Saturday, March 15, 2014

Off-Season Roster Analysis: Special Teams and Summary

In part 6 of 6 we'll look at the Blue Bombers special teams heading into the 2014 season and summarize what we've looked at for the entire roster.

Special Teams depth chart as of today (March 15, 2014):

KR- Woods, Ford, Washington, Denmark
PR- Woods, Washington, Denmark, FEOLI-GUDINO


The kicking situation is a major concern.  

Mike Renaud survived a challenge by Brett Cameron, Billy Pavlopoulous and Australian Tim Hutchison in 2013's training camp. To this point, the Bombers have not brought in any competition for Renaud at the punter position.

Lirim Hajrullahu is a CFL rookie fresh out of CIS....undrafted at that. Hajrullahu was first-team OUA at both punter and kicker, and second-team All-Canadian as kicker.  

Hajrullahu's kickoff average in 2013 was 61.6 yards and he made 85% of his field goals with two makes over 40 yards.  The kickoff average suggests that Hajrullahu has the raw leg needed to play in the CFL, he needs to prove that he can put the ball on the numbers and between the uprights in the CFL.  For comparison, the Blue Bombers averaged 55 yards per kickoff with Palardy and Deangelis in 2013.  Of course, it may have just been that windy....

The first-team All-Canadian placekicker in 2013 was Johnny Mark out of Calgary, who is eligible for the upcoming 2014 CFL Draft, and was second-team All-Canadian as a placekicker the in 11 and 12 as well. Mark averaged 53 yards on kickoffs and hit 88% of his field goals, five of them more than 40 yards.

Mike Renaud finished just above the CFL league average in both gross and net punting in 2013, which is about where the expectation for him should be.  He's developed into a steady punter who can put the ball where he wants, this is something he struggled with at times in the past (and something we are going to track this season, punt and kickoff placement).  Renaud is not a all.  Watching him attempt converts in a 2010 game when Louis Sakoda was a last minute scratch following the release of Alex Serna was painful. 

It is inconceivable that the Bombers will enter training camp without competition at kicker.  The question is who will the competition be.  Is a guy like Johnny Mark a target for the Blue Bombers in the draft, and will he last until the 3rd round (Bombers pick 2nd and then 20th) in a shallow draft class?  Are the Bombers willing to go with a rookie fresh out of CIS as the placekicker?  Will the Bombers bring in an import who can potentially compete for both the placekicking and punting jobs?

Kick Returners

In terms of kick returning, the Bombers have a good amount of players who can do the jobs on the roster heading into 2014.  Will Ford was All-CFL as a kickoff returner.  Aaron Woods provided ball security, a consistent 20 yards on kickoffs, 10 on punts and was seemingly one shoestring tackle away from busting a lot of big runs on punts and missed field goals.  Demond Washington is a threat each time he hangs onto the ball and Clarence Denmark is a safe and reliable guy who will catch the kickoff or punt.  Washington and Denmark are likely to be key players on defense and offence in 2014, so it is unlikely they will return kicks in all but extreme circumstances.  Ford can't catch punts, so he'll be limited to kickoff returning.

The big question in terms of kick returners will be the health of Aaron Woods.  The foot injury that Woods suffered tends to be one that does not heal easily and can reoccur or affect speed and agility moving forward.  Another question would be whether Woods sees an expanded role for the Blue Bombers in 2014.  Offensive Coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille is the guy who made Corey Holmes and Marcus Thigpen focal points of his offence.  Will he do the same in Winnipeg?  

I expect that the Blue Bombers will add 1 or 2 more guys to compete for a spot primarily as a returner.

Kick Cover

Taking a look at the coverage units, the Bombers lose their top 3 special teams tacklers from 2013 (Green, H Muamba, Stewart) and a key veteran in Pierre-Luc Labbe.  The Bombers cover units in 2013 were pretty good.  They allowed one punt return touchdown and sported good averages with opposing teams averaging 8.2 yards per punt return and 19.3 per kickoff return.   Good benchmarks for returns are 8 yards for a punt and 20 for a kickoff.  Anything under that is very good for a cover unit.

Solid bets to take on a bigger special teams roles in 2014 are Teague Sherman and Phillippe Dubuisson-Lebon

Full Depth Chart

Players under contract as of March 15, 2014:

62 (27 non-imports, 35 imports)
13 open roster spots (75 max in off-season, 68 plus non-counters can be brought to training camp)

You'll notice that the Bombers are short one non-import starter based on this depth chart.  I believe they will decide in training camp how the 7th NI spot on the field will be deployed.  There are a few possibilities (in no particular order):

-Neufeld starts at RT.
-A 3rd NI Receiver/tight end spot taken by Feoli-Gudino or Brescacin, or rotated between a couple receivers.
-A 2nd NI spot on defence split between Thomas, Lucas, Newman at WIL/DB, Bucknor at DB.

In my opinion the 2nd NI on defense is most likely at this point.

QB- Willy, Hall, Brohm, Marve


WR boundary- Moore, Sims, Urrutia
SB- Denmark
WR field- Kelly, Robinson, RENAUD

LT- January
RT- Jones, NEUFELD, Knapp

DE- Vega
DT- Turner, THOMAS
DT- Anderson, LUCAS
DE- McAdoo, Griggs, Peach, Gatling

SAM- Banks, Dunn
MLB- Parker, Hogue
WIL- Wild, Tate, NEWMAN

Weak CB- Randle, Sears
Weak HB- Washington
Strong HB- Suber
Strong CB- Markett, BUCKNOR
Rookies- Loper, Leggett

KR- Woods, Ford, Washington, Denmark
PR- Woods, Washington, Denmark, FEOLI-GUDINO


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