Join me on a journey through Canadian football as we explore the intricacies of CFL special teams throughout the 2023 season. This series carefully uncovers the stories, strategies, and pivotal moments defining each team’s unique path. As we delve into the past, we also look to the future, contemplating what these teams might do in the upcoming 2024 season. In this inaugural installment of our 2023 Special Teams Review series, we head to the capital of Alberta to cover the Edmonton Elks. Let’s discuss that;
The 36-year-old rookie, Dean Faithfull, was the Second Overall pick in the 2023 CFL Global Draft, with the Elks entrusting him with the starting position without much competition. It was a commendable season for Faithfull, who went 23/29 (79%) on field goal attempts and 35/37 (95%) on PATs. While showcasing accuracy on kicks under 40 yards, where he was 13/14 (93%), Dean faced challenges with longer attempts, managing 10/15 (66%) on field goals over 40 yards. His longest kick of the season came during the Labour Day Matchup against the Calgary Stampeders, where he knocked through a 46-yard field goal. Kickoffs presented room for improvement, with Faithfull averaging 59.1 yards per kickoff, however, I have a feeling that shorter kickoffs were a coaching decision rather than a skill issue. I predict the Elks will keep Dean Faithfull as a starter in 2024. There was room for improvement in 2023, and I think improvements can be expected after a full offseason of work with the special teams unit.
After being released by the Ottawa REDBLACKS, the team that drafted him in the 2021 CFL Draft, Jake Julien was quickly signed by Edmonton to be their starting punter. He was put to the test early and often, racking up 121 punts on the season, which was the 2nd most in the league. Julien played adequately in field-flipping situations, averaging 45.4 yards per punt, with 32.2% of his punts travelling over 50 yards. Pinning opponents deep was a challenge for him, however, with just 25.6% of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line and 9 Rouges off of punts that rolled into the endzone. Further, Julien only averaged 33.4 net yards per punt, which was the lowest in the CFL in 2023. While I think bringing Jake Julien back as a starter in 2024 would be a good idea, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Elks made moves to bring in competition this offseason.
Peter Adjey, a second-year long snapper from Toronto, Ontario, retained his starting position in 2023 despite the addition of Luke Burton-Krahn in the 2023 CFL Draft. The league highlighted 52 Long Snaps by Peter Adjey this year and of those 52 long snaps, I recorded 44 of them as Strikes, giving Adjey a Strike Percentage of 85%. With just 8 Balls snapped all season, I feel as though Adjey is close to breaking through to the next level. I fully expect the Elks to bring Peter Adjey back in 2024 to finish out his rookie contract. Luke Burton-Krahn will likely be retained to maintain competition and act as a safety net in case of injuries.
CJ Sims burst onto the scene in Week 3 with an impressive performance where he returned 3 punts for 104 yards and 6 kickoffs for 181 yards. Sims found success for a few weeks before his production dwindled over time. A flash-in-the-pan season for Sims resulted in him returning 45 kickoffs for an average of 21.2 yards per kickoff return and 53 punts, averaging 10.2 yards per punt Return. After some time, the Elks needed to make a change and some new blood was circulated into the return room. Deontez Alexander, who averaged 26.5 yards per KO return stole the spotlight, recording the Elks first kickoff return touchdown in eight years. Wide Receiver Kyran Moore showed promise during his short window as a punt returner, averaging 12.3 yards per punt return. Sims ended the year on the practice squad and was released following the conclusion of the 2023 season. I would like to see the Elks give Wide Receiver Deontez Alexander the reigns during his contract year in 2024 and re-sign Kyran Moore to keep a veteran presence in the WR room who can compete at the returner position.
The 2024 season poses a make-or-break challenge for every position on special teams. Kicker Dean Faithfull needs to have a strong second season to cement his place on the depth chart or I fear he may be shown the door even if the coaching staff loves him. I think he has the potential to be great, and am hoping his age and life experience will help him settle into a routine that allows him to fully realize his potential. The same can be said for Punter Jake Julien, who is entering a contract year in 2024. I think the front office needs to see Jake clean up his directional punting skills before they put ink to paper on a contract extension. Long Snapper Peter Adjey should be brought back in 2024, looking to prove he deserves a significant contract extension when his rookie contract expires at the end of 2024. Finally, whether it is Deontez Alexander, Kyran Moore, or a new addition, someone must step up for the Elks in the return game.