Ticats have no ‘cookie-cutter model’ for preseason kicking competition

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will enter Saturday’s preseason contest against the Montreal Alouettes with a plan for how to deploy a litany of prospects at just about every position, except for the one that fans are most concerned about.

“That’s the one position where we really don’t have a cookie-cutter model on how it’s going to go,” head coach Orlondo Steinauer told the media of his much-maligned kicking game. “I don’t know if they will all play or not.”

The Ticats have plenty of questions and no clear answers at either specialist spot after a rocky 2021 campaign that saw the team hit on less than 70 percent of their total field goals and finish near the bottom of the league in punting average.

The holdovers are Global punter Joel Whitford, who averaged 45.1 yards per kick in twelve games last season and notched four singles, and Canadian kicker Michael Domagala, who was 7-of-10 on his field goals with a long of 46 yards and chipped in as the punter with a 43.4-yard average. Both will begin the preseason on top of the depth chart, but neither are safe from competition.

Behind Whitford is fellow Australian and first-round Global Draft pick Blake Hayes, who joins the team after an outstanding career at the University of Illinois. Meanwhile, Domagala is fending off recently signed Texas A&M kicker Seth Small and former Irish rugby player Tadgh Leader.

All are listed on the preseason roster, but Steinauer isn’t certain how many opportunities each will receive.

“Kicking is always a touchy one because you may not punt a whole bunch or you may punt a whole bunch. You may not attempt a field goal or you may attempt a lot of field goals and extra points,” he said.

“If you kind of see the flow of the game going that way, there’s an opportunity to get multiple people in there, but in kicking — like any other position — you like to get in a rhythm and a flow. Whether you make one or not, you want to make two in a row and if you miss one, you always want a chance to redeem yourself.”

If the team grants prospects a chance to make up for their mistakes in the preseason, other players may not get a chance to kick. That’s a tight rope the coaching staff must walk to ensure a proper evaluation.

Mastering that circus act is absolutely essential because the Ticat faithful can’t handle another season of kicking heartbreak.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and youth football coach. He covers the CFL, the CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.