Argos' Rainey impressed with this year's crop of CFL kick returners
In this the year of the kick return in the CFL, Chris Rainey has been able to break down every special-teams play that leads to a touchdown or to the field being flipped.
And that includes his own major off a punt return in a one-point home loss to B.C., early last month.
At 31, Rainey is the most accomplished returner in the league, which has seen a return touchdown virtually every game this season. He is not the fastest, nor the most explosive, but Rainey is the most skilled returner, a shifty, elusive runner who makes cuts on the run, fearless and perpetually going forward when some of his return peers simply attack the perimeter.
The free-agent signing out of B.C., has five career return TDs in five-plus CFL seasons.
A week ago against the Blue Bombers, Rainey almost took it to the house, again, but he got the wind knocked out of him when Winnipeg’s Derek Jones hit him in the chest area on his initial cut upfield. Rainey cut to the outside, then back into the middle of the field before Kerfalla Exume tripped him up from behind on the Bombers’ seven-yard line.
“Man, that was a touchdown,’’ said Rainey of the 78-yard punt return in the third quarter that nonetheless sparked the Argos to their first win of the season. “Some people thought I ran out of gas. I had no wind. That’s why I was tackled.
“Knocked the wind right out of me. That’s why my teammates had to get me up.”
Rainey is a unique talent, a weapon the Argos have failed to properly use. His return skills are second to none, but talk to him about football and Rainey always brings up his natural position at running back.
The Argos tried to use Rainey in more offensive packages last week. He rushed three times for 10 yards and caught two swing passes for 17 more. There’s no reason why he can’t line up at slotback and get the ball in space. As the offence evolves, it’s apparent the Argos need to better utilize Rainey without compromising his abilities in the return game.
Through eight weeks of the CFL season, 14 returns TDs had been produced. That number grew by two following Winnipeg’s win over Calgary on Thursday night when Janarion Grant, who was making his CFL debut, had two return TDs for the Bombers.
“This season has been ridiculous,’’ said Rainey of the number of return touchdowns. “I watch every game and there are holes (on certain returns) where anyone can run through them. Then you see guys who make things happen like that guy in Ottawa (DeVonte Dedmon, who had two TDs and 382 return yards last week against the Als). I love that. I’m a running back. And when you see running back stuff, I like that.”
The Argos franchise has been blessed with high-end returners dating back to the days of Pinball Clemons, who also lined up in the slot, and Rocket Ismail.
The Argos are in the midst of their second bye week. The timing of the first was not ideal, according to Rainey when he reflects on Toronto’s opening week off prior to their Week 2 season opener. What ensued was a 50-point blowout loss to visiting Hamilton.
“The energy is so different,’’ said Rainey comparing this bye to the first. “To get a bye in the first week of the season was ridiculous.”
Following Toronto’s win last Thursday night, players were given an extended stretch to kick back, a time Rainey used to take his family to Niagara Falls, a first for the Florida native.
“That was beautiful,’’ Rainey said of the Falls. “Man, the Canadian falls are much more impressive than the U.S. falls.”
WILL FRANKLIN GET CAP-CRUNCHED?
In a league where every dollar must be accounted for, the Argos, according to some in the CFL, are perilously close to exceeding the league-mandated $2,588-million payroll — an all-encompassing figure that includes players, coaches, front-office and equipment staff.
Money matters in the CFL and, therefore, it’s just a matter of time before the Argos will have to fish or cut bait with quarterback James Franklin, a decision that would likely free up some cap space.
Suffice to say that, with Zach Collaros now in the fold — though he hasn’t yet been cleared for contact after suffering a head/neck injury in Week 1 while playing for Saskatchewan — the future of Franklin in Double Blue is suddenly in doubt.
The CFL is not exactly flush with quarterbacks and there could be a market for Franklin, who has been on the six-game injured list with a hamstring ailment since Week 2 of the season.
Should Franklin be traded or released, he could land in Hamilton where Dane Evans has replaced an injured starter Jeremiah Masoli.
Ticats offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell spent two seasons in Toronto working with Franklin.