Milton: Jalen Saunders emerging as a downfield threat for Ticats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats don’t need another reason to keep improving their protection for Zach Collaros, but here’s one anyway:

Jalen Saunders.

Collaros needs the time to let Saunders do what he does best … beat defenders downfield.

Not only is the fleet 24-year-old rookie out of Oklahoma the only Ticat receiver in the CFL’s top 25 in terms of total yardage, but he leads all league receivers who have 200 yards or more in average gain per reception at 18.5 yards.

Saunders is a legitimate deep threat and has 15 receptions in the three games he’s started since 1,000-yard receiver Terrence Toliver went down on opening night. He had that all-alone 60-yarder against B.C. in the home opener that lifted everyone — at least those not already standing in the beer patios — out of their seats.

But equally important as the number of times Saunders has caught the ball is the number of times (26) that Collaros has thrown it to him, considering that most of the passes involve length.

That demonstrates that the Ticats are serious about going downfield, and defences have to respect that. It’s a similar equation to the running game: the more you hand it off, even without a successful result, the more the opposition thinks you might do it again, and they have to keep that front of mind.

It’s not a complete co-relation, because different plays and defensive coverages affect who’s targeted, but in general if you have to respect a true deep threat, which Saunders appears to be, something might loosen up in the mid-range where Ticat receivers have often been heavily blanketed. As in all things football, the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone.

“My speed will stretch a defence,” Saunders says. “I think it stretches the field and helps the others, and me, underneath, too.”

Inside receivers Luke Tasker, who was thrown to only twice the previous game, and Junior Collins combined for 15 targets and 10 catches against Edmonton when Collaros went to Saunders eight times.

“That (stretching the field) is an element that’s been missing with Toliver’s departure,” head coach Kent Austin said this week. “We’re trying to manufacture that in different ways and trying to replace Terrence’s production, and Jalen’s helped in that regard.

“Jalen’s going to get a lot better. He has no experience. The best is still in front of him.”

Which is exactly what Saunders feels. In two of the three games he’s played, he has been the leading Ticat in yardage gained, and he’s grasping CFL coverage patterns, but it’s not bred in the bone yet. Until this month, he hadn’t played a regular season game in more than two full years.

“I feel like I’m doing what I’m capable of doing, but could it be more? Yes,” Saunders says. “The best is yet to come. It’s learning the league, learning the defences and coverages. It’s still ball, but it’s a tad different than the U.S. I feel that as soon as I’m more on top of my A-plus game, I can play free, free, free on the football field.

“I’m recognizing coverages, but I’m not a vet. They’ll really recognize and feel something that they’re used to seeing. This is something that’s still new to me but not brand-new, if that makes any sense.

“Let’s say that the food is in my system … but it’s not broken down yet.”

After four Ticat games, three of which he’s played, Saunders has 278 reception yards, putting him on a pace to surpass 1,100 yards on the season.

Collaros was saying this week that “the more ways we can get him the ball, the more productive we’ll be.”

And, as every Ticat fan knows, they need to be more productive.

Notes: Defensive halfback Abdul Kanneh took reps for the second straight day, which Austin said was an encouraging sign … Austin also corrected a timeline mistake he made Tuesday when he said Keon Lynn would be out 9 to 12 weeks with a broken leg. It’s really 9 to 12 months.

Steve Milton

Steve Milton

Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.
Steve Milton
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Steve Milton
About Steve Milton (88 Articles)
Steve Milton is a long-time columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2012.

19 Comments on Milton: Jalen Saunders emerging as a downfield threat for Ticats

  1. Lindsay Wilcox // July 27, 2017 at 7:42 am //

    And use Speedy Banks on the opposite side of the field, giving the inside receivers lots more room to move as the speedsters take the corners and safety deep out of the play.

  2. Angelo Bruno // July 27, 2017 at 7:52 am //

    We’ve seen nothing in Brandon Banks over the last 11 games to suggest that he is threat on the field anymore. Also, his petulance negates any remaining value he has to the TiCats. Austin would be wise to release him ASAP.

  3. Don’t play too well or he’ll be off to the nfl next season lol. Kidding aside good for him a bright spot on a team that doesnt have many so far . Hopefully kenneh back next week . I was wondering how a broken femur could heal so quick. Tough break literally hope to see Lyn back in the future .
    @ Lindsay Wilcox they should scratch banks like gable..overpayed and non productive imo

    • Sea of Dead // July 27, 2017 at 9:26 am //

      You can add several more names to the list of overpaid non-performing vets on the Cats who are not in any way playing up to the level we saw from them 2 yrs ago. If the losses continue to mount, we will see a major house cleaning of cap space at some point this year because you can’t stick with the same core for two losing seasons. And I expect that most of the guys traded/released will play much better for their new teams than they are for the Cats now and then we can all speculate on why.

    • Randy. (1) almost by definition no player in the CFL is overpaid. Banks took a cut in the off season. (2). I would pay money to see a couple of Bank’s critics field a couple of returns with the current return blocking.

      I like Lindays idea. I find that too many plays use Banks east west. I would like him running North south.

  4. I will do you one better. If Sinkfield gets cut and ends up back here, I’d cut Banks the second Sink called. Banks is finished

    • Does Sinkfield automatically come back to the Ticats or would he be a free agent and signed by the highest bidder?

  5. @Sea of Dead… excellent comments… agree 100%… and here’s my speculation as to why so many ex-Ticats are performing well on other teams… even Calgary…

    Isn’t doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result a sign of mental illness??? Yet I see this from Austin repeatedly…. his game planning is so predictable the other teams must be laughing…

    • Snake. You AGREE with Sea?!? Can you explain his point? He says (1) we should clean house (2) the players we should cut will prove to be stars. Sounds like he wants it both ways. You are the leader of the Fire Austin contingent. I am still waiting for the name of his replacement?? Anyone can be a critic. What’s your plan??

  6. Looking forward to seeing more of Saunders in the coming weeks as he continues to improve. I’d love to see more from Tyms too but he seems to be having some adjustment problems filling in at Toliver’s spot. Hopefully there’s a break through there soon too!

  7. I agree with Angelo, and I have said it before, we have seen the beginning of the end of Speedy B in Hamilton

  8. Yes the only bright spot and pleasant surprise, in the receiving cores is Saunders. He has great speed, and hands, and concentration. All good attributes for a receiver. Tyms assuming a new position, seems to be struggling. Tasker is getting double coverage, and is not getting open as often as in previous seasons. Brandon Banks is a severe disappointment this year? He hasn’t really retained his form since the suspension last year. Some say he’s not getting the blocks, and other teams have adjusted to his returns P/K. That’s what made him good, he used to make plays on his own talents. Definitely something wrong, and time to re-evaluate his services. B.C. has Rainey, Winnipeg have Langford, and now Argo’s have a capable returner (Chambers)I think all with the ability to break one. We used to have that with “Speedy Banks” Not so anymore?

  9. I agree snake Austin’s game planning is predictable but isn’t it funny how he preaches his offence is so complex.

  10. Angelo Bruno // July 27, 2017 at 12:39 pm //

    As a season ticket holder, I find it laughable when the PA guy at Tim Hortons Field refers to Banks as “Speedy B” after what is becoming his customary 10 yard returns on punts or kickoffs which usually end with Banks scurrying out-of-bounds as the middle of the field may as well be “No Man’s Land” for him. Brandon Banks is obviously reluctant to run up the middle: it doesn’t take a genius Special Teams coordinator to scheme for that. Even worse, Banks is now prone to run backwards hoping some magical hole will open up. I’ve been watching the second season of Last Chance U on the Netflix, Austin and Tillman could use of few of those players … they may be unintelligent, but at least they have heart …

    • Angelo. So you are calling a guy who is the smallest in the league and returns kicks a coward? Really? ST defense is to kick between the hash marks and sidelines to cut the field in half. Then you clog the centre of the field. Then you force the teturner out of bounds. If executed well the return is limited to 5-10 yards. That’s what you have been seeing.

      • Angelo Bruno // July 28, 2017 at 7:53 am //

        No, I’ve paying to watch a guy who has clearly regressed, lost heart and demonstrates poor body language. Time to go back to the ‘hood for Banks.

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