TORONTO – Chad Kackert may be a big-play threat capable of scoring from anywhere on the field but Toronto coach Scott Milanovich plans to ease the star running back into the Argonauts’ offence.
Kackert returned to the field Monday, two days after ending his retirement to join Toronto’s practice roster. The 28-year-old retired on the first day of training camp to become the club’s strength-and-conditioning coach after suffering a broken left right ankle prior to the 2013 East Division final.
Kackert’s return is welcome news for Toronto (4-8), when begins a four-game homestand just two points out of first in the East Division behind the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5-7) and Montreal Alouettes (5-8). The five-foot-eight, 206-pound Kackert was instrumental in the Argos’ 2012 championship run, earning MVP honours in their 35-22 Grey Cup win over Calgary.
Milanovich has no timetable for Kackert’s return but said it won’t happen Saturday when Toronto hosts the Edmonton Eskimos.
“He feels good, he’s very confident where he’s at physically but I’m just going to reserve judgement until I see him go through a week of practice and get his feedback as to how he feels,” Milanovich said. “If he goes through this week feeling good, then we’ll start to evaluate where he’s at relative to the other guys.
“We’re trying to get him as much work as we can. We need to make sure he can handle the workload and pounding.”
Kackert wore his blue No. 44 jersey but took no snaps with the starting offence, instead lining up on the scout team.
“It’s just feeling it out this week, hopefully get a little bit of contact and see how it reacts,” Kackert said. “I’ve been running, I’ve been doing my training just hoping to get the choice to come back because I honestly didn’t know if I was going to get to a place where I was healthy enough to play football again.
“That’s why I retired.”
Kackert had to retire because he was nowhere near ready to play when Toronto opened training camp.
“I could hardly run at the start of training camp,” said Kackert, who need surgery to repair the injury. “I was limping for a good few months into the season but I’ve felt a lot better lately.
“I had a talk with the doctor and he was saying, ‘If you feel like you can play you should,’ because he didn’t see any problem with it.”
Kackert has been a big-play running back during his three seasons with Toronto, rushing for 1,467 yards and 12 TDs on 228 carries (6.4-yard yard average) while adding 50 catches for 454 yards and two touchdowns. He was the Grey Cup MVP after rushing for 133 yards on 20 carries against Calgary on Nov. 25, 2012.
Unfortunately, injuries have limited Kackert to just 24 regular-season games since signing with Toronto in 2010. But there’s no doubt in Milanovich’s mind what a healthy Kackert brings to the offence.
“He’s a home-run hitter, he gets a crease and can go the distance,” Milanovich said. “He’s got good hands out of the backfield and he’s learned to be a good protector of the quarterback.
“His teammates love him. Just the way he plays the game, the unselfishness with which he does his job, the players respond to that and are pulling for him.”
Kackert would also be another big weapon in quarterback Ricky Ray’s arsenal, a potentially scary thought considering Toronto entered last weekend’s action with the CFL’s top aerial attack and ranked second in total offensive yards.
“Defences have to spend a lot of time trying to defend what (Kackert) can do and it’s not all about trying to stop Chad Owens or (Andre) Durie or (Jason) Barnes or the rest of the receivers,” Ray said. “His thing is he’s so explosive, over his career he’s been able to bust out 50-yard touchdown runs and that really changes the game.
“That’s big in any offence but also in the passing game, throwing those balls underneath he’s able to turn it up and make some big gains.”
A fresh and strong Kackert would further bolster an offence that’s been getting healthier in recent weeks with the return of injured receivers Jason Barnes, Andre Durie, Spencer Watt and Chad Owens.
“That’s big for us,” Ray said. “To have our main guys back and healthy . . . makes a big difference for this offence.
“If we can stay healthy coming down the stretch and everybody improves week to week, we can be a team that goes out there and does some good things.”