Landry: Flowers-Lloyd aims to clamp down Als return game

It’s been grating on Carthell Flowers-Lloyd. Really grating.

Montreal Alouettes’ punt returner James Letcher Jr. broke one open against the Hamilton special teams defence last Saturday, escaping for an electrifying 99-yard punt return touchdown in the Als’ 22-20 win over the Tiger-Cats.

Flowers-Lloyd, the CFL’s leading special teams tackler in 2023, was denied a shot at bringing Letcher down relatively early during that return, something he has done to returners pretty regularly this season.

“I couldn’t sleep all weekend,” said the 25-year-old native of Syracuse, NY.

“I hate when we get punts returned on us. It doesn’t sit well with me.”

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Flowers-Lloyd will have his chance to steady his restlessness this Saturday, when the Ticats once again meet the Alouettes in Montreal, this time in the Eastern Semi-Final. Until then, though, the memories of last week’s crushing return will weigh on him and the rest of the Tabbies’ special teamers.

“We got in real early today,” said Flowers-Lloyd, on Tuesday.

It seems everyone else on the Ticat special teams crew was feeling the same way he was about that Letcher return.

With Hamilton leading the Als 13-11 early in the fourth quarter last Saturday, Montreal’s diminutive stick of punt return dynamite gathered in the ball at his own 11-yard line. He immediately dashed to his right, away from the lane that Flowers-Lloyd was patrolling.

As Letcher dashed towards the sideline, Flowers-Lloyd went in pursuit, sprinting straight across the field in an effort to close in on and hopefully cut off the speedy returner. But as he got nearer, and as Letcher turned upfield at the twenty, Flowers-Lloyd got caught up in a wave of bodies.

Letcher was gone in the blink of an eye.

“I tried to go under a block,” Flowers-Lloyd said. “Normally I would’ve went over the top of that but I went under it. It got me a little bit behind on him and the next thing you know I’m running into somebody and I trip and fall.”

Flowers-Lloyd hasn’t picked the wrong door very often at all during his rookie season. He’s had a superb campaign of tracking down returners, leading the CFL with 31 special teams tackles, including one against Montreal last week. It’s a total that saw him crack the top 15 list, all-time, finishing the season with just six fewer than the single-season record held by both Winnipeg’s Wade Miller (1994), and former Ticat Dylan Barker (2009).

“I wanted to break the record so bad,” groaned Flowers-Lloyd. “It still sucks to me. I left a lot of tackles on the field. A lot of tackles.”

Three times this season, Flowers-Lloyd had four special teams tackles in a game, the only player in the CFL to do so. He recorded at least one STT in 15 of the 18 games in which he played, tying him for the league lead in that regard with Calgary’s Darius Williams.

It was, by all accounts, a sensationally productive year for the rookie, who jumped right into it with the Ticats in training camp, just a few weeks after he’d signed with the team. He’d played a ton of special teams, he said, during his three years with Eastern Michigan but almost none in his final year of college ball, when he suited up as a starting defensive back with Stony Brook University Seawolves.

In his second pre-season game — coincidentally against the Alouettes — Flowers-Lloyd shot down the field on missed field goal coverage, forcing a fumble on one of his two special teams tackles in that game.

“Ever since then, coach was like, ‘We got to get this guy somewhere out there and just let them run around wild.’ They put me at gunner and I’ve been able to compete with some of the top guys in the CFL,” he said.

Once it was obvious that Flowers-Lloyd could be a major factor in the Ticats’ kick cover plans for the season, he and Hamilton special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold went to work.

“The first first week of regular season, he brought me into his his room and he just went over everything with me,” said Flowers-Lloyd, adding that Reinebold gave him a quick reality check during the early portion of the season, insisting on a reduction in penalties.

“He coaches really hard,” said Flowers-Lloyd. “I accept constructive criticism from him. And he’s just a guy who really, really, really believes in me.”

Flowers-Lloyd opened the regular season with a single special teams tackle in Week 1 against Winnipeg, blocking a punt attempt as well in that game. He followed up with three special teams tackles against Toronto the next week and then had four against the Alouettes in Week 3. Unknown to opponents and running freely, the six-foot-two, 205-pounder was finding success early, his physical gifts allowing him to cause some chaos.

“I’m fast,” he said. “I’m strong. I’m crafty. So when I was able to get down the field, you know, you can’t just stand in front of the (no yards) halo and think that you’re just gonna block me. I could just run right through you when the returner has the ball.”

The rest of the league noticed.

Flowers-Lloyd led the league in special teams tackles as a rookie, becoming a key part of the Ticats’ special teams unit (Geoff Robins/

“The double teams started coming,” said Flowers-Lloyd.

So did the tackles, though. “Just getting to the ball, it’s no issue,” he said. “I can out-physical guys. I’m able to juke guys, beat guys around the edge.”

It’s more than just physical ability that has led Flowers-Lloyd to his place of prominence among special teams tacklers. It has to be. It has always taken a certain kind of player to really excel in the role.

“I just buy into what I have to do,” said Flowers-Lloyd, making sure to point out that he is merely one of 12 out there doing the dirty work on kick teams.

“You just got to go down there with limitless effort,” he explained. “You got to know, when you go down there, the bigger purpose. I just play for my teammates and the guys around me. I know that at the end of the day we’re all ‘robbing the same train,’ as they use as a term here.”

Last Saturday, though, with Letcher in the engineer’s cap, the train sped away for a major score, leading to Flowers-Lloyd’s angst in the aftermath. And to his renewed determination during practice this week. He and his mates got in early on Tuesday, remember.

“They have another thing coming for them this week,” Flowers-Lloyd said of the Alouettes’ return unit.

The CFL’s special teams tackling king is hoping to get a better night’s sleep this Saturday night.


While most teams had taken to double-teaming him over the course of this season, Flowers-Lloyd says that the Alouettes did not during last week’s regular season finale.

“What they actually did,” he said, “which was really interesting, they put a starting corner on me.”

Montreal’s Kabion Ento was the man given the challenge of keeping Flowers-Lloyd in check.

“He did a really good job,” admitted Flowers-Lloyd, adding that Ento tried to get in his ear a little bit, too.

“He made me work. I will say that.”

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