By the summer of 2016, a year after leaving Montana State, Alex Singleton had been signed and released five times by three NFL teams – Seattle, New England, and Minnesota.
Clearly, he needed a new approach. So Singleton, whose mother was born in Canada, applied for and received a Canadian passport. This meant that Singleton would not count against the 20-player Canadian Football League roster limit for “international” players (who almost always are Americans). And never mind that he was born and raised in California.
Right away, Singleton became the sixth overall pick in 2016′s CFL draft, by the Calgary Stampeders. Singleton didn’t know it at the time, but his life was about to change.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Stampeders defensive coordinator Brent Monson said this past week. “I’m not just saying that [based on] talent on the field. All the work ethic, all the preparation, all the stuff that goes into being prepared for a game, he just does all the little things.”
Monson was Calgary’s linebackers coach during Singleton’s three-year stint, 2016-18, during which the Stampeders played in the Grey Cup championship game three times, finally winning the cup in 2018. Singleton was CFL defensive player of the year in 2017.
“He’s there early. He’s one of those guys that’ll come with questions, to make you better as a coach, from his own film study. He’s always in there working out before the other guys,” Monson said.
“All the work that he put in up here, that we put in together, his success up here is now translating to the NFL. It’s just great to see.”
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Singleton, 27, was asked this week how the CFL helped him, what changed in those three years that made him an NFL-ready player .
“At first, my conditioning,” he said. “That field is a lot bigger.”
Singleton has played virtually every defensive snap lately while also helping out on special teams. For a while he was playing every special teams snap as well, logging a monster workload.
“During parts of the season, playing 90-something snaps, I think, a few weeks in a row, I would say that for sure was credited to the CFL,” he said. “You know, that 65-yard-wide field is a little further. It’s a lot more outside zone schemes, with the offense, it’s not as downhill, I think, is the biggest thing.
“My confidence. … I think I just fully became a pro in Canada,” Singleton said.
“The CFL is not like the NFL, a fully scheduled day, you’re in the [NFL] building from 7 to 7. The CFL, you’re considered a part-time employee, because of the visas for Americans, so you only work from 9 to 1 every day. It’s kind of your choice if you want to be a pro. You can go there and kind of enjoy your time or you can go there – I was still going into the building at 7 a.m. to get my workouts in – to kind of keep that [NFL] structure for myself. My ultimate goal was to come back and play in the NFL, and ultimately, become a starter.”
“My plan worked perfectly. … To grow in that time was the biggest thing to me because it became a lot less on other people controlling what I was doing, and more myself.”
The Eagles signed Singleton (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) in 2019 with the idea that he would play special teams and back up at linebacker. He began the season on the practice squad but eventually played in 10 games last season, logging zero defensive snaps. But this year, the linebacking corps was thinner from the start, and then injuries set in.
Singleton became a starter Week 6, against Baltimore. Since then he has compiled 88 tackles, 63 solo, according to the Eagles. That’s a little less than 10 tackles a game, seven of them solo. The current NFL leader is Houston’s Zach Cunningham, with 137. Had Singleton started all 14 games, and tackled at the pace he has established since the Ravens game, he would be right there with Cunningham. Singleton also has a pick-six and two fumble recoveries this season.
“Alex is a dog,” said safety Jalen Mills, the Eagles’ leading tackler, with 98, just four ahead of Singleton despite Singleton’s late start. “From Day 1 that [defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz] promoted him to be starting, he just flies around, and he makes plays.
“He knows his stuff, No. 1. Two, he’s confident. And three, he’s just going to fly around and knock guys out. That’s what you want out of your linebackers.”
Monson said that, while most players rally to the ball in games, “Alex takes pride in doing it in practice. When you watch him practice, you always see him run to the ball. It’s just automatic to him. That’s why he gets in on so many tackles. He always wants to be around the football. … The effort, consistently during the week, is what I think makes him that way on game day.”
Monson said he can’t take much credit for Singleton’s development.
“Honestly, I felt when he came up to us, he was ready to be the guy,” Monson said. “I didn’t see a lot of parts of his game that needed a ton of work. … One thing that we worked on quite a bit was just the pass drops and eyes in coverage. But other than that ... Against the run, running sideline to sideline, knowing the opponent, all that stuff, he was always on point.”
Schwartz said pass coverage was the area that might have held Singleton back initially with the Eagles.
“I think you see a lot of plays that he makes in the run game, and where he was still sort of a work in progress was in the pass game,” Schwartz said. “There was a lot of things in the pass game that, mistakes that he would make or things that he could do better. But I really see his arrow being up in those categories too, now. He’s become a much more consistent zone player.
“He’s become better at directing traffic back there. Making all the calls and being on the field for every snap is a lot different than being a complementary player. So he’s grown in all those things, and knowing the kind of guy he is, he’ll continue to grow, and that speaks well for him and for us.”
For Singleton, the best part of his increased playing time and visibility might be what it has done for his Special Olympics fundraising. Singleton’s older sister, Ashley, was a Special Olympian for about 20 years. This year, before he knew he’d be playing much, Singleton asked fans to donate money for each tackle he made to a fundraiser called Tackling Inclusion. So far, $8,245 has been raised toward Singleton’s goal of $10,000, at https://pledgeit.org/singleton.
“It’s huge for that organization, and I’m very excited about doing that,” Singleton said.