Changes to the CFL rule book have been front and centre all season long.
Over the winter, the league made a number of changes in hopes of making the game more exciting to watch. Most of the talk has surrounded the changes made to contact on a receiver.
As of this year, all five interior players along the line of scrimmage cannot run down field on a punt until the ball is kicked.
So far, it appears that a big change to the special teams rules hasn’t had the effect the league thought it would.
“I think we’ve come up with some different (ways) in how we do it that, maybe have possibly neutralized some stuff,” said Riders special teams coordinator Bob Dyce.
“Whether it be the body types at certain positions or how teams formationally punt. There’s a big (difference) to how it was in the past.”
The numbers league-wide are showing that the average punt return is basically the same as it was a year ago.
Through seven weeks, the average punt return in the CFL is 9.7 yards. That’s barely up from the 9.3 yards per return last season.
The average return is roughly the same, but so far this, the number of big play kick returns (30 yards or more for punts and missed field goals. 40 yards or more for kick-offs) is down significantly from 75 a year ago to just 21 this year. The number of kicks returned for touchdowns has also dropped from 12 a year ago to just three this year.
“Everybody obvious re-focused when they thought of these rules,” said Dyce.
“They’re like ‘oh my gosh, all the space there’s going to be.’ So, you’ve really even paid more attention and come up with some new ideas.”
Dyce admits that the new rules forced him to change the way they cover punts. Previously, they were more covered more in zone; they’ve opted for other strategies since.
For the most part, Dyce doesn’t think the new rules have opened up the big play punt returns like the league had hoped.
His team has been a good example of the turnaround on the field. Last year, the Riders gave up six touchdowns on special teams, this year, they’ve kept the opposition out of the end zone to date.
Teams may have made a change in terms of scheme, but the players deserve some credit for playing at a higher level as well.
“Our gunners are getting down there so fast and corralling the returner before the front line guys even get close,” said Riders special teams tackle leader Dylan Ainsworth.
The change was also made in hopes of reducing penalties. That doesn’t appear to have happened either, except for no-yards calls.