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  • Writer's pictureMarshall Ferguson

Anatomy Of A Game Changing Play

Those hits are being grandfathered out for the simple fact that the one big explosion allowing a return to break past one defender just doesn’t pay off in the long run.

In 2016 the CFL announced a rule change in which the definition of a “peel-back” block was expanded to make it illegal for any offensive player to block an opponent low anywhere on the field when he is moving towards his own goal line, not just in the tackle box. That eliminated the open field receiver who blind-sided an unsuspecting defensive player.

Last year the rule was further expanded to include all three phases of the game. A landmark shift in special teams blocking principles as the CFL asked players to replace home run kill shots with ‘shield blocks’ where the blocking player still accomplishes their role in the play but serves more as a speed bump than a stop sign.

In Thursday nights season and home opener for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats punt returner Frankie Williams played hero with a punt return touchdown that made the difference in Hamilton’s squeaky 23-17 victory over Saskatchewan, but it was the responsible decisions of his blockers which actually made the difference.

Jeff Reinebold is back in the Hammer handling special teams coaching duties and knows the game has changed right before his veteran eyes.

“You don’t get those big highlight, knock out type hits like you used to but certainly it doesn’t stop you from being effective in the return game. It’s just the reality of the game today which I don’t care what anyone says the league’s paramount focus is player safety so they’ve taken out the peel back blocks. We still want to be a wall return team but you have to understand that anytime you’re moving back towards your own goal line you can not hit a man forcefully.”

The play began as new Riders punter Jon Ryan booted the rock down to Williams at Hamilton’s 42-yard-line.

Defensive back Jumal Rolle - who it should be noted took a back seat to Frankie Williams as starting field corner in week one - was the first Ticats player forced to make a decision. It’s often the first block that gets a return touchdown called back as players are beat off the line and forced in desperation to reach, grab and lunge towards the ‘gunner’ in order to save the block and spring the return man.

Rolle perfectly executed what Reinebold calls the first of three types of blocks, ‘the block you make’ which he defines as, “when you know clearly your head position is correct and the force of the blow is from the side never behind.”

Rolle had a decision to make right about here.

Make a risky block from behind or work to get around and stay off the Saskatchewan cover man’s back.

Mission accomplished, one block down.

As Rolle was winning that battle you can see Hamilton linebacker Nick Shortill to the far left on the outside shoulder of another Riders cover man. It seems like the wrong spot to be, but in reality early in the return Shortill had actually gone above and beyond to get exactly there, where he needed to be according to Reinebold.

“He’s (Shortill) a really, really good football player. He’s so under appreciated I don’t care if you’re from America, Canada, Mars it doesn’t matter he does some things that are just unique. On that play he was initially on the wrong shoulder of the returner and switched hips as we call it on the cover guy to get himself back around to the correct side where he put the cover man in a bind between getting blocked and missing Frankie.

That’s something you can only do when you have catch up speed continued Reinebold after running the stairs following Wednesday’s practice. “We always talk about corners having catch up speed on defensive backs but Shortill has special teams catch up speed where he can loop around the back of a player and still recover well enough to make a responsible block.

Shortill’s work on the play could be defined as Reinebold’s second of three blocks. The more responsible sibling to the block you make, ‘he block you save’ which he defines as “the one where you’re unsure, the reality is guys are so fast now and officials are so far from point of contact that it’s a really tough call for them so our deal is if there’s any doubt save it.”

Two decisions down, many more to go before hitting pay dirt. Sprinkle in Frankie Williams escaping what looks like the inevitable end of the return here

and all of a sudden the Ticats had something. In Frankie Williams dancing through three tacklers you might not have noticed the next big decision by a Hamilton blocker. Chris Frey Jr. who arrived in the CFL after a stellar career at Michigan State is lining up a would be Riders tackler for the home run hit.

Frey is a rookie in every sense of the CFL. In 1985 he would have de-cleated the looping cover man onto the six game injured list. Instead Frey does as the 2019 rule book permits, standing his ground and still accomplishing a block without taking a penalty or forcing obvious injury onto his opponent while actually getting two blocks as Denzel Radford (Saskatchewan #14) - who was first blocked by Rolle on the play - trips over his own player on the block.

As all of that is happening Hamilton’s special teams ace and former Rider Brian Jones (Hamilton #6) is making what Reinebold calls “the next level block”, the third of his three definitions for acceptable decisions in the return game.

“That’s what you saw Brian do where he’s tailing the play as the wall guy and there’s nobody for him to block so sometimes guys will just stop and watch the return but that gets in the returners way. What Brian did was outstanding. He came around and went next level and got us into the end zone. That was a great example of a player taking coaching to the field and that’s what was so good about that play.”

As he made that decision 10th overall pick from the 2019 CFL Draft Nicola Kalinic from York (Hamilton #84) mimics the earlier decision of Frey getting a block without taking a penalty.

Jones turns and gets up to speed just enough to stay in front of Williams allowing a cut back opportunity.

Before Frankie Williams seals the deal with another missed tackle

and refused to be brought down before the goal line despite being wrapped up like this at the four yard mark.

All in that’s five decisions made by Ticats blockers in the span of seven seconds after Williams caught the punt.

That’s five chances to take points off the board in a game changing moment, a feeling Ticats fans know all too well from a certain Grey Cup return in 2014.

New Ticats Head Coach Orlondo Steinauer when asked this week about how that football play is evolving agreed it’s a point of pride for coaches trying to change the way players look at the game.

“It’s something that we work on and emphasize. You don’t want to have to learn on a touchdown (being called back). I think it is becoming the new way, a rule like that that comes in is always a tough adjustment because historically those have been game changing blocks or plays and to not take that takes a lot of discipline but I think you have to emphasize it as a coaching staff but proud of our men for that and look forward to making more good decisions going forward.”

After the game Jeremiah Masoli recognized the importance of not just William’s return but the men around him, “whenever special teams score it’s a huge deal, those guys have been working their tails off in the meeting rooms trying to get their schemes right and you saw Frankie, he’s been awesome.”

If Hamilton is going to live up to assigned 2019 expectations it will have to come from a plethora of these tiny decisions that have game changing implications. One wrong decision from any of those five players and the Ticats could be 0-1 with a home opener loss.

Instead their 1-0 with a Saturday afternoon date against their East division rival the Toronto Argonauts. Another chance to set the tone for 2019. An emotionally driven matchup which will require more sound decision making like was put on display by the specialists in week one.


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