August 13, 2014

Dunk: Ticats special teams not afraid to take chances

Another week and another close call for the Tabbies.

Hamilton suffered their fourth loss by seven points or less this season on the Left Coast, falling 36-29 to the BC Lions in Week 7.

Despite the loss, the Ticats’ special teams had a strong showing and played a large part on holding the team in the game.

Five Justin Medlock field goals – he has hit his 10 straight three-pointers and overall is 13-for-14 on the season – combined with Brandon Banks’s punt return touchdown provided 22 of the Ticats 29 points.

Good Problem to Have

Although health has been a concern, the potential duo of Brandon Banks and Quincy McDuffie provides the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with options at returner.

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“We have an outstanding group of corps specials teams guys. When you look at Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, Freddie Plesius, C.O. Prime, Erik Harris and Neil King. Those are all guys that came in here last year as rookies and they’ve grown together,” Ticats special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold said.

“Every really good special teams unit that I’ve ever been around has always had a corps group of guys and it’s typically younger players, grinders, young Canadians and those guys really embrace their roles.”

“The reality of the situation is that we had one good week, that doesn’t mean we’ve arrived and no one is popping champagne corks because this game can humble you real fast.”

With the team down 10-3 in the first quarter Hamilton called an onside kick. Marc Beswick noticed a bubble in the Lions kick return alignment. Then Justin Medlock tapped the football straight ahead, just over 10 yards, with a convoy of Ticats beside him Beswick recovered.

“They didn’t cover down our huddle, so we called it on the field. Coach pretty much gives us the green light to make those decisions,” Beswick explained. “I made the call, but we all made sure we were onside. Justin [Medlock] double checked it, we confirmed and then executed.”

“That thing has been something we worked on for two years. You can’t forecast when the look is going to be there,” Reinebold explained. “Marc saw it during the game and called it. If anybody deserves credit for the onside kick it’s Marc for recognizing the look, making everybody aware of it and Justin for executing the kick.”

Hamilton recovering an onside kick wasn’t the most impactful play of the game for the special teams unit. Midway through the second quarter Brandon Banks hauled in a punt, broke a tackle, made a couple jump cuts before finding a lane and took it all the way back 97 yards for a touchdown. It was the second game in a row Hamilton had a returner take a punt to the end zone for a touchdown. Quincy McDuffie scored on a 67-yard return against the Blue Bombers in Week 6.

“We have a formula we use and it’s been working for us,” Beswick said. “On both of them the returners made people miss. So all we have to do is get them to the edge and let them use their speed.”

Specials teams is often an overlooked phase to the game, but is so important especially in three-down football. It’s been a consistent area of strength for the Ticats to begin the season.

Dirty Laundry

Hamilton continues to have penalty issues. Out in BC the Ticats were called for 15 infractions resulting in 130 yards – too much free yardage for any team to be giving up. Kent Austin said after the game he again addressed the issue with each coach and all of the players.

As a team the Ticats have been called for league highs of 14.8 penalties for an average of 114.5 yards per game. Over six games the Tabbies have been penalized 89 times for 687 yards – both are the highest totals in the CFL.

“We just have to concentrate and focus more. We’ve gotta make sure we don’t leave it to the referees to make those calls,” Beswick said. “In the end you can call penalties on every play we just have to play smarter football and not take penalties at crucial times.”

If you zero in on some of the penalty numbers you can see the exact areas where Hamilton needs to clean up. The Ticats defence has been flagged 37 times to lead the CFL. Seven of those penalties have been defensive pass interference, a total that is first in the league. So Hamilton needs to cut down the amount of contact with receivers and take the decision to throw a flag out of the official’s hands all together.

On offence the unit has been flagged a league-high-tying 13 times for holding calls. Normally a 10-yard penalty, it immediately puts the offence in a first or second and extra long situation when the penalty is accepted. Not to mention a holding infraction also negates any yards gained on the play. Cloth-grabbing needs to be limited.

All around the Ticats need to do a better job of playing smarter and staying calm on the field. Hamilton has 12 unnecessary roughness penalties, tied for most in the league. 15 yards per unnecessary roughness penalty is a good chunk. Some luck and subjectivity from referee to referee factors in, but too many free yards have been handed to Ticat opposition. Hamilton needs to clean up the dirty laundry.