'Special' year for CFL

Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator Jim Daley during training camp at the University of...

Tiger-Cats special teams co-ordinator Jim Daley during training camp at the University of Hamilton's Ron Joyce Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., June 8, 2012. (EARNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:38 PM ET

HAMILTON - Jim Daley has been around the CFL for as long as the forward pass has been fashionable, has seen just about all that there is to see and can rhyme off names capable of going the distance on special teams quicker than Chevon Walker runs the 40.

To hear tell Daley tell it, the CFL is poised to usher in the year of the special teams touchdown, which all but disappeared last season when producing a major on a kickoff, punt return or off a missed field goal was far and few between.

“This year is similar to two years ago,’’ began Daley, Hamilton’s special teams co-ordinator who would evoke a year that ended with Chad Owens earning top special teams award in the league.

“For fans, it’s going to be an exciting year watching the league.”

For guys such as Daley, it makes for long nights trying to draw up schemes that limit returns of any kind.

As the Ticats and Argos get set for round one of a four-round season-series slugfest, neither cover unit is exactly coming off a stellar performance.

In the case of the Ticats, Hamilton allowed B.C.’s Tim Brown to run amok in Friday’s late-night loss in Vancouver, where the Lions scored a touchdown on a punt return.

All told, Brown produced 157 yards on six punt returns, including his 81-yard effort to paydirt, and added 139 yards on seven kickoff returns.

In Toronto, the Argos had no answer for Larry Taylor, who set a Calgary franchise record by producing 441 all-purpose yards, the second highest in CFL history behind Winnipeg’s Albert Johnson III, whose 474-yard effort in 2000 stands alone.

Among Taylor’s bursts would include a 125-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal, 222 yards on eight kickoff returns and 70 yards on two punt returns, including a 64-yard effort that would set up a late game-tying score before the Argos turned the trick on the ensuing to kickoff to set the stage for Noel Prefontaine’s game-winning field goal on the day’s final play.

Needless to say, both the Ticats and Argos need to clean up their act prior to Saturday night’s kickoff at Ivor Wynne.

While watching this past week’s games, Daley noticed how one team routinely kicked away from an explosive returner, one avenue teams use to negate long gains, assuming the punt is executed properly.

As it turned out, Daley said the return team netted three yards.

“That’s significant,’’ said Daley.

Had the kicking team punted directly to the opposition, the margin would have been lower.

Depending on the matchup and flow of game, football often becomes a game of inches, the margin for error so slim that yielding three yards is as big as any first down.

“There are points (during the game) where you just have to punt,’’ added Daley. “There are points where you just kick. Other times you might be able to do something different in your plan, but any good team needs to have that ability to kickoff and the ability to punt and cover.”

With Marcus Thigpen off to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, the Ticats have rotated returners, including Chris Williams, last year’s CFL rookie of the year who returned a punt 67 yards last week.

Owens, though, is the player Hamilton’s special teams must stop.

“We’ve seen him over the years and he’s as good as there is,’’ continued Daley. “On some weeks he’s just on another planet. Other weeks, teams have a little more success containing him.”

Whether it’s the Argos or Ticats, wrapping up on tackles, lane responsibility and being discipline must all be embraced.

“He’s like those other guys in this league,’’ Ticats special teams ace Ike Brown said of Owens. “That’s why they’re back there. They’re skilled players and they are hard to tackle.”

HICKMAN MISSED BY TIGER-CATS

The Ticats did some tweaking to their roster, moves that require the time to fully digest their impact.

Whether it’s a coincidence the three players added to the practice roster each play on defence at a time when forcing turnovers has been elusive, no one was willing to say, at least for public consumption.

Two games into the season and clearly no one has been able to fill the void left by Justin Hickman, whose 13 sacks tied for the league lead last year.

Hickman will soon attempt to latch on with the NFL’s Indy Colts, leaving behind a Ticat defence that at least showed signs of improvement in last Friday’s loss in Vancouver after yielding 500 yards in their season-opening home setback to Saskatchewan.

For the record, defensive tackle Jada Brown and defensive back Clem Johnson were both cut during camp after being injured.

The new face in Tiger Town is defensive end Kevin Basped, who spent time with the NFL’s New York Jets.

The Ticats also announced that import offensive lineman Nick Claytor has been added to the nine-game injured list.


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