Milton's Look at the Special Teams

Recalling as this season approached, just three months ago, among the most often mentioned concerns in this forum were the loss of Medlock, the very inexperienced new punter from down under, and Cortez' choice for the ST Coordinator job. The Spec's Steve Milton, rightly so, gives a lot of credit, where it's due, to the key individuals who this season have made Ti-Cat Special Teams special indeed:


By Steve Milton
Chris Williams has been such a transcendent force that the strong, and relatively consistent, day-to-day work of the rest of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ special-team players often fades into the afterglow.
Williams had already established a gaudy new CFL record of six kick/punt returns for touchdowns by the midway point of the season but the special teams — kickoff-, punt- and field-goal units and the corresponding return squads — have contributed a lot more than just mobbing him in the end zone.
For one thing, obviously, they’ve thrown the blocks that got Williams at least part of the way there.
For another, they’ve been spinning stalled offensive drives into points — if sometimes only consolation-prize points — as money-in-the-bank kicker Luca Congi is the CFL’s leader in field-goal percentage.
For another, they took some of the sting out of the weak defence through the first 10 games by altering field position both kicking and returning.
For another, their Australian punter who had never played the game until this season, has become proficient at placing the ball between the hash marks and the sidelines, with great height and almost predictable (44 to 47 yards) distance on a huge percentage of his punts, limiting the return prospects. Edmonton had four total yards in three returns and the week before, dangerous Toronto averaged only six yards per return.
For yet another, of the mere four punts and field goals that have been blocked in the league this year, the Ticats own two of them, including Dee Webb’s game-turning field-goal block against Edmonton on Saturday afternoon that Bakari Grant returned for a major. They’ve also deflected a punt and a field goal this year.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s seven touchdowns by the special teams this year and it should have been eight, but Williams went a trifle helium-brained and lost the ball against Montreal backing into the end zone after 117 yards when he needed 118.
They’ve nearly busted a handful of other returns, including one by receiver Onrea Jones on Saturday, as the Cats went to two punt returners to combat the opposition’s emerging, finally, tactic of punting the ball onto the ground, away from Williams.
“Every time you go on the field for special teams, you’re talking, minimum, 40 to 50 yards in exchange and/or points,? says special-teams co-ordinator Jim Daley. “So every play is a big play. We’ve had a couple of big plays against us, but I think we’ve made far more.?
The Cats did allow B.C.’s Tim Brown to return a punt 82 yards for a touchdown in early July but, as special-teams assistant Paul Osbaldiston asks rhetorically, if someone had told you in June that your special teams would reach mid-September with seven touchdowns for and one against, would you have complained? Only if something with sharp teeth was slowly crawling up your leg at the time.
Osbaldiston, 18 years the Ticats kicker, was signed just before training camp, originally only to work with the duo that would replace NFL-bound kicker Justin Medlock. But the staff soon discovered what those familiar with this franchise have known for decades: Ozzy has always been the ultimate student of the game, viscerally aware of CFL return and kick strategies and the peculiar effects of weather on all parts of the kicking game, in every stadium in the league. He has been assisting Daley with an increasing number of special-teams aspects..
Both Osbaldiston and Daley praise the special-teams commitment and intelligence of newcomer Kevin Eiben, the ex-Toronto Argonauts all-star, and mainstay Marc Beswick, who led the CFL with 27 special-teams tackles last year. Osbaldiston calls Beswick one of the most knowledgeable special-teams players he’s ever seen.
“He doesn’t look like the dominant player he is,? Daley says of Beswick. “Once the game starts, he’s as fast as he needs to be, as tough as I’ve ever come across on special teams and he’s got a great instinct for the game. He knows everything about us, what our schemes are and what the opponent’s doing. We’re fortunate to have two dominant guys like Marc Beswick and Kevin Eiben.?
Beswick was injured for the first five games of the season and three other core special-teams players — Ike Brown (seven games), Yannick Carter (11) and Jonathon Hood (five) — have also missed significant time. Factoring in the injuries on defence, that’s imposed personnel inconsistency on the special teams. Yet, they’ve generally delivered.
Part of that adaptability comes from having guys such as Eiben and Beswick who know where everybody is supposed to be on the field. Everybody.
“Part of being a leader is making sure everybody is lined up in their position,? says Beswick, who played defence and every special team in his final university season at St. Mary’s. “This is how I feed my family. And this is what I get paid to do. I try to do it the best way I can.?
Head coach George Cortez credits the special-teams players and coaches for their preparation and consistency and notes that, on special teams, “success many times begets success because guys see where they can make an immediate impact on the game, sometimes with one block.?
Especially if the ball happens to be anywhere near Williams.
“After the game on Saturday, I was telling Luca how much I like his game,? Beswick said. “But with Chris, (Luca) has kind of flown under the radar.
“Chris has been amazing. You have to hold your block because you don’t ever know, he gets a crease and he’s gone.
“We all take it upon ourselves that you don’t want your guy to be the one making the tackle on him.?