Ticats' Daley special

Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator Jim Daley. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency file photo)

Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator Jim Daley. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency file photo)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:18 PM ET

HAMILTON - When it comes to football’s three phases, the least understood is on special teams, even to those who claim to understand the many subtleties on the gridiron.

Defences, it’s been said, win championships, offences, when piling up points, draws fans, but it’s on special teams where games can be won and lost, where the battle for field position shifts momentum during any stretch of a game.

And so the Ticats continue the daily grind that is training camp, evaluating and evolving, trying to get a handle on who will line up where and who will ultimately be used as a starter or in reserve.

With so much yet unknown, special teams co-ordinator Jim Daley has no clue who will be asked to serve on cover units, return units or when field goals are attempted.

Daley and head coach George Cortez have a history that is both personal and professional.

When Cortez agreed to come aboard in Tiger Town, he turned to Daley because of Daley’s attention to detail.

Daley has been around the CFL block about as long as anyone in today’s game, serving all kinds of positions, including head coach.

Like Cortez, Daley, an Ottawa native, is a no-nonsense individual who will cut no corner and will never use any excuse.

Logically, Daley has no clue who will comprise his special teams unit because the roster is far from complete.

But once Cortez announces who will line up on defence and on offence, which won’t happen until both pre-season games are played, clarity will enter into Daley’s world.

It’s clear, though, even from those who aren’t that in tune with all things Ticats, that finding a replacement for Marcus Thigpen is among the priorities.

In Thigpen, the Ticats had a dynamic return guy who would evolve into an average receiver in certain offensive packages.

Chad Owens has put together back-to-back 3,000 all-purpose-yard seasons, but Thigpen was just as explosive, capable of taking it to the house each time he had the ball in his hands.

“The loss of Marcus Thigpen is big,’’ said Daley. “What coach Cortez told me was to not lock in on any man yet.”

Thigpen exercised an option to pursue the NFL and would sign a deal with Miami, forcing the Ticats to bring in as many return guys as possible.

Second-year wideout Chris Williams has been getting a look, a guy who had his share of returns last season.

And then there are guys such as Chevon Walker, Deon Murphy, Chris Duvalt, Clem Johnson and Sam Giguere, each returning kickoffs during Thursday’s special teams session.

“There are basically eight men the organization has brought in,’’ Daley added.

Luca Congi and Josh Maveety are hoping to fill the hole left by Justin Medlock, who took his act back down south after a stellar season in the Hammer, his first for this former Argo.

Whether it’s the man in charge such as Daley, the guy who ultimately gets asked to return punts and kickoffs, who gets asked to kickoff, everything will be new with the Ticats as the club turns a new page.

In Toronto, the Argos were known for their gadget plays two years ago when special teams co-ordinator Mike O’Shea took the CFL by storm.

In Hamilton, Daley will resort to the occasional fake or reverse, but the identity he wants to establish is very clear and precise.

“When I sat down with coach Cortez, there was no question where we wanted this to go,’’ said Daley. “We want to be very aggressive, both in the return game and the kicking game.

“Naturally, we want to be sound, but we want speed and we want physicality.”

Watching Daley operate in training camp is like watching a traffic cop in the middle of rush hour, instructing players which lanes to run, which players to block and which area to exploit when an on-side kick is required.

With so many players in camp, Daley has delegated one specific special teams component to every positional coach.

“Every coach is involved in some dimension,’’ Daley said. “This way we have five or six guys to one coach because you just can’t do it with one voice.”

When he was hired back in February, Daley had an understanding of the team’s cover and return units based on his relationships with assistant coaches.

When he began to review game film, Daley saw how good the core was and is now beginning to see it first hand.

The team recently appointed Paul Osbaldiston as special teams assistant, a move Daley fully endorsed.

At first, Osbaldiston oversaw the specialists, kicking and punting, and long snapping, but his role is expanding.

Daley has known Osbaldiston from his junior football days.

“About 200 pounds ago,’’ quipped Daley. “He’s been a wonderful addition and Paul is now having more input in how we scheme things.”


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