This season has been a turnaround for the Roughriders special teams cover units.
After giving up six touchdowns last season, the cover units have rebounded to 2013 form by keeping opposition kick-returners out of the end zone.
So, what’s been the biggest difference?
“That’s a tough question to answer. I appreciated the effort of the guys and how they played last year,” said special teams coordinator Bob Dyce.
“This group of players, they’ve taken a lot of responsibility. (They) take what we talk about to heart – each man doing his individual job and playing with great discipline. As of now, they’ve done a really good job of that and we have to continue to play together.”
In the off-season, there were calls to make a change at special teams coordinator. Dyce remained as the team’s special teams coordinator. He also got some help with the return of Cory McDiarmid as a special teams assistant coach, a position he held with the club in 2013 before joining the Blue Bombers staff as a linebackers coach for 2014.
Perhaps the single biggest change to the team’s special teams personnel this year has been the addition of punter Ray Early.
“Ray has been a really big part of what we do,” said Dyce.
“Any time you have a kicker to direct the ball where you want the ball to go and put it up there with hang time for the most part, (it) allows the guys to get off.”
The American punter currently sits second in the league averaging 48 yards per punt. Only Richie Leone in B.C. is ahead of him at 51 yards per punt.
Overall, there’s been a pretty big overhaul when it comes to the players running down field. Gone are the likes of Sam Hurl and Shomari Williams. Leading the way now are younger, faster players like Dylan Ainsworth and Matt Webster.
It’s been a particularly good year for Ainsworth as he sits second in the CFL with eight special teams tackles. It’s a stat Ainsworth is proud of but he’s also hopes the wealth gets spread around.
“If we have everyone with seven or eight tackles after however many games, that’s ideal. I just want everyone to be playing at a higher level,” he said.
Ainsworth admitted that players are taking touchdowns allowed personally as they returned this year; they had to prove that they could still play at a high level.
“I think it’s just a lot of guys out there that want to do well for the team. We work really well as a group, as well,” said Ainsworth.
“I think it’s a combination of a connection on those cover teams as well as staying healthy.”