Tue Oct 12 06:06pm EDT
It's been an interesting year for the league's players who do actually put their foot to the ball, and not in a particularly good way. From those who took umbrage at at Cris Collinsworth's comments in the latest edition of Madden to those who left their kicking form behind when they switched cities to those who got hurt and forced linebackers and slotbacks to take their place, this hasn't been the best season for the CFL's punters and kickers as a whole.
That doesn't mean teams have just sat tight and watched the situation degenerate, though. On the contrary, we've seen a lot of moves in attempts to procure more reliable punting and kicking performances, with the latest being the Argonauts' trade of defensive lineman Étienne Légaré and future considerations for Edmonton K/P Noel Prefontaine. That provides an excellent chance to look at the state of the league's kickers and punters, similar to the way we looked at the CFL's quarterbacks. This one will go team-by-team, though, rather than player-by-player.
Lui Passaglia Division: B.C. Lions: The Lions have struggled this year on the field, but the punting/kicking game has been one of their few highlights. Like the legendary Passaglia (above, left), Paul McCallum (above, right) has fought off the advances of time, especially on field goals; the 40-year-old leads all kickers with 35 makes this year, and leads all of the CFL's regular kickers with an outstanding 89.7 per cent field goal percentage. McCallum has also been solid, if not spectacular, in the punting game; his average of 41.8 yards is below several of the league's other punters, but he's generally positioned his punts well to limit big returns. B.C. also has depth at the position: with McCallum injured for Monday's game, the Lions turned to Sean Whyte, who was a perfect four-for-four on field goals and decent on punts as well. Having two non-import kickers who can handle both jobs is a great thing. The Lions might not have the top-end punting performances of some of the league's other teams, but they have the spectacular consistency that was Passaglia's trademark.
Dave Ridgway Division: Montreal Alouettes: Damon Duval may not be quite as dependable as the man they called "Robokicker", but he's found some similar veins of form over the years. He's also made similarly clutch kicks to Ridgway's 1989 Grey Cup winner, including last year's crucial Grey Cup-winning field goal (after a Saskatchewan penalty for too many men gave him another chance at it). Since joining the Alouettes in 2005, Duval has been very good by and large on both field goals and punts. He's taken a bit of a step back on field goals this year, only hitting 76.9 per cent of his field goals (well below his career average of 80.4 per cent and the spectacular 87.3 per cent mark he put up last year), but he's been very good on punts, averaging 45.2 yards per attempt. He's injured at the moment, and his replacement, Colt David, has looked spectacular on field goals (six for six), but less stellar on punts (a 33.5 yard average). I'm still waiting for him to record a touchdown on a fake field goal/lateral, though. If Duval can come back from injury and regain the Ridgway-like form he's shown at times in his career, special teams could become a big advantage for the Alouettes.
Hank Ilesic Divison: Calgary Stampeders: Yes, Ilesic was a legend for the Eskimos, not the Stampeders, but he's the perfect fit for Calgary at the moment. Ilesic's punting was key to the Eskimos' success, and Burke Dales' punting is doing the same for the Stampeders. Dales leads the league with a spectacular 45.5 yards per punt average, and that could be longer if he was punting from further back; many of his punts have been perfect coffin-corner ones that pinned the opposition near their goal line. The Stampeders have also received a solid-if-not-spectacular showing from rookie Rob Maver on field goals; Maver's made 28 field goals, but has an unspectacular 75.7 per cent success rate.
Bob Cameron Division: Toronto Argonauts: The decision to reacquire Noel Prefontaine looks like a pretty smart one for the Argonauts, even if they did have to give up Légaré. Like Cameron (pictured, right), who played in a CFL-record 324 straight games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier this year, Prefontaine is known for his durability and longevity. He’s entering his fourth stint with the Argonauts, and there’s a reason they keep bringing him back; Prefontaine’s second to only McCallum among regular kickers this year with a 84 per cent success rate on field goals, and he’s averaging a solid 43.1 yards per punt. The Argonauts’ recent acquisition of Justin Medlock looked promising, but Prefontaine qualifies as a non-import thanks to his childhood in Quebec, so he’s easier to work with from a ratio perspective; he can punt and kick as well, so he’ll help them out during Jamie Boreham’s injury.
Prefontaine’s got a ways to go before reaching Cameron’s status, though; he’s only 36, and Cameron played through 2002 when he was 48. Toronto’s long-term solution at kicker may still be Grant Shaw, and he also is similar to Cameron; Cameron was a quarterback at Acadia before converting to a CFL punter, while Shaw played defensive back for the Saskatchewan Huskies in addition to his kicking duties. After a strong start this year, Shaw fell off dramatically, especially on field goals; on the year, he’s only made 19 of 29 attempts for a lousy 65.8 per cent success rate. He still has potential, though, and it doesn’t look like the Argonauts are giving up on him yet.
Ken Clark Division: Winnipeg Blue Bombers: There's more to this than just the Saint Mary's connection between Clark and Winnipeg kicker Justin Palardy (who's been solid since replacing Alexis Serna, hitting 14 of his 17 field-goal attempts, including two crucial ones in Monday's game). The Blue Bombers also have punter Mike Renaud, who might just be one of the best in the league (his 44.1 yard punting average is second to only Dales), but is flying well below the radar. Similarly, Clark was an outstanding punter for the Huskies during their 1973 Vanier Cup run and went on to have a great career with Hamilton, Toronto, Saskatchewan and Ottawa. He even played in the NFL in 1979 and went to the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams, but isn't as prominently remembered as many of the CFL's other famous kickers. That seems appropriate for Renaud.
Troy Westwood Division: Saskatchewan Roughriders: Yes, it may seem blasphemous to associate the man who coined the Banjo Bowl with Saskatchewan, but there is a rationale. Much like Westwood, Luca Congi has both punted and kicked over the years with spectacular highs (the 86.4 per cent of field goals he converted in 2006 and 2008) and lows (the career-worst 70.5 per cent mark he put up in 2007), as well as frequent calls for his head. Congi isn't as flamboyant off the field and may not be joining any game shows just yet, but like Westwood, he's battled through the low points to establish himself as a solid CFL kicker and is hitting 78.8 per cent of his field goals this year despite playing in the windy confines of Mosaic Stadium. The addition of Eddie Johnson as a punter has also helped Saskatchewan; Johnson's averaging 44.4 yards per punt, well above Congi's career mark of 38.1. Like Westwood, Congi hasn't always been the most consistent presence, but by and large, he's been effective.
Mike Vanderjagt Division: Hamilton Tiger-Cats: I don't think anyone's called Sandro DeAngelis an "idiot kicker" yet, but the other parallels are striking. Both Vanderjagt and DeAngelis found spectacular success at times early in their career, with DeAngelis starring with the Stampeders and Vanderjagt shining with the Argonauts before heading to the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. Both have talked big at times and came into new situations (DeAngelis in Hamilton, Vanderjagt in first Dallas, then Toronto again) as promised saviours, but couldn't live up to the hype. Vanderjagt was cut by the Cowboys in the first year of a three-year deal and didn't make much of an impact in his 2008 return to Toronto, while DeAngelis has struggled to adapt to Hamilton and has only hit 74.3 per cent of his field goals this year. The Tiger-Cats are in better shape on the punting side, with Eric Wilbur averaging 43.6 yards per punt, but they may need a stronger kicking performance to find success down the stretch.
Rob Pikula Division: Edmonton Eskimos: It might be unfair to Derek Schiavone to compare him to Pikula, one of the CFL's numerous kicking busts, but the comparisons are deeper than their university careers with the Western Mustangs. Both Pikula and Schiavone entered the league as highly-touted non-import kicking prospects, but weren't able to find consistent work for a while; Pikula started with Saskatchewan, but lost his job to Congi in 2006, and then went off to B.C. He was a decent backup there, but then got passed around from B.C. to Winnipeg, back to the Lions and eventually to the Eskimos before being released in 2008. Schiavone hasn't had to switch franchises yet, but he hasn't seen much playing time since the Eskimos picked him up in 2008. He's been decent in limited action so far this year, hitting five of six field goals (83.3 per cent) and averaging 44.8 yards per punt. Now, the Prefontaine trade gives him the chance to show what he can really do. Will he turn into the next Prefontaine or the next Pikula? We'll have to wait and see.