Riders special teams is soaring

By Arielle Zerr/CJME News Staff
October 25, 2017 - 12:15pm

Denzel Radford doesn’t mind flying under the radar.

In fact, he was so under the radar he didn’t even know how well he was doing.

Radford, the Riders rookie receiver, has been a bona fide star on special teams this season.

Currently sitting fourth place for special teams tackles in the league, Radford was initially surprised by the news, then pleased, then wanting more.

“I didn’t know that but I’m not complaining … Ideally, I’d like to try and be on top of the list but that’s kind of the least of my worries,” he said. “As long as the team’s winning that’s the main focus right now.”

The Riders, currently sitting at 9-7, are winning. They’ll be at least a .500 ball team this year and they’ve punched their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

While it may not be the flashiest part of the Roughriders squad, special teams have had a lot to do with the team’s success. Especially lately.

The addition of Christion Jones as a returner has been a spark plug for the entire team. When the Riders were being shut out by the Ottawa Redblacks it was Jones who turned on the scoring. The team came back to win 18-17.

Then last week against the first place Calgary Stampeders it was Jones again who started the scoring for his team that went on to win 30-7.

Special teams coach Craig Dickenson said it’s a testament to the hard work they put in.

“We’ve been playing hard all year but when you can see the fruits of your labour, you see a guy like Christion Jones take it back or you block a punt or you make a big tackle and force a turnover – as soon as you can see that it reinforces what you’ve been teaching all along,” he said.

What Dickenson teaches, Radford is buying and it’s coming back to him in spades.

“(Dickenson) puts me in a great position to run free, use my speed to my advantage and just kind of run down the field and hopefully make a play,” Radford said.

He’s made at least 22 of them – that’s how many special teams tackles he’s recorded – though it doesn’t account for his skill at blocking or getting to the football.

Getting to the ball is another thing special teams is excelling at. The Riders have allowed the fewest yards against them on kickoff returns and the third fewest in punt returns which means they’re not giving their opponent much in field position.

“We take every bit as much pride and joy in our coverage team as we do in the return team and the coverage team has been playing well,” said Dickenson.

“Personally think we have the best cover unit on punt and kickoff in the entire league right now,” Radford added.

And while special teams may not get the same hype that offence or defence does, it still suits Radford just fine.

“I’m kind of fine being one of those under the radar type guys. Just make my plays in silence and get off and let the offence and defence handle what they need to and get the glory.”

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