Over the course of the next few weeks, as the Ticats open training camp and start the preseason, we will analyze how each positional group looks heading into the upcoming season. Today, we look at the final position group: the special teams unit.
Last year, when Brandon Banks had very little space, he did this:
With the new rule in place limiting the number of players who can initially run down field during a punt, Banks will be given more space and time on returns and that should scare the bejesus out of the other eight teams and their coverage units.
Already one of the game’s premier return men, the new rule could see Banks eclipse the CFL record for return touchdowns of six set by former Ticat and current RedBlack receiver/returner Chris Williams. With the team continuing to limit the amount of time Banks sees on offense, what we all saw in the East Division Final last year could be the norm this year for the man affectionately known as Speedy B.
Returns are not the only place that Hamilton has a special teams edge. The team brought back Justin Medlock last season and the big-footed kicker out of UCLA picked up right where he left off in 2011, his last season with the Ticats. Medlock finished 2014 connecting on 88 per cent of his field goals and finished second in the league in points scored with 172. Not bad for a guy who had been away from the league for two seasons and they were pretty close to his 2011 numbers, when he finished the season making 89.1 per cent of his field goals and amassing 197 points. The one area Medlock will have to improve in 2015 is in his punting. He was at the bottom of the league in punting average and will need to get better in that area going forward. Medlock more than makes up for his punting deficiencies with his stellar field goal kicking, so it is not too big of a concern, but if Medlock could become even just a statistically average punter, he will make Hamilton’s special teams units that much deadlier.
Medlock’s booming leg will come in handy this season as extra points are moved from the 12-yard line to the 32-yard line. Few kicks are missed from that distance, but the point after is now less automatic than it was a season ago. Medlock failed to convert on just one kick from closer than 32 yards last season, so the extra point will still be almost automatic for the Tiger-Cats.
What also cannot be overlooked is the coaching the players on special teams receive. Jeff Reinebold has become one of the league’s best special teams coordinators during his two years in Hamilton. His schemes last year produced three different special teams players of the week — Banks, Quincey McDuffie and Terrell Sinkfield — and the team’s coverage units allowed just one return touchdown all season. Reinebold’s units produced regardless of who was on the field, and the credit belongs to him as well as the players for the club’s stellar special teams play from a year ago.
Special teams is considered one-third of the equation of a good football team. With what Hamilton has in the return game, it could be significantly more than just one-third in 2015, and what Brandon Banks accomplished one season ago could be dwarfed this season. Armed with a new contract and the bitter taste of disappointment following the end of last season’s Grey Cup, the diminutive Kansas State product will have a huge chip on his shoulder and he could take it out on the rest of the league. With Medlock getting a feel for the conditions at Tim Hortons Field last season, his numbers could improve with that year of experience under his belt. With the rule changes and personnel than Hamilton has, special teams could be truly special for the Ticats in 2015.