Saturday 10 March 2012

Concerns About Special Teams a Tad Overblown

In the wake of Justin Medlock's departure to Carolina, there appears to be some concern regarding the makeup of the Ti-Cats' Special Teams unit. That seems reasonable considering that Medlock was probably the best Kicker the Ti-Cats have employed since Paul Osbaldiston, and he will be difficult to replace.

Losing Medlock was the second big blow to Hamilton's Special Teams this off-season, the other being kick returner Marcus Thigpen signing with the Miami Dolphins. That means that Hamilton's two best weapons on Special Teams will not be with the team come season's kickoff.

On the surface, losing two All-Star calibre players is something to worry about, and whoever comes in to replace both of them will have big shoes to fill. But prior to landing in Hamilton, no one knew who Marcus Thigpen was. When he was signed late in Training Camp in 2010, it wasn't met with great fanfare. It wasn't until he exploded on the scene in Week 1 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – returning the opening kickoff, and late a missed field goal, for a touchdown – that Thigpen became a household name. Not to diminish what he did, but finding a replacement might not be as hard as people think.

The team already has two players in-house that could fill-in for Thigpen: Chris Williams and Terry Grant. Williams might not have to do as much in the receiving game this season with the acquisitions of Terence Jeffers-Harris and Andy Fantuz, so that could free him up to do more in the return game. Grant, if he comes back healthy, will be the backup to new Running Back Martell Mallett. With limited playing time expected for him on Offense, Grant could contribute as a returner.

Replacing Medlock will be a lot harder; kickers who are good nine out of 10 times and have great long-distance accuracy don't fall off trees. But despite the fact that it will be very hard to find someone who was as good as Medlock, it is possible. We haven't seen apparent heir to the throne Josh Maveety do anything, so it's entirely possible he can be the next, great Canadian Kicker.

But losing Medlock does have one positive, which is that the Ti-Cats will have greater roster flexibility if, as expected, they employ one or two Canadians in the kicking game. That doesn't make up for losing Medlock – not having the flexibility, but having an automatic three points whenever you hit your opponents 50-yard line, is preferable – but it does soften the blow somewhat.

When proven players leave, there will always be concerns, and Hamilton lost two of those players in Thigpen and Medlock. But the Cats have some capable players already on the roster who can step up and fill the vacancies left by those two. The concerns being expressed are valid, but they might be a tiny bit overblown.

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