Bombers hope to have found solution to kicking woes with acquisition of CFL all-star Sergio Castillo

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, plagued by place-kicking woes throughout the 2021 CFL season, have acquired a former league all-star to handle the duties down the stretch and into the playoffs.

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On Tuesday, the Bombers acquired kicker Sergio Castillo from the B.C. Lions, in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2022 CFL Draft.

Castillo, 30, was outstanding with the Lions in 2019, making 41 or 45 field-goal attempts (91.1%) and getting named to the CFL all-star team. For his career in the CFL, Castillo has made 87% of his attempts.

His longest field goal in 2019 was from 52 yards, while his career longest in the CFL is 57 yards, with Hamilton in 2017.

“I know Sergio’s a very good kicker,” Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said after practice at IG Field on Tuesday.

“We’ve had him here before. I know he’s a fit. The last time he stepped on a CFL field, he was kicking at 90-plus percent and made some 50s. It’s good to have and we’ll sort it out as we go along.”

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Castillo also played seven games for the New York Jets of the NFL in 2020, connecting on eight of 13 field-goal attempts, including a 55-yarder. Castillo was in training camp with the Tennessee Titans this year before getting released.

Castillo originally signed a two-year contract with the Lions, but opted out when the CFL season was shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lions maintained his CFL rights, as a result.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers K Sergio Castillo kicks a field goal against the Montreal Alouettes during CFL action in Winnipeg on Wed., June 8, 2016. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Winnipeg Blue Bombers K Sergio Castillo kicks a field goal against the Montreal Alouettes during CFL action in Winnipeg on Wed., June 8, 2016. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

“We’ve got different options now and we’ll make the best decisions as we go forward, when those decisions need to be made,” O’Shea said.

Winnipeg’s kicking situation has been a tire fire all season. Although the Bombers are 9-1 and comfortably in first place in the West Division, their three place-kickers have combined to make just 57.1% of their field-goal attempts.

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They started the season with CFL veteran Tyler Crapigna handling kicks, but he went 3-for-5 before landing on the six-game injured list.

Then rookie Marc Liegghio, the Bombers punter, took over and went 5-for-8 on both field-goal attempts and 32-yard converts.

The Bombers then brought in American Ali Mourtada, who is now 8-for-15 (53.3%) through four games. His most recent game, in Edmonton last Friday, was his best. He was good on four of five field goal tries, with his longest coming from 43 yards out.

He also missed badly on a 43-yard attempt that would have sealed the game for the Bombers.

It’s expected Mourtada will be the Bombers place-kicker when the team hosts the Lions on Saturday at IG Field.

“I don’t really spend much time thinking about that,” Mourtada said of the Castillo signing. “That’s kind of out of my pay grade. There’s guys in the organization that are here to make those decisions and I’m here to kick a football. All my energy is focused in on the process, day by day.”

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It’s expected Castillo will arrive in Winnipeg while the Bombers are on a bye week next week and will complete a mandatory seven-day quarantine before joining the team. The earliest he could possibly play would be Nov. 6, when the Bombers host the Montreal Alouettes.

Castillo can also handling punting duties. He has punted 134 times in the CFL, with an average of 44.4 yards per kick.

As such, both Mourtada and Liegghio, who is last in the CFL in punting yard average at 43.1 yards per kick, could see their roles diminish.

“I let them know that this is the business side of this game,” O’Shea said. “Ali’s gonna go out and have a great game (Saturday). That’s the expectation and that’s his expectation of himself too. He can’t control that. He can only control how he plays and I’m sure he’ll go out and have a great game.”

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Winnipeg is the prohibitive favourite to win the Grey Cup this year but their kicking game has been a major concern. The acquisition of a proven veteran, like Castillo, should help to quell those concerns.

Castillo started his pro football career with the Bombers in 2015. He suited up for four games and made 10 of 13 field goal attempts. He also played two games with Ottawa in 2016, 14 with Hamilton in 2017 and 18 with B.C. in 2019.

The Bombers agreed to conditions on the fourth-round pick they sent to the Lions. Those conditions are linked to how the Bombers finish the season. It’s likely that it will be become a higher pick if the Bombers win the Grey Cup.

In the here and now, the Bombers will be asking Mourtada to do the job for them one more time before facing the prospect of being cut.

“Head down, just do what I’ve gotta do,” Mourtada said. “There’s only a certain amount of energy that you have so if you spend too much time thinking about other things, you can’t get the most important things done. So just focus in on what I’ve got to do.”

The Bombers also added Canadian kicker Gabriel Ferraro to their practice roster on Tuesday.

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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