HAMILTON -- There are over 80 players at Ticats training camp this week, alongside a handful of coaches and a dozen or so football operations staff. Yet there is little argument for who the most consistently boisterous and energetic person on the Ron Joyce Stadium field is. It is none other than veteran CFL coach Jim Daley.
The former Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline boss joined the Hamilton coaching staff as their Special Teams Coordinator in the off-season. He coaches his players up and down the field, covering almost as much ground, and ensuring every single player knows their assignments before the unit even begins running each drill and rarely remaining stationary for more than a few seconds throughout.
With over 20 years of CFL coaching experience under his belt, the Ottawa native admits that his coaching style and approach may seem strange to the outside observer but it is just the way he has taught players for his entire career.
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“Yes, it has always been my coaching style but when you are coaching special teams, you are coaching 80 or 90 guys over a couple of acres really. So you better have some life in you because when there is a guy 40 yards away, you have about one second to get him the teaching points.”
Armed with a strong voice, a wealth of experience and plan in place, one of Daley’s primary objectives is to fill the void left in the return game where special teams speedster Marcus Thigpen was the elusive talent on punt and kickoff returns.
Thigpen, who racked up over 1,500 return yards last season, signed a contract with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and has consequently left the door wide open at Ticats training camp for someone to step up and prove they can fill in.
Replacing a player with the quickness and shiftiness of Thigpen is by no means an easy task, but Daley has opened up the competition in hopes that one or two players will give him a few different options as they eventually shift from training camp to regular season over the next three weeks.
“We have eight men here working as returners but coach (Jeremaine) Copeland is working with them and we have some guys that can catch, guys with great burst and a lot of potential with specialists at that position. We have a huge gap to fill with Marcus gone but we have quality people competing for that spot.”
Daley is hesitant to discuss which one person has distanced himself in that regard if any but the decision process may come down to player with the most versatility.
“There are a combination of factors”, Daley continued. “Once Coach Cortez makes his roster decisions, whether we have a specialist or whether we have a guy that plays another position (changes the plan a bit). If you have a guy playing another position, you would probably like to have a couple of returners. The reality is even a specialist is going to have to be able to play somewhere else either as a starter or a backup because of the roster size. We are looking to have as many good returners on the roster as possible”.
One of the players in the running to replace Thigpen is former Calgary Stampeders receiver Deon Murphy. Murphy was the primary return specialist in Calgary in 2010, generating just under 1,600 return yards before being released in training camp last year after Larry Taylor returned to the CFL in red and white.
Murphy could be the favourite early in camp just based on his experience at that position but the Kansas State product knows that his previous CFL stop can only take him so far when he is competing for a spot on the roster.
“It’s just like any other position and you may have a leg up early because you know the rules but there is a lot of competition here and I am here to compete and win a job”, he said. “I came in here thinking that I could have the upper hand but anyone can come in here and do better than I can. I just need to stay focused and do the best I can to help this team win these pre-season games and hopefully make the team after that.”
One thing that Murphy can say for certain is that he is in good hands under Coach Daley, despite his rather unique coaching style.
“He is definitely the loudest special teams coach I have ever had”, Murphy said with a smile. “That’s my guy though – I respect him a lot and I am ready to work for him. Yesterday I sat in meetings and I couldn’t wait for the game to start because I knew that everyone (on special teams) would be in the exact place that they need to be. It is because everyone has a lot of trust in him and even talking with some of the other guys, everyone has a lot of respect for him and it is going to be a fun year with Coach Daley.”
Murphy and the rest of his competition at returner will have their first chance to show Daley what they can do when they kickoff the pre-season Wednesday night at home versus the Toronto Argonauts.