February 29, 2024

Ferguson: 5 ways Leake, Bede will change Elks’ fortunes

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

When you’ve been battling uphill in the standings like the Edmonton Elks have over the past few years, you can sit there and hope your development from within catches up to the rest of the crowd and pluck a few role players here and there OR you can make some splashes.

It’s clear in 2024 the Elks decision making duo of Geroy Simon and Chris Jones have opted for the latter, and with the exception of quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, there has arguably been no larger swing than on special teams.

Nothing will ever override the importance of an accomplished, veteran passer who gives the entire room belief regardless of down, distance, score or situation. The acquisition of Bethel-Thompson felt like an organizational reset, one that came with mass firings or ownership changes.

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Adding Kurleigh Gittens Jr. from Toronto via trade was nice, albeit at the cost of standout defensive lineman Jake Ceresna. While many of the younger core names of years gone by have re-signed in Edmonton, there still remains a plethora of challenges ahead for a group who have to face Zach Collaros, Vernon Adams Jr., Jake Maier, and a healthy Trevor Harris more than a handful of times per year after giving up a CFL worst 136.6 rush yards per game after opposing quarterbacks already had their way.

The best ‘shortcut’ to finding success despite the inevitable uphill battle exists not in the pickup of McLeod, or the retention of a defensive core, but in the special teams game. Big kicks pinning opposing teams deep, big returns flipping field position and adding the somewhat unexpected bonus of points that leave your offence on the sideline celebrating.

When the 2023 Toronto Argonauts were at their best as the class of the CFL last season, they featured special teams as the perfect compliment to a steady offence and ball hawking defence. THAT is the formula in Edmonton made possible by the addition of kicker Boris Bede and running back by definition, returner extraordinaire by resume, Javon Leake.

You remember Leake, the 2023 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. He of the first time CFL All-Star selection and league-record four punt return touchdowns. He also led the league with 1,216 punt return yards — the third highest total in CFL history — and changed the way opposing special teams coordinators had to prepare rules, tendencies and coaching points.

That last note might be the highest honour bestowed upon a returner. While it’s not exactly a home run hitter being walked or the Hack-A-Shaq but in the same vein, Bede’s booming boot changes the game for Edmonton immediately.

Here’s five ways Leake and Bede will change the Elks fortunes in 2024.


Whether it be a long field goal from Bede or a long punt return on Leake’s first touch of the ballgame, either of these guys have the ability to put points up in a hurry.



Last season, Edmonton ranked last in the Canadian Football League in kickoff average (57.9 yards), fifth in kickoff return average (21.9 yards), last in net punt average (33.6 yards), eighth in punt return average (10.3 yards), and was in a three-way tie for fifth in average starting field position (36.9 yard line). I’d be willing to bet every single one of those numbers improve in 2024.


While much of the talk around these two – rightfully so – is about the big plays, they’re also both more than one hit wonders who disappear for quarters at a time. Bede, specifically, converted 37-of-39 field goals for a career-high 94.9 per cent in 17 games for Toronto last year. That’s an approach that should help steady the Elks offensively when finishing short of six.


It takes a lot to prepare for these two. Bede’s leg changes decisions on when to punt or give up the safety for opposing head coaches while Leake changes angles and fundamentals at practice leading up to game day. Each minute spent preparing and tweaking game plans for Edmonton’s new duo is a minute not spent elsewhere.


Commonwealth Stadium deserves to be vibrant again. While the kicking game is rarely headline worthy when you have high flying receivers and big name quarterbacks stealing all the headlines, Bede and Leake have a real opportunity to inject the Green and Gold with some BIG positive vibes this summer.

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