Ticats like their Thigpen

Marcus Thigpen works out during opening day of Hamilton Tiger-Cats mini-camp in Hamilton, April 27,...

Marcus Thigpen works out during opening day of Hamilton Tiger-Cats mini-camp in Hamilton, April 27, 2011. (ALEX UROSEVIC/QMI Agency)

MIKE THOMAS, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 PM ET

While Marcus Thigpen remains Hamilton's primary option on special teams, his role on offence is up in the air this far into training camp.

Thigpen emerged last season not only as the Tiger-Cats top kick returner but also as a promising young running back with a long CFL future ahead of him.

A running back his entire life, Thigpen has worked extensively with the team's wide receivers so far, letting Avon Cobourne and a number of rookies take handoffs in the backfield.

"I'm just learning the whole offence, the whole system," said Thigpen. "It's kind of tough right now but I'm getting it down."

Having Avon Cobourne with the team has forced Thigpen to be a more versatile threat on offence and to be prepared for any role his coaches choose for him.

Apart from returning kicks, the Ticats staff has laid out no clear plan for Thigpen but with speed like his it's safe to say he'll be a mainstay at Ivor Wynne in 2011.

"He's so quick and instinctual with the football. He could be anywhere to tell the truth," said offensive coordinator Khari Jones. "The magic of having a guy like that is we can use him in a few different places."

Thigpen was runner up in last year's Most Outstanding Rookie voting with a solid first year campaign that saw him turn in as many receiving yards as he had rushing yards. Though skilled in both areas, Thigpen views himself as a running back and hopes for his share of handoffs this season.

"I'm pretty sure I'll be in the backfield," said Thigpen. "I think they're just giving me more opportunities to get the ball."

Cobourne, who also has racked up substantial receiving yards in his career said being able to catch well gives rushers something the defence isn't always ready for.

"It's good to be versatile, to be able to catch and run," said Cobourne. "It makes the defence worry a lot."

As a potential running back tandem, Thigpen and Cobourne could see a lot of each other this season but haven't worked together much in camp since Thigpen's spent more time with the wide receivers.

Cobourne is deservedly the club top choice at running back but on any football team having more options to choose from can only help the squad be more competitive.

"When we're both in the backfield they don't know who's getting the ball," said Cobourne.

Thigpen is happy to have Cobourne as a teammate and said they both have opportunities to help each other.

"I know stuff that he doesn't know because I was here last year and he knows stuff that I don't from all his experience," said Thigpen. "I'm always asking for tips and learning how to do certain things."

While maybe having to earn opportunities on offence, Thigpen will be able to showcase his ferocious stealth on the Ticats special teams. Thigpen returned the ball like he wanted his money back for it in 2010 and feels even more comfortable this year in camp.

"I did a lot of work in the offseason on punt returns," said Thigpen. "Now I feel way more comfortable in that part of the game."

The highlight of his rookie year came in the first game of the season where Thigpen burst onto the CFL scene returning the opening kickoff 93 yards into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers end zone. In case that didn't leave a big enough impression, he brought a missed field goal back for a total of 118 yards later in the same game.

The Ticats open the regular season, July 1, at home against those same Bombers.

"God willing I'll probably get three returns (in the first game)," said Thigpen. "But you never know what happens."

Everyone outside of Winnipeg who likes watching football hopes that he's right about that.

BRIEFLY

After Thursday's practice Tiger-Cats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille was able to give an update on some players that have missed time in camp.

Defensive end Stevie Baggs watched from the sidelines on Thursday for precautionary reasons, while offensive lineman Wayne Smith is close to returning from injury but is not being rushed back into action. The coach wouldn't reveal the nature of either injury.

Star linebacker Markeith Knowlton has had to sit out all but one practice so far with a foot injury but is expected to be back with his teammates this weekend.


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