The biggest story of this past week in the CFL is likely the Toronto Argonauts' surprising decision to release running back Cory Boyd, which has stirred up statistical debates, conciliatory letters from the team's CEO and discussions of how well Boyd will fit in with the Edmonton Eskimos (where he didn't see many touches in Friday's loss to Montreal). An angle that deserves further examination is where the Argonauts' ground game will go without Boyd, though, and Saturday's clash in Calgary against the Stampeders (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3) should provide valuable insight along those lines. Can Chad Kackert step up to fill the job, or will the team have to keep looking?
There are plenty of elements in Kackert's favour. The University of New Hampshire product made a big splash in the CFL in his rookie season of 2011, filling in for Boyd effectively during some injuries and finishing the year with 349 yards on 57 carries (a 6.1 yards per carry average) as well as four rushing touchdowns. However, considering that the Argonauts cited a desire to improve their backs' pass-blocking and pass-catching as their motivation for axing Boyd, Kackert may not only be judged by what he does on the ground. He has limited receiving experience at the CFL level, only catching four passes last season, but he took those for 58 yards, and he told Don Landry that he's focused on making quick moves after the catch:
"That first step is real important, especially when you're catching with your back turned to the defence," Kackert said just after a waterlogged Argo practice at Holy Trinity School, in Oakville.
"You've got to be moving forward (quickly) because that defence is already coming at you. They know the ball is coming to you. So if it's a matter of, you know, a tenth of a second, that tenth of a second could end up being another yard."
Without that quick acceleration, a running back catching a ball out there is a sitting duck, really, with hard charging defenders taking liberties with whatever part of that running back's body they choose.
"Sure, I'd like to think I've got a burst on my first step," said Kackert, laughing boisterously. He then got serious and admitted that it's not all a natural thing; that he's tr7ied to nurture it.
"I've been working on explosiveness in training. Any running back should. With my weight (198 lbs), I don't have an extra 30 pounds to carry around, so, if I don't have a burst in my first step, I need to go back to the training room."
That size is another interesting element of this move. At 5'9'' and 198 pounds, Kackert's quite a bit smaller than Boyd (6'1'', 209 pounds). Thus, he's probably not going to bring the same kind of raw power. However, Kackert's got plenty of muscle, and smaller backs have proven very effective in the CFL. Many of them have particularly stood out as receivers, too, including Kackert's Argos' teammate Andre Durie, who's been shifted from running back to slotback this year and is on pace for a career-high receiving season with 437 yards so far. As Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray told Landry, Kackert may not be the most shifty guy in the world, but his speed can make him an attractive receiving target:
"We use our backs a lot in our passing game in this offence. A lot of it's checkdowns, but we do have a lot of routes where we're getting them into the flats (as primary). We're setting some picks for them where we can get them one-on-one in man coverage."
"He's more of a speed guy than a shifty guy," Ray said, of Kackert. "I don't see him doing a lot of dancing in the hole. He's more of a 'get downhill' and maybe make one move to make a guy miss (kind of back). He brings that to the table as far as speed."
Saturday's game against Calgary should be an interesting test for Kackert and the Toronto offence. Heading into this week's games, the Stampeders had been reasonably effective against the run overall, holding opponents to 89.5 yards per game (third-best in the league), but the rushing first downs they've conceded (32, tied for fourth) and the average gain per rush against them (5.1 yards per carry) have been more mediocre. Thus, much of their success against the ground game has been because teams aren't running against them all that much. The Argos may have plenty of chances with the ball, though, as the Stampeders' -7 takeaway/giveaway ratio is the second-worst in the league (ahead of only Winnipeg). How effective Kackert is in the rushing game, the receiving game and the blocking game may play a substantial role in who comes out on top Saturday night in Calgary.