knew he had to head north.

“A lot of people undermine it because it’s not the NFL,” Ladler said, later adding, “It’s like, ‘Eh, he’s not coming back to the NFL.’ That’s the perspective you get once you go up there: you don’t come back.

“Because very few guys come back and make it.”

Ladler, in camp with the Redskins this summer in Richmond, wants to be one of the few.

CFL-to-NFL success stories are rare. There have been a handful of quarterbacks (Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Joe Theismann) who turned out to be stars, and more recently, Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake and retired cornerback Brandon Browner had good careers after the CFL. 

Admittedly, making the final 53-man roster will be a difficult task for Ladler. The Redskins have two starters penciled in (D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson), a valuable special teams contributor (Deshazor Everett) and a fourth-round rookie with upside (Troy Apke). But the Redskins have carried carry five safeties every year since 2015.

The 6-foot-1 Ladler has a swagger that’s hard to ignore. He has picked off third-string quarterback Kevin Hogan twice so far and after the first interception, he yelled, “Y’all gonna learn the name! Take a picture.”

There’s a reason for the bravado, he says.

Ladler appeared in two games as a Buffalo rookie in 2014 after signing as an undrafted free agent, but said he didn’t get a fair shot the next year after the Bills hired Rex Ryan. The coach “brought his guys” in, Ladler said, and the former Vanderbilt standout became an afterthought.

The situation taught Ladler he had to be more aggressive to force people to pay attention.

“Or people will take my passiveness for weakness,” Ladler said.

In Canada, Ladler was anything but passive.

The CFL’s differences from the NFL — a wider field, 12 men on each side, three downs instead of four — forced Ladler to expand his game. He learned to play “the nickel,” or the equivalent to the NFL’s strong side linebacker. 

The pass-happy league helped improve his range and speed, and in 2017, he was named a CFL All-Star — finishing the year with 86 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 17 games.

Geroy Simon, the director of Canadian scouting and draft coordinator for the CFL’s BC Lions, said he thought Ladler deserved to be named the league’s defensive player of the year last season.

“A lot of [Americans], when they do come up, they usually are a little bit older … there’s a likelihood they’re not coming back (to the NFL) because (teams) always want to find younger guys,” Simon said. “But in Kenny’s case … he came up and had two very productive years and he’s back.”

After the CFL season ended, Ladler finally got the calls he had been waiting for. He worked out for five teams, and the Redskins agreed to sign him in January. Coach Jay Gruden said Ladler is doing a good job in camp so far.

With Washington, Ladler is also reunited with linebacker and childhood friend Preston Smith. The two grew up together in Stone Mountain, Georgia — playing football together from peewee to high school. They eventually went their separate ways in college, with Smith going to Mississippi State and Ladler attending Vanderbilt.

“He’s always ready,” Smith said. “He’s always motivated to go out there and work hard regardless of where he is.”

Ladler, meanwhile, is thrilled for another opportunity.

After all, Ladler lost the NFL once. He’s not ready to say goodbye just yet.

“I’ve got a lot built up from being released three years ago,” Ladler said. “You don’t forget stuff like that. Those experiences stay with you. … That’s why I’m talking the way I’m talking out here — so they can feel me, you know? If you don’t feel me, you will.”

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