In action, it might seem like a bit of a fluke, but an onside kick requires a lot more than just luck.
The play is usually reserved for when a team is behind and needs the ball back quickly to try to score again.
Last week, however, the Roughriders called for the play a little earlier than it’s traditionally done – with a little more than five minutes left against the Eskimos.
Perhaps they wouldn’t have called for it at all, if it weren’t for the faith they had in kicker Tyler Crapigna.
“You can have all sorts of fancy schemes and ways to outnumber teams, but if you don’t have a kicker who is skilled in doing that touch kick, you’re kind of in trouble,” explained special teams coordinator Craig Dickenson.
So if the first step to a successful onside kick is having a kicker that can do one, the Riders have checked that box.
The next thing is to make sure the kicker hits it the right distance and at the right angle. CFL rules require the ball to travel 10 yards before the kicking team can receive the ball.
“I figure you’re aiming for about the 13 to 15 yard line,” Crapigna said after a day where it had been practiced several times.
Crapigna said he lines up like he does to kick a field goal, but then uses less power. He also aims to put some height on it.
“Most of these guys are pretty fast in this league, so it doesn’t really matter if you have too much height, but the more height the better to evade blocks and get down field,” he said.
The next thing to consider is all the people who can get their hands on the ball. They’re literally called the hands team. As long as the ball travels 10 yards, every player on the kicking and receiving team can try to nab it.
“You need certain guys that are kind of your pluggers, guys that can go in and cause disruption and then you need some guys that can go up and catch the ball,” Dickenson said.
With all of the hands team on the field, the kicking team could end up with the football in two ways: either one of their players catch the ball or one of their players was the last to handle the ball before it goes out. Last Friday, that’s where Jordan Reaves, the 6’4″ Canadian defensive back and former university basketball player, came in. His history in basketball might have made him the the most perfectly suited player to bat a ball out of bounds. Something he did while nursing a shoulder injury.
“He did a nice job of going up and getting it, he actually wanted to go up with two hands, he couldn’t get that second hand up so ended up just tapping it out of bounds,” Dickenson said.
And while it’s true that anything can happen in the moments after an onside kick is set in motion, it doesn’t mean that Dickenson is just holding his breath and hoping for the best. The coaches will only call it when they’re pretty sure they’ll be successful.
“The main thing is we want to execute the play the way we practiced it and if we do that then our chances are pretty high to get it. We won’t call it if we don’t feel like we have 75-80 per cent chance of pulling it off.”
A lot of that comes back to faith in the kicker, which suits Crapigna just fine.
“That’s kind of my job title, being that guy in the clutch situations, to get that field goal when we need it or get that onside kick when we need it,” he said.
Dan Clark missed practice again on Thursday after leaving midway through practice on Wednesday. Head coach Chris Jones is trying out a few options at centre ahead of Saturday’s game.
The Roughrider offensive line has allowed just one sack in two games, Jones credits both Darian Durant’s reads and execution by the offence for the success, but he expects B.C. to be a bit more of a challenge. “B.C.’s got a great front … so we’ll have our hands full I’m sure.”
The Roughriders will do their walk through at 10:15 a.m. Friday. Game time is at 5 p.m. on Saturday.