The Specialists' Spotlight: A Closer Look at the Projected Special Teams Starters for Each CFL Team.
The 2023 CFL Season is right around the corner and teams are ready to finalize their rosters. With key signings, veterans returning, and promising newcomers, each team is employing their own strategy to strengthen the Special Teams unit. From the B.C. Lions to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, join me as we take a closer look at the projected starters for each CFL team.
Kicker: Sean Whyte Punter: Stefan Flintoft Long Snapper: John Levi-Kruse - RELEASED???
Practice Squad: Keiran Burnham (K)
Releases: Cesar Barajas (K), Casey Bednarski (K/P) Sean Whyte and Stefan Flintoft's return for their second and third years is hardly surprising. The addition of John Levi-Kruse, who plays fullback and tight end, will shore up long snapping after the Lions lost Tanner Doll to Free Agency. I predict the Lions will opt to retain Kicker Keiran Burnham on their practice squad, considering his flawless performance in the 2022 CFL Preseason, going 5/5 on field goals and 9/9 on point-after-touchdown attempts. Burnham's status as a Canadian further enhances his value, as he can contribute to fulfilling the Canadian player ratio if necessary.
Kicker: Rene Paredes Punter: Cody Grace Long Snapper: Aaron Crawford
Practice Squad: Campbell Fair (K/P) Releases: Toshiki Sato (K/P) With the return of veteran Kicker Rene Paredes for his 13th season and Punter Cody Grace back for his 3rd season, the Stampeders are setting themselves up to maintain their dominance in the special teams department for the 2023 season. Long Snapper Aaron Crawford also inked a contract extension this off-season and will be back for his 3rd season. Calgary selected Canadian Kicker Campbell Fair from the USPORTs Ottawa GeeGees in the draft, a promising addition who is likely to join the practice squad on account of his nationality. This means that Global player Toshiki Sato, who joined the team after departing from Toronto as a free agent, may be released after training camp. It is worth noting that the backup kicker position promises to be fiercely contested. Personally, I believe Sato's signing indicates that he is not merely a camp body. Still, I acknowledge that having the young Campbell Fair sitting behind Rene Paredes for a year or two could be Stampeder's plans.
Kicker: Dean Faithfull Punter: Michael Domagala Long Snapper: Peter Adjey
Practice Squad: Luke Burton-Krahn (LS)*, Gregory Hutchins (K/P) Releases: Rafeal Gaglianone (K), Ryan Meskell (K), Noah Gettman (P/K)
The Edmonton Elks have had a challenging offseason, losing veteran Punter Jon Ryan to retirement after the 2022 season and Kicker Sergio Castillo to CFL Free Agency. With that being said, the Elks have not been dormant, however, and have made several moves to address the positions. They signed Canadian Michael Domagala, who kicked and punted for Hamilton during the 2022 season. It's extremely likely that he will remain on the active roster as the team's starting Punter given that he could also kick field goals in a pinch. I believe that the Elks drafted 35-year-old Dean Faithfull with the intention of giving the veteran the starting Kicking position. At this point in time, Peter Adjey is the starting Long Snapper. However, I believe that Luke Burton-Krahn has the potential to make the roster, if not at least the practice squad, as he also plays defensive linemen and having a backup Long Snapper is never a bad thing. Canadian Gregory Hutchins will likely remain on the team's practice squad again this year as the backup, as he has a history with the Elks Franchise.
Kicker: Seth Small Punter: Bailey Flint Long Snapper: Gordon Whyte
Practice Squad: Blake Hayes (P), Releases: Ethan Ratke (K), Peyton Henry (K)
Seth Small is a lock to return as the TiCats starting Kicker in his 2nd year with the club. In addition, the team made a significant signing in Bailey Flint, their first-round pick in the 2022 Global Draft. Although Blake Hayes was on the team last year and even played in two games, the fact that Hamilton selected Flint in the first round and Hayes in the second round suggests that Flint may be favoured as their starting Punter. Gordon Whyte will return for his 4th year to Long Snap for the team.
Kicker: David Côté Punter: Joseph Zema Long Snapper: Louis-Philippe Bourassa
Practice Squad: Jose Maltos (K) Releases: Rhys Burns (P)
David Côté and Joseph Zema have recently signed new contracts during the offseason and are poised to make an impact at their respective positions once again this year. Louis-Philippe Bourassa, the veteran Long Snapper who was acquired in free agency from Ottawa, will replace Pierre-Luc Caron, who retired after the 2022 season. I expect Jose Maltos will remain on the team's practice squad over American Punter Rhys Burns due to his Global status and CFL experience.
Kicker: Lewis Ward Punter: Richie Leone Long Snapper: Keegan Markgraf
Practice Squad: Jake Julien (P) Releases: Blaise Barber (LS)
The Ottawa Redblacks were playing chess while the rest of the league was playing checkers this offseason, securing contract extensions for two of their key players, Kicker Lewis Ward and Punter Richie Leone. These two specialists have proven to be reliable assets to the team and it comes as no surprise that they will retain their starting positions this year. Regarding Long Snapping, Keegan Markgraf is expected to take over from now-departed Philippe Bourassa. Jake Julien, a Canadian Punter, was brought in during free agency and will likely remain on the team's practice squad, poised to step in if either Ward or Leone suffers an injury. I suspect Blaise Barber was brought in as a camp body, but you never know, he might stick around on the practice squad in case of emergency.
Kicker: Brett Lauther Punter: Kaare Vedvik Long Snapper: Jorgen Hus
Practice Squad: David Solie (K/P) Releases: N/A
The Saskatchewan Roughriders will look to bring back Kicker Brett Lauther and Punter Kaare Vedvik as starters for the 2023 season. While it's very likely for both of these players to start at their respective positions, the team did sign the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Kicker, David Solie. Solie, a 23-year-old rookie, is an exciting prospect who will add an element of competition to the Roughriders Special Teams unit. He will likely remain on the team's practice squad to learn behind one of the best to ever kick it in the CFL. Shoring up the Long Snapping duties, Canadian Jorgen Hus will return for his 8th Season with the team.
Kicker: Boris Bede Punter: John Haggerty Long Snapper: Adam Guillemette
Practice Squad: Alfredo Gachuz Lozada (K), Maxime Latour (LS) Releases: N/A
Kicker Boris Bede and Punter John Haggerty are both integral players at their positions and are set to return as starters in the 2023 season. Additionally, the Argonauts signed Global Kicker Alfredo Gachuz Lozada in the 2023 Global Draft. The Argos might keep both Lozada and previous incumbent Long Snapper Maxime Latour on their practice squad as they know more than most how valuable it is to have a backup ready to go when one is needed. While I personally like Maxime Latour, Canadian Adam Guillemette will be the team's Long Snapper moving forward. Despite his young age, Guillemette has managed to impress countless evaluators and was worthy of being drafted in the Third Round of the 2023 CFL Draft.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Kicker: Sergio Castillo Punter: Devin Anctil Long Snapper: Mike Benson
Practice Squad: Mark Liegghio (K/P), Damian Jackson* (LS) Releases: Marc Orozco (K), Chandler Staton (K), Karl Schmitz (P), Chris MacLean (P)
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers faced a lot of uncertainties surrounding their Special TEams unit, but things have cleared up a bit with the signing of Kicker Sergio Castillo literally minutes after he was released from Edmonton. While the starting kicking position is certainly up for grabs, I have a strong belief that Sergio will emerge as the victor. As for Punter, I have a strong opinion that American Devin Anctil will win the starting job. He has long-deserved a starting position and while teams usually don't have two Americans on special teams, there is no rule against it and I personally believe that the Bombers have enough Canadian talent elsewhere to warrant the upgrade. It is worth noting that Marc Liegghio could very well win the job at either position, as the front office has repeatedly shown just how much they trust the Canadian. Maintaining his role as the starting Longsnapper, Mike Benson is poised to continue his contributions through his 3rd season with the Bombers. Finally, there is a chance that Long Snapper Damian Jackson also makes the team, either on the game-day roster or practice squad, as he plays multiple positions and serves as a contingency plan in case Benson gets injured.
Thank you for taking the time to read my work.