Gauthier no longer toiling in anonymity for Bombers

Until this season, Shayne Gauthier’s main claim to fame was a special teams play for the ages.

In 2019, the reserve Blue Bombers linebacker tracked down and tackled Saskatchewan punt returner Nick Marshall on Winnipeg’s 37-yard line with less than five minutes remaining in the CFL West final. The take-down denied a sure touchdown on a clever trick play and helped to preserve a Winnipeg victory, sending the Bombers to the Grey Cup game.

It was a fleeting moment in the spotlight for the Laval product, who registered 44 special teams tackles during his first four seasons in the league.

In Year 5, Gauthier has moved to centre stage.

The 29-year-old has racked up the first six defensive tackles of his career, including four in a Aug. 29 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

With injuries to key veterans such as linebacker Kyrie Wilson and defensive tackle Steven Richardson, Gauthier is no longer toiling in anonymity on special teams.

His job description has expanded, just as it has for others such as Canadian linebacker Jesse Briggs and global defensive end Thiadric Hansen. Briggs has already established a career high of 13 defensive tackles, bettering the eight he registered in 2017.

“In the time that I’ve been here… we’ve tried to utilize as much defensive personnel as possible,” said Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall after Thursday’s practice at IG Field.

“Not for the sake of just doing it… (we’re) doing it to be more complex, to give different looks, but also to keep the guys interested and dialed in, knowing that… ‘I might only get on the field for five or six plays but I’m going to be ready.'”

In theory, giving reserve players more responsibility should make Winnipeg’s defence more difficult to scheme against while also allowing star players to have more left in the tank for the fourth quarter of close games.

“I like it because it forces us as coaches to be creative in the things that we do to exploit the skill set that those players bring,” said Hall. “And then for them to have it so they’re excited knowing that, you know, ‘I’m not just a special teams player.’

“One of the people that really benefited from this and has done an outstanding job is Shayne Gauthier. He’s on a field for half the (defensive) snaps… because of different packages. He’s earned the right to be in the field.”

The results on the field suggest Hall is correct. Through Week 5, Winnipeg has allowed an average of 13.4 points per game (a CFL best) while surging to a 4-1 start and top spot in the West Division.

The Blue Bombers host the second-place Roughriders (3-1) in Saturday’s annual Banjo Bowl grudge match. Game time is 3 p.m.

Head coach Mike O’Shea said Gauthier is very deserving of a more prominent role.

“You’re talking about a guy who was quite capable of playing in other years we just never had our roster set up that way,” said O’Shea. “And then, ahead of him was Thomas Miles, when he was here, who started games in Toronto, (who) we chose to put it in certain packages in short yardage and goal-line.

“It didn’t mean the Shayne wasn’t capable. I think you’ve seen his body of work on special teams and you can see that he’s thumper.”

O’Shea admitted Gauthier’s rise on the depth chart was overdue.

“Sometimes we just don’t give them the opportunity that they probably deserve — we know they want it,” he said. “We probably don’t give them the opportunity that they’ve earned. That’s on us, really.”

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

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