Thursday, 26 August 2010

Mid-Season Grades: Special Teams

There are three phases to football: Offense, Defense and Special Teams.

I've graded the entire Defense, but before I head to the offensive side of the ball, I take a sojourn down Special Teams Lane.

Just like football has three phases, so to does Special Teams. We have kicking, punting and returning. Each phase has had its ups and its downs in 2010.

Sandro DeAngelis was signed by the Tiger-Cats with the hopes that he would stabilize a kicking game that had been erratic at best inf 2009. DeAngelis replaced fan favourite – or at least Blogskee Wee Wee favourite – Nick Setta, and much was expected of DeAngelis as he came to Hamilton as the most accurate kicker in CFL history.

He hasn't quite lived up to those expectations. DeAngelis's tenure so far in Hamilton has been mired by the same inconsistencies that saw Setta released in the winter. He has hit two uprights, while missing more than a couple clutch kicks (namely in the Week 2 loss to Calgary). In recent weeks, DeAngelis has seemed to conquer the problems that plagued him in July, having missed only one field goal in the month of August.

The punting game was in shambles during the first month of the season. Rookie Punter Justin Palardy was an unmitigated disaster. He had three punts blocked in the first five games, which led to his release and the signing of Eric Wilbur. It's almost like night and day with Wilbur as the Punter.  He has great hang time, great placement and he has been more than willing to put his body on the line to make a tackle. Wilbur has been excellent.

The signing of Marcus Thigpen just before the season opened has proven to be a blessing. Thigpen has electrified the return game, and set a CFL single-season record for scoring a touchdown in more ways (five) than anyone else ever has. The last couple of weeks has seen Thigpen's return abilities kept in check, but it's only a matter of time before he gets back on track.

Still in the return game, but on the opposite end, the coverage teams have been phenomenal so far this season. They have been able to keep noted returnmen Chad Owens (Toronto), Jovan Johnson (Winnipeg), Tim Maypray (Montreal) and Dominique Dorsey (Saskatchewan) in check.  The coverage team, which is usually unheralded or heavily scrutinized, deserves a hand for doing what they've done in the first half of the season.

Special Teams plays an important role in the success of any football club. Hamilton's Special Team unit has been very streaky so far in 2010, but with DeAngelis seemingly over his yips and Wilbur proving to be a game changer, the Ti-Cats do not have to worry about this aspect of the team, even if there is, as always, room for improvement.

Mid-Season Grade: B

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