REGINA – If Brandon Banks’ ears were burning this past week, it’s because he has been the topic of many conversations at Saskatchewan Roughriders practices.
The high-flying kick returner and his Hamilton Tiger-Cats make their first visit this season to Mosaic Stadium for a Sunday evening showdown with the Riders.
Banks is the CFL’s premier playmaker on special teams with two punt return touchdowns and 343 combined return yards through three games. Odds are probable that he’ll run into another special teams guru in the Riders’ Dylan Aimsworth.
Drafted 11th overall by the Riders in the 2014 draft, the Western University product leads the league with seven special teams tackles. He’ll be keeping an eye on Banks in Saskatchewan’s Week 5 matchup with the Ticats (1-2).
“Little things can lead to big things in a hurry,” said Ainsworth. “He just needs one little opening and he’s gone. It’s when one (coverage) guy loses his position and creates the smallest of lanes. Once he gets to open space, like anyone, he’s tough to stop. That’s why we need to stay discipline in our jobs.
“One guy isn’t going to stop him. We all have to do what we’re supposed to do in order to stop him.”
The Riders’ (0-4) special teams coverage has been solid through four games this season, despite deploying a relatively young group. The team hasn’t allowed a touchdown in kickoff or punt coverage, areas where it struggled a season ago when it gave up five touchdowns on special teams. Ainsworth has been a star in that regard, according to his coaching staff.
“You watch him at the point of attack now and you see him throwing guys out of his way,” said special teams co-ordinator Bob Dyce. “He’s making plays now, where last year he might have let a guy hold him down. He’s using his technique and he’s playing like a man.
“It’s not the position that he’s in. It’s about Dylan and his dedication to getting better. He’s playing like a beast? and he has done a great job of evolving.”
Saskatchewan’s improved special teams play will get its best test to date with Banks. With the Riders losing all four of their games by a combined 12 points, field position will be paramount for the struggling club.
“Our guys need to play every snap like it’s their last because when there’s a mistake or an error in assignment then it usually results in big yardage,” said Dyce. “We can’t afford that, especially against (Hamilton’s) unit.
“Brandon is definitely an explosive player and he’s on quite a tear here. We’ve talked about it and we’ve said we really need everyone to do his job. We stick to our jobs and we know we’ll be fine.”
Ainsworth added: “You’re just approaching it like any other game. We know how talented of a player he is. But no one is fearful, no one is worried that he’s coming in here. It’s just another game and just another talented returner we have to stop.”
Notes: Saskatchewan added veteran defensive back Alex Suber this week. Taj Smith, a former 1,000-receiver with the Riders, has been shut down for the remainder of the season.