Ticats head coach Kent Austin called for a replay review the other day. In practice.
At issue was a potential game-winning touchdown reception and the result was being hotly debated on the field. Except the Ticats weren’t playing another team, they were facing off against each other in what’s become the most exciting 10 minutes of each training camp session: “the green zone competition.”
It works like this: the offence runs 10 to 12 plays inside the 20-yard line, an area that’s commonly referred to as the red zone. A touchdown is worth three points to the offence, while a stop is gets the defence one point, an interception two. The results — and this is key — are posted on the scoreboard at Ron Joyce Stadium.
“We’re competing in every drill, but when they put a score on the scoreboard, guys kind of perk up and there’s an extra bit of excitement,” said quarterback Zach Collaros. “It’s probably the closest thing you can get to a game experience. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Scoring touchdowns was something of an issue for the Ticats last season. They finished last in the CFL in red zone efficiency, producing just 19 majors in 52 trips inside the 20-yard line. The team also settled for a pair of short range field goals in the fourth quarter of the Grey Cup loss to the Calgary Stampeders.
“It’s on the team, but it’s really on the quarterback. I have to do a better job scoring touchdowns,” Collaros said. “It’s something I focused on in the off-season, whether it be the throws or understanding what the defences were giving us.”
The Ticats have gone so far as to change the name of the red zone: the area inside the 30-yard line is now called the “green zone” — hence the competition — while the area inside the 10-yard line has been christened “the money zone.”
“Touchdowns are how we make our money, it’s how we support our families,” Collaros said. “I think a lot of things in football are mental. It’s a positive way of thinking and visualizing things before they happen.”
There are benefits for the defence as well. Orlondo Steinauer’s unit finished sixth in the league last season in red zone defence, and they are looking to improve on that number this season.
The drill was the brainchild of Steinauer and offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell.
“We want guys that will compete. And even though we want self-starters, sometimes you have to bring it out of them,” Steinauer said. “On the defence, we call it our ‘win zone.’ We have a model of two-and-out or turnover — that’s what we do.”
The competition is often run near the end of practice, when players are mentally and physically tired. That’s by design, Austin says, as the staff look to see if players can raise their compete level and push through the fatigue.
But each day, players hoot and holler when the drill is announced and there’s no small amount of (mostly) friendly trash talk between the units.
“Athletes, especially football players, are funny that way,” Austin said. “If we told them that we were going out to have a bowling competition with a reward at the end, they’d be fired up no matter how tired they were.”
Notes: receiver Luke Tasker, who appeared to suffer a lower body injury on Sunday, did not practise on Monday. Austin said he would be re-evaluated on Wednesday. Tim Smith took his spot on the first team offence. … Another receiver, Quincy McDuffie sat out Monday as did defensive back Johnny Sears, as well as offensive tackles Brian Simmons and Joel Figueroa. … With the rash of injuries to the receiving corps, the team has signed American Jasper Collins, who has spent time with Cincinnati, Cleveland and Miami of the NFL, after playing 52 games at the University of Mount Union from 2009 to 2012. … To make room for Collins, the team placed Canadian receiver Giovanni Aprile on the suspended list. Aprile has yet to practise this season as he recovers from injury.