Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea believes rule changes will make CFL more exciting

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea is encouraged by the rule changes the CFL has made ahead of its upcoming season.

“The hope is that it generates more excitement, allows for a little better field position. With offences, (widening) the hashmarks opens up the playbook a little bit across the field, gets more players involved. That’s the hope and I’m sure it will have some of the desired effect. I’m sure with a few of them it will make the game more exciting, that’s for sure,” he said via videoconference.

The league announced nine rule changes on Wednesday, including the narrowing of the hash marks from seventeen yards to nine yards, moving kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30-yard line, having drives after field goals and single points start at the 40-yard line instead of the 35-yard line, and making all no yards penalties fifteen yards.

O’Shea identified the narrowing of the hashmarks as the most significant rule change followed by the adjustments to field position, saying they’ll result in more points.

“Offensively, it should open up the playbook a little more and allow you to use the entire field. It’s a very wide field, so the short-side game and plays outside of the wide-side numbers were maybe a little more limited, so now that should open up the entire field,” said O’Shea.

“The angle that field goal kickers have to work against is less steep, so you should have a higher field goal percentage. And then the punting game, directional punting is a huge part of our game because the field (is so large) and now those footballs kicked to the sideline, there should be more room for the return game. Overall, it should add more excitement to the game.”

O’Shea serves as Winnipeg’s representative on the CFL’s rules committee, which reevaluates potential changes that need to be made from year to year. Though he indicated that the committee doesn’t seek to arbitrarily help offences, he conceded that generating more excitement typically benefits that phase of the game.

“We look at what the trends are in the game and how the game is flowing. We take direction from the commissioner and the board as to what we need to look at and if we see that there is an opportunity to make our game better and more exciting for the fans, then we’re going to investigate it thoroughly,” he said.

“Over the last couple decades most rule changes are meant to increase the excitement of the game. Now to say they’re geared towards increasing offence, well I think that’s what people find exciting, right? Nobody wants to watch 9-6. I like 9-6 games because I’m a defender but for the most part the CFL is a wide open, scoring game.”

O’Shea made 169 special teams tackles over the course of his 16-year playing career that culminated in his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He served as the special teams coordinator in Toronto for four years before becoming the head coach in Winnipeg and is a well-respected expert in that phase of the game.

He realizes that these changes could lead to his team allowing more big returns but remains encouraged that special teams should become more entertaining for fans across the league.

“The return game is so exciting in the CFL with the size of our field, the quality of our returners we have in this league, it’s exciting. We’re just trying to make sure that we allow them to do their jobs too rather than cycling them so much that they pick up a ball and get tackled right away,” said O’Shea.

“I’m looking forward to this. If we get a good return against us I’ll probably lose my mind but I know in terms of the 15-yard no yards, we can coach that and make sure our players are doing the right things down the field.”

This year’s first preseason game doesn’t get underway until May 23 when Winnipeg visits Saskatchewan, but O’Shea believes we’ll see more points on the board in 2022 compared to what we saw last year when teams averaged just 21.5 points per game.

“Will there be more scoring this year? I believe so,” he said. “But trust me, defensive coordinators will be on top of it and they’ll be scheming their own schemes to stop offences no matter what we do.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.