Riders’ OC Kelly Jeffrey wants to use ‘Ferrari’-like returner Mario Alford on offence

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

New Saskatchewan Roughriders’ offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey is already looking at ways to make the offence more dynamic in 2023.

One of the ways he hopes to accomplish that is by incorporating Mario Alford, the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, into the team’s offensive attack. but he won’t overuse him as Jeffrey compared getting Alford on the field on offence is like owning an expensive sports car.

“Mario is a Ferrari,” Jeffrey said. “If you have a third car that you keep in the garage that’s really nice, you don’t go put 150,000 miles on it, driving it around to go get groceries. You take it out about four or five times a year when the sun’s out and top’s down and you show it off.”

“If I’m allowed to use him, there’ll be three, four or five plays per game where he gets a jet sweep, or he gets a screen or we take a shot down the field.”

Alford recorded no offensive stats last season and has just eight catches for 71 yards and one carry for 10 yards in his four-year CFL career.

“If I’m allowed to, we’re certainly going to use him. I’m not going to overuse him because the things that he does on special teams are absolutely game-changing,” said Jeffrey.

Those game-changing special teams abilities were seen almost immediately after Alford was traded to the Riders from Montreal early in the 2022 season. In his 13 games in green and white, Alford returned 44 punts for 530 yards and one touchdown, 38 kickoffs for 990 yards and two touchdowns, and three missed field goals for 129 yards and one touchdown. Saskatchewan signed Alford to a contract extension in November.

We have seen players transition successfully from special teams to offence with the most recent major example being Brandon Banks. The diminutive speedster spent his first four-and-a-half seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as predominantly a punt and kick returner, winning Most Outstanding Special Teams Player in 2015.

The team used him sparingly on offence until he was moved full-time to receiver midway through the 2017 season when June Jones took over as the Ticats’ head coach. The future Canadian Football Hall of Famer’s career began its second act as he became one of the league’s most-feared pass catchers over the next couple of seasons, culminating in his winning the league’s Most Outstanding Player award in 2019 when he led the league in catches, yards, and touchdowns.

While it doesn’t appear as though Jeffrey is planning a Banks-like transition for his ace special teamer, he knows that finding ways to use the speedster can only improve the Riders’ offence as a whole.

“You see it all the time — teams will put in an electric guy in a spot and they obviously can have success,” said Jeffrey. “At the same time, defences, they blow it sometimes, they make mistakes, they see that guy, you use him as a decoy or they get screwed up on who’s covering him or how they’re going to cover him. It causes a lot of problems.”

Alford, for his part, has told his coach he is eager to get more touches regardless of whether they come on special teams or on offence.

“He has already told me, ‘When I get the ball, I’m just different,’ and he truly is,” said Jeffrey.

Now we just have to wait and see how many times Jeffrey will be able to take his fancy sports car out of the garage in 2023.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.