TORONTO -- With all of the storylines focused on former Eskimos heading into last weekend’s Eastern-Semi Final between Toronto and Edmonton, running back Chad Kackert may have been the least-talked about member of the Argos all week.
So instead, the 26-year-old runner in his first season as a starter let his play on the field do the talking for him.
The 2012 Eastern Final matchup is set as the Montreal Alouettes host the Toronto Argonauts. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday's game.
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He ran and caught for 139 yards from scrimmage and a pair of scores on 19 touches in Sunday’s 42-26 win over the Eskimos, assuring that when the team returned to the Rogers Centre for a walkthrough on Tuesday, there would be at least one reporter waiting after practice.
Now, the challenge for rookie head coach Scott Milanovich will be to find a way to keep Kackert involved like that every week.
“We want to get Chad the ball, he’s a playmaker,” Milanovich said on Tuesday. “But give me a 24-point lead at halftime and Chad’s going to get more touches, so it’s going to depend on how the game goes and how we’re running it.”
“They tend to stack the box a little more than most teams so we’ll just see how they choose to play us.”
A good part of Kackert’s damage came in the second half of Sunday’s win, with the Boatmen ahead 31-7 at halftime and looking to slow the game down with longer possessions.
“Most running backs would get more opportunities when you have the lead and you need the clock to keep running, but you have to enjoy that challenge too because the defence pretty much knows what’s coming,” said the second-year running back.
“I think the offensive line did a great job opening up some holes there, and Kuale stepping up in that short-yardage one with the I-formation – they did a great job.”
Just like last week, though, Kackert knows his role in this Sunday’s Eastern Final in Montreal isn’t entirely certain.
The Argos have a number of weapons lined up on offence outside of Kackert, and with Ricky Ray leading possibly the league’s hottest passing attack heading into mid-November – heading inside the warm pass-friendly confines of Olympic Stadium – one football likely isn’t enough to keep everyone satisfied.
“We install the game-plan and there are plays fit for certain situations, so you can’t really predict exactly what’s going to happen,” said Kackert when asked about how many touches he might expect to receive.
Either way, the emphasis for Kackert – just as it’s been all season – should be on pass protection, especially against a team that prefers to stack the box and send plenty of pressure as opposed to the Argos’ previous opponent, which had a tendency to drop more defenders into zone coverage.
“It’ll be different, much different,” said Milanovich. “Different coverages, different fronts – it’ll be very different from what we saw against Edmonton.”
“All the rules change based on what types of blitzes they play and different kind of fronts they play. This is significantly different than the week we played last week.”
- Scott Milanovich on Kackert's role in pass protection
But although the Als defensive front, led by veteran defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold, may present numerous challenges to the Argos’ protection schemes, both Kackert and Milanovich were quick to point out that the Boatmen do know their next opponent quite well.
“Definitely a lot of changes but we’ve seen both of them,” Kackert said. “We were able to handle Edmonton last week as far as protection goes. Montreal brings a little more on that side of things but nothing we can’t handle.”
Sunday will likely be a major test for Kackert and his ability to protect Ray, and it’s an area the young back has looked to perfect all season.
After all, one of the reasons many say Kackert moved into the starting role earlier in the season was because of his willingness to pay the price on the field, especially in terms of helping out in blocking.
“I think he’s done a good job,” Milanovich said approvingly. “His protection’s gotten better, he got banged up for a couple of weeks that kind of kept him off the field for a while but he’s done a good job and just needs to continue to work on that.”
“He’s not the biggest guy and you don’t have to be, but your technique has to be really good in protection when you’re not that big and he’s provided us with some explosive plays – he had two touchdowns last week and he’s done a great job.”
Kackert, meanwhile, admits that while there’s plenty to learn, it’s an area he believes he’s improved in quite a bit – especially for a player coming from a background in Division 1-AA college football, without any pro experience before last season.
“There’s a learning curve but I think we did a good job and the coaches did a good job of getting me prepared,” he said. “I had a lot of support from the players so it was an easy transition and a big opportunity that I was happy to have.”
Kackert took over the starting role in the Argos’ backfield following the team’s 18-9 loss to the BC Lions at the Rogers Centre back at the start of August, when Cory Boyd was released.
Although the move led to media scrutiny, Kackert quietly put together a very strong season, with 638 rushing yards and five touchdowns, along with 23 catches for 212 yards.
His 6.4 yards per carry average was the highest among starting running backs, including the likes of leading rusher Jon Cornish and runner-ups Kory Sheets and Andrew Harris.
It’ll be up to Milanovich and the Argos offence to figure out how to keep Kackert involved, something that could be vital to the team’s success both on Sunday and beyond.
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