Watch that first step, Chad Kackert. It's a doozy.
As the Argonauts move on with their season without running back Cory Boyd, his replacement will be expected to accomplish a number of things: hitting the holes in the running game and helping to protect Ricky Ray from marauding opposition linemen are two that are obvious, as they've been much talked about this week.
|Kackert Ready to Roll|
With Cory Boyd now out of the picture, Chad Kackert has every opportunity to take over the Toronto's rushing attack as CFL.ca reported from Argos practice.
READ: Opportunity knocks for Kackert
A third aspect just might be the key to revving up the whole Argo offence.
Turning those little outlet flat patterns into big bales of football hay, with yards after catch.
It's something Avon Cobourne and Brandon Whitaker have done in the past, coincidentally (or not so coincidentally, while Head Coach Scott Milanovich was helping to design offensive schemes with the Montreal Alouettes. Along with the running and the blocking, it's this third aspect that has been thought to be a major reason why Anthony Calvillo has been able to paint his offensive masterpieces for so many seasons.
During Cobourne's three most dominating seasons with Montreal, while piling up rushing yards, he also added plenty on the receiving end; registering an average of 61 catches and 540 yards over those three years. Last season, Whitaker made 72 catches for 638 yards.
Compare the Argo numbers, this season, at the tailback position and it seems Cory Boyd was not running free. While Ray completed 23 passes to Boyd, it was for a mere 70 yards. That would translate, over a whole season, to a healthy 69 receptions, but just 210 yards.
Kackert knows the importance of this element in the life of a running back. And he knows what's most important in making it click.
"That first step is real important, especially when you're catching with your back turned to the defence," Kackert said just after a waterlogged Argo practice at Holy Trinity School, in Oakville.
"You've got to be moving forward (quickly) because that defence is already coming at you. They know the ball is coming to you. So if it's a matter of, you know, a tenth of a second, that tenth of a second could end up being another yard."
Without that quick acceleration, a running back catching a ball out there is a sitting duck, really, with hard charging defenders taking liberties with whatever part of that running back's body they choose.
"Sure, I'd like to think I've got a burst on my first step," said Kackert, laughing boisterously. He then got serious and admitted that it's not all a natural thing; that he's tr7ied to nurture it.
"I've been working on explosiveness in training. Any running back should.
With my weight (198 lbs), I don't have an extra 30 pounds to carry around, so, if I don't have a burst in my first step, I need to go back to the training room," he said.
If Kackert can catch, turn and blast-off on those patterns, a key Argo offensive cylinder will be firing. Quarterback Ricky Ray agrees:
"We use our backs a lot in our passing game in this offence. A lot of it's checkdowns, but we do have a lot of routes where we're getting them into the flats (as primary). We're setting some picks for them where we can get them one-on-one in man coverage."
"He's more of a speed guy than a shifty guy," Ray said, of Kackert. "I don't see him doing a lot of dancing in the hole. He's more of a 'get downhill' and maybe make one move to make a guy miss (kind of back). He brings that to the table as far as speed."
When asked if making a go of short pass routes is Kackert's most important duty, head coach Milanovich conceded only that it mattered. Not that it mattered most.
"That's part of it. You want to be able to catch a short pass and make it a big gain, but there's so much more to it," he explained. "The running back is the spark plug. He's gotta be the guy that goes and does more than anybody else."
"More than anybody else" includes offering a little blocking help, maybe even on plays when Kackert is running a pass route.
As Ray notes, a running back can get a little piece of a defensive end as he make his way out to the fringe on a route. That's a chip block and it can provide a quarterback with an extra split second to deliver the ball to Kackert, or somebody else.
"Really it's just an extra way to kind of knock a defensive lineman around and make him think and give the (offensive) tackle a little bit of help as you're going out," said Ray. "I definitely think Kackert's physical enough to do that."
"Running backs are involved in every protection," said Kackert, in matter-of-fact fashion. "When your (blocking assignment) guy is not coming, you have to chip. That's just basic offence."
Catching, turning and accelerating are, too. If the big move to let Boyd go is to pay off for the Argos, it would help if Kackert looked a little like Whitaker or Cobourne when he does those three things.
THE EXTRA POINT
As the rain poured down at practice, Kackert ran a wheel route, snagged a mid-range pass from Ray and sprinted to the end zone, for a long touchdown. Notably, as he jogged all the way back to the huddle, about 55 yards away, he carried the ball in one arm, tucked high and tight to the armpit, the way running backs are taught to do in a game.
Was it on purpose? A little extra muscle memory building?
"Of course," he said. "I'm going to get as much practice as I can. It's something that's been coached in me. It's also something I know I should be working on at all times."
A habit builder, then?
"Exactly," he said.
A freelance broadcaster and writer, Don is also the in-stadium announcer for Toronto Argonauts home games. A familiar voice to Toronto sports fans, he hosted the morning show at The FAN for more than 10 years. Follow Don on Twitter @CFLLandry