The CFL is putting the special back in special teams.
Two games in it has been touchdowns galore from the often-times unheralded special teamers from around the league.
Pinball Clemons, Rocket Ismail and Bashir Levingston, not to mention Dominique Dorsey are no longer wowing Argos fans with their exploits returning punts, kickoffs and missed field goals, but a vertically challenged Hawaiian by the name of Chad Owens is doing a pretty good job walking in those same shoes. He’s two for two — a punt return and a missed field-goal return for touchdowns in successive weeks and showing no signs of slowing down.
But it’s not just Toronto. Down the QEW, Marcus Thigpen has three special-team touchdowns, a return each of a kickoff, a punt and a missed field goal all for touchdowns. Montreal’s Tim Maypray had a 125-yard return of a missed field goal in Week 1 against Saskatchewan. All told the league has produced six special-teams touchdowns two weeks into the season.
“This is a very unusual, very unique situation to have that many returns for touchdowns so early and I don’t know that it can keep going on at this pace,” Argos first-year special-teams co-ordinator Mike O’Shea said Sunday after practice.“We would like it to, obviously from our end, and we don’t want to give any up either.”
Look no further than the new blood, both in the form of the returners and the men who coach them as a good part of the reason for all the early season fireworks.
“There are some good young returners out there,” Argos head coach Jim Barker said. “(Marcus) Thigpen (in Hamilton) is doing a great job. (Tim) Maypray (in Montreal), our guy Chad (Owens) getting an opportunity, Deion Murphy in Calgary, guys all over the league that are new and are dynamic young players.
“And a lot of the new special teams coaching has done well, but Dave Easley has been (in the league) forever and I’m not sure anybody has done better than what Hamilton’s Thigpen has done.”
Barker is just thrilled to see special teams providing the kind of thrills it has been providing.
“It’s an exciting time in the CFL. I think every team in the league has a guy who can take the return, so every time the ball is kicked there is excitement. That’s the way the CFL needs to be. That’s what is making these games exciting. It’s been a fun season so far.”
Veteran Argo Jeremaine Copeland considers Nik Lewis much more than just a former teammate and he’s not afraid to say it. Good thing too because come Wednesday night, TSN is going to introduce the Copeland/Lewis “Bromance” to its viewers.
“It is what it is and we ain’t gonna be lying and saying it was not,” Copeland said Sunday when asked about the TSN piece. “He is my little brother, man. I wouldn’t trade anything for him. I love him to death, I ain’t gonna lie. I’ll whup anyone who tries to mess with him, it doesn’t matter. I will protect him at all times, any time I’m with him.”
Copeland and Lewis made this bond in Calgary and even now that he’s in Toronto, Copeland said it remains as strong as ever.
“It’s bigger than just football,” Copeland said. “It’s more off the field too. We’re real tight, tighter than the average guys.”
The Argos didn’t come out of Winnipeg with just a win. They came out relatively unscathed as well. “We have some bruises, kept a couple of guys out today just as a precaution, but we should be healthy going into Wednesday,” Barker said following practice.
The one obvious injury was a bruised heel suffered by offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl. Van Zeyl wore a walking boot after his injury. “We’re just keeping him off of it,” Barker said.
“We’ll see what happens there. They just don’t want any pressure on it, but we’ll see about him closer to game time. We have guys ready to step in but we don’t worry about injuries.”
Headsets a blessing
The Argos were the one team in Week 1 of the CFL schedule that did not have the benefit of the in-helmet headsets. Having played a game with them in the proper working order, Argos quarterback Cleo Lemon says they are a huge help.
“It’s one of those situations where you can relax because it’s one less thing you have to worry about,” Lemon said. “There’s a lot going on in the field so worrying about the play, whether you’re getting it right or if you want to change it. It’s much easier to just make those adjustments on the field listening to your co-ordinator talk to you in your ear. It was a lot more relaxed situation.”
Lemon looked much more relaxed in his second game as well. The stats were solid and he did not turn the ball over nor did he have a single time-count violation called against him.
The one moment when Argo fans probably felt their stomachs drop wasn’t as bad as it looked either. On his nine-yard TD romp, Lemon was hit at the goal-line with his head taking the brunt of the blow. Backup Dalton Bell came in for Lemon on the next series, but Lemon was back in soon afterwards.
“It was the doctor’s call. He did his job. He wanted me to stay out for 10 minutes and that’s what I did. I felt comfortable going back in. Everything is fine,’ Lemon said.