Special needs

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

Calgary Stampeders special teams will warrant special attention this season. And rightly so.

After allowing five touchdowns last year and rarely providing the offence with decent field position, the unit was a glaring weakness in a season of constant disappointment.

Under the guidance of former co-ordinator Trey Junkin, a rookie coach with no CFL experience, the unit floundered, creating an obvious priority for this season.

New special teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson -- receiver and running backs coach last year under Matt Dunigan -- has been handed the assignment by new head coach Tom Higgins, Stamps special teams co-ordinator more than a decade ago.

The rebuilding process in 2005 is a massive undertaking with almost every coach on staff lending a hand in returning to respectability.

Dickenson appreciates the group effort.

"It's not just one guy," points out Dickenson, who has held similar roles with the Montreal Alouettes and San Diego Chargers.

"I'm the co-ordinator but we've got four or five special teams co-ordinators on this staff. There's a lot of intellect and a lot of expertise in the kicking game, so when we're on special teams, we've got five or six guys who've all done it and know what they're talking about.

"Tom has always been real big on emphasizing the kicking game ... that's the way coach Higgins does it."

The first two days of training camp has included weeding through recruits who can secure a roster spot by demonstrating some special-teams skills. Almost everyone's been working on blocking punts. Three new non-import kickers are in camp -- PK Sandro DeAngelis, P Burke Dales and PK/P Mark Irvin -- but have yet to begin competing for the two open positions held last year by import Clinton Greathouse.

"You don't want to give up any big plays and obviously this is such a big-play league that it's going to happen," Dickenson says.

"Our standard is to be consistent, give the ball to the offence in the best possible field position and always being sound. That means protecting the punt and doing a good job tackling."

Higgins, in his 21st CFL season, has already been underlining its importance. He's been taking a hands-on approach during the drills and exhorting his charges that being productive in that facet is crucial to the team's overall success.

"In the next couple of days, we'll actually have the kickers and punters working and returners actually start catching balls," Higgins says.

"We're not going to leave Craig high and dry because you need a lot of help just as you need on offence and defence.

"Each game we'll want to win the special teams phase and one way is minimizing returns against you. You have to put your best people on the field and make sure you can cover because games are won in the CFL based on special teams."

By leaning on his entire staff, it's clear to coaches and players alike special teams are a priority, notes veteran non-import Scott Deibert.

"They emphasized it right off the bat in the first meeting -- if you want to make this team, you've got to make it on special teams except for the odd player," said Deibert, a non-import running back and special teams regular the past four seasons with the Stampeders.

"(Higgins) knows how important the kicking is and the cover teams and you have to get that emphasized in camp. That's what they're doing."

The Stamps have also added an impressive list of kickoff and punt return recruits, some with NFL experience, including former Arizona Cardinal MarTay Jenkins and former Dallas Cowboy Ken-Yon Rambo. The Stamps need to replace the game-breaking speed of Wane McGarity, released in the off-season.

"We've got some guys with wheels, so as long as the guys up front get some blocks, we could be real good," Dickenson says.


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