Danish RT Steven Nielsen performs well in first CFL start

The Edmonton Elks have had a dreadful start to the season, but their 30-13 loss to the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday featured a triumph for the CFL’s Global program.

After starter D’Antne Demery was ruled out late in the week due to injury, the Elks opted to start rookie Steven Nielsen of Denmark at right tackle and the second overall pick in the 2021 Global Draft didn’t look out of place. While Edmonton’s offensive line struggled as a unit, Nielsen was among the most consistent performers on the Elks offense and the team has high expectations for the Dane going forward.

“It’s always tough to go into your first CFL game, especially going up against a Nick Usher and [Antonio] Simmons,” Edmonton head coach Jaime Elizondo said of the rookie. “Those guys gave us some problems tonight, as well as the interior, but Steven’s going to grow into a good football player. He’s got the first game under his belt and he’ll get better.”

Originally from Dragoer, Denmark, Nielsen starred for the Danish national team before leaving home in his junior year of high school to play football in the US, earning a scholarship to Eastern Michigan University. The 6-foot-8 offensive lineman started 49 games for the Eagles between 2016 and 2019, playing both tackle and guard. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of the 2020 season but was a victim of COVID roster cutdowns, entering the CFL Global Draft pool and landing in Edmonton.

The Elks were the first team to list a Global player as a starter back in 2019 when they gave Diego Viamontes the nod at receiver, but the Mexican saw very little time on offense. Nielsen becomes the first Global player to actually perform as a starter for a CFL team.

Edmonton surrendered four sacks on Saturday and there was plenty of pressure in the face of quarterback Trevor Harris, but very little of it came off of Nielsen’s right side. While the Dane has never been known for his foot quickness, he did a great job of driving speed rushers past his quarterback and allowing opportunities for Harris to step up in the pocket.  He allowed only a couple of meaningful pressures, a very solid performance in a debut start.

While the Elks were forced to air the ball out, Nielsen looked strong in the run game as well. He generated good push at the point of attack thanks to his physicality and was consistently in good position at the second level.

Edmonton has been high on Nielsen from the start and is one of a handful of CFL teams opting to dress two Global players, with Belgian defensive tackle Tibo Debaillie joining him on the active roster. With Canadian tackle Kyle Saxelid likely ready to go next week, Nielsen may return to his role as the sixth offensive lineman going forward but proved on Saturday that he can be counted upon at the professional level.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.