Adding offence, excitement aim of CFL’s new rules

Change is good.

At least, that was the tune Mike O’Shea was singing Wednesday afternoon as he and Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Kyle Walters hopped on a Zoom call to answer questions from reporters.

Of course, there was talk about next Tuesday’s CFL Draft and some of the off-season moves made by the club, but the focus of the media availability centred around the nine rule changes for the 2022 season that were announced earlier in the day.

None of the changes are polarizing topics — such as making a move to four downs — but most of the tweaks are designed to give kick returners and offences a boost. The most significant change is the hash marks will be moved closer to the centre of the field. The idea is it will make it easier for the offence to utilize the entire field. It’ll also likely make kicking field goals a tad easier, as kickers won’t have to hit the uprights on as steep of an angle.

“Generally speaking, over the last couple of decades, most rule changes are meant to increase the excitement of the game. Now to say that they’re geared towards increasing offence, well I think that’s what people find exciting,” said O’Shea, one of the CFL’s members on the rules committee.

“Nobody wants to watch 9-6, really. I mean, I like 9-6 games (chuckles) because I’m a defender, but for the most part, the CFL’s a wide-open scoring game. We don’t go in with the idea that we’re going to change rules for the offence. It just so happens that when you move hashes or do those things, you tend to generate more offence.

“But trust me, defensive co-ordinators will be on top of it. They’ll be scheming their own schemes to stop offences, no matter what we do.”

Defensive co-ordinators will have to scheme extra hard as offences will now start drives from the 40-yard line, instead of the 35-yard mark, after a made field goal or single point. And teams will now kickoff from five yards back at the 30-yard line, unless it’s a safety, then they’ll have to boot the ball away from the 20-yard line instead of the 25-yard line. Special teams co-ordinators are going to be tough on their units in training camp as all no-yards penalties are now 15 yards. And if a punt sails out of bounds before the 15-yard line, formerly 20-yard line, a flag will be thrown.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters will be looking to make a few signings to round out the roster before camp opens in mid-May. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)


Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters will be looking to make a few signings to round out the roster before camp opens in mid-May. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Janarion Grant is smiling somewhere right now.

“The return game is so exciting in the CFL with the size of our field and the quality of the returners we have in this league is exciting and we’re just trying to make sure that we allow them to do their jobs, too, rather than stifling them so much that they pick up a ball and get tackled right away,” O’Shea said.

“I’m looking forward to this. If we get a good return against us, I’ll probably lose my mind, but I know in terms of 15 yards no yards, we can coach that and make sure our players are doing the right things down the field and every once in a while, if the ball bounces backwards, then so be it.”

Walters had a lot of questions directed his way, too, as this year’s draft is an important one for the Blue and Gold. Their Canadian depth has taken a hit this offseason with offensive lineman Drew Desjarlais (New England Patriots) and defensive end Jonathan Kongbo (Denver Broncos) off to the NFL. They also lost last year’s third overall pick, offensive lineman Liam Dobson, as the Texas A&M product decided to take his talents to the USFL instead of trying his hand at the three-down game.

After winning last year’s Grey Cup, the Bombers hold the ninth and final pick in the first round. They’re without a third-round choice as they traded it to the B.C. Lions last season for kicker Sergio Castillo.

“It’s a good draft. There’s some good, young Canadian talent in the draft and we are confident we’re going to get some players and add depth,” said Walters, holding his cards close to his chest.

Walters will also look to make a few signings to round out the roster before camp opens in mid-May. Arguably their biggest hole right now is at placekicker since Castillo moved on and signed with the Edmonton Elks. The Bombers currently have Canadian Marc Liegghio and American Ali Mourtada under contract — a big drop off from Castillo who connected on all five of his field goal attempts in the 108th Grey Cup in December.

“Legs has been working his tail off, and so has Ali, and I know they’ll be better, and they will be competing for their spots. I don’t think we’re closed yet on the idea of whether or not we’re bringing anybody else,” O’Shea said.

“I’m very confident in those two guys. They’ll come in and certainly show better than they did last year… We’ll see where it goes from there, but I would say we’re probably not done in adding a kicker or player for training camp. But I’m also confident in the two guys we have on the roster.”

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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