CFL

Lions K McCallum to split duties for first time since 1994

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The Canadian Press
7/19/2013 8:03:43 PM
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VANCOUVER -- Paul McCallum is getting ready to go back in time.

Figuratively speaking, at least.

The veteran B.C. kicker will suit up for his first game of the CFL season on Saturday as the Lions host the Edmonton Eskimos at B.C. Place Stadium. McCallum, the CFL's oldest player at age 43, missed the first three games because of a groin injury suffered in the preseason.

But for the first time since 1994, McCallum will not handle all three kicking duties. He will focus on field goals while Hugh O'Neill takes care of kick-offs and, for a rare time in a CFL game, the two kickers could share punting duties.

"(The last sharing of duties) was early in my career," said McCallum, who played with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the time. "So, for me, I didn't really know anything different."

Although the 21-year veteran does know the difference now, he is willing to make the sacrifice as the Lions (2-1) try to beat the Eskimos (1-2) for the second time in a week in the conclusion of back-to-back contests.

"It's a little bit different," he said of his current situation. "You're a little bit more in the game when you're doing all three. But anything that's going to be able to help the club, I'm willing to do."

While injuries sometimes force a team to use two punters in a game, as has been the case with the Toronto Argonauts this season, it's rare for a club to use a pair for strategic purposes. Such usage can affect lineup decisions elsewhere and the import and non-import ratio.

McCallum handled all of the punting chores in practice during the week, and had not been told that he and O'Neill, who handled all three duties in his absence, could alternate on punts. But Lions coach Mike Benevides said both kickers are ready to double up on punts.

"(McCallum) got all the work during the week to get prepared," said Benevides after a walk-through Friday at B.C. Place Stadium. "But they know that they could get called in.

"It's kind of like a relief pitcher. I'll call in the righty. I'll call in the lefty, depending on what we need in that situation. Depending on field position, you might see a different guy." (Both McCallum and O'Neill kick with their right legs.)

O'Neill, 23, served as McCallum's understudy for the past two seasons without seeing any playing time in the regular season or playoffs. Benevides said he wants to see more consistency from O'Neill, an Edmonton native, who has had punts blocked due to bad snaps in each of the past two games.

O'Neill's punts have averaged 31.2 yards in the past three games, while McCallum, the CFL's active all-time points leader with 2,733, has a career punting average of 41.5 yards.

Punting is just one aspect of a special-teams game that the Lions are determined to improve. B.C. ranks last in the CFL in both average kick-off return yards (12.8) and average punt return yards (4.7)

"We have to be a lot more consistent, a lot more explosive, and we're going to have to answer the bell (Saturday) that way," said Benevides.

As a result, veteran Tim Brown, the West Division's special teams player of the year in 2012, will return to the lineup after sitting out the past two games. Rookie Korey Williams had ousted him from his spot, but struggled and will watch the game from the stands.

"(Brown) is going to bring a lot of things to the table (Saturday)," said Benevides. "Tim is a north-south guy. Tim has a good feel for this opponent and this enemy, so I know that he understands where he needs to be."

Brown, a constantly smiling, happy-go-lucky type, has been in a different place personally this season. He has struggled to contain his emotions due to the lack of playing time and the death of his mother Mary to cervical cancer in the spring.

Never one to complain, and reluctantly talking about his troubles while graciously answering a couple of reporters' questions, Brown hopes a strong performance against the Eskimos will help him deal with his sadness.

"It definitely a test of my Christian faith," said Brown of his limited playing time. "It's definitely a test of my emotions. They want to get the best of me. It's just a sense of: I want to play."

The Eskimos have taken note of B.C.'s changes on special teams. Edmonton coach Kavis Reed said he can't recall a game when a team used two punters on purpose.

"They have two very capable guys," said Reed. "We're definitely aware of the fact that Paul McCallum will be back on the roster. He's arguably one of the best directionally and also (for) distance.

"He's very cagey with the ball in his hands. So we have to make sure we account for the ball being kicked. So it will be a challenge for us, and it's probably a luxury to have that ability to (deploy two kickers)."

Reed said the Edmonton defence must also be wary of Brown, who is in his third season with the Lions. Brown has run three punts back for touchdowns during a CFL career spent exclusively with B.C., but has yet to reach the end zone on a kick-off. The Eskimos field boss said Brown, who doubles as a backup tailback, also poses a threat on regular downs.

"He's a weapon," said Reed. "He's not only a weapon as a returner, but as an offensive player as well. When the ball is in his hands, good things tend to happen for them."

Meanwhile, B.C. slotback Shawn Gore will also return to the B.C. lineup after sitting out last weekend's game in Edmonton with a concussion. Gore was injured against Toronto two weeks ago.

The forced time off gave him a greater appreciation for the game.

"It's hard to watch (on TV)," said Gore. "You don't realize how much you miss it until it's gone."

Notes: Slotback Fred Stamps and defensive end Marcus Howard will return to Eskimos lineup after missing last weekend's game against B.C. with undisclosed injuries.

Paul McCallum (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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