Stamps look for ways to stop Grant
Rob Maver kept it simple.
When he was asked about Winnipeg Blue Bombers kick-returner Janarion Grant, the Calgary Stampeders punter didn’t complicate things with his answer.
Instead, Maver just decided to state the obvious.
“Janarion is good at football,” Maver said.
The Stampeders know that simple fact all-too-well. They probably know it better than any other team in the CFL.
Grant has been like the Stampeders’ kryptonite this season.
When the two teams met back on Aug. 8 in Winnipeg, Grant ran two punts back for touchdowns – one was a 76-yarder, the other was 83 yards. Those were the only TDs the Bombers scored in a game they won by a grand total of two points, so it’s only a slight exaggeration to say Grant was the difference between his team winning and losing.
The next time the Stamps and Bombers met, on Oct. 19 at McMahon Stadium, Grant didn’t end up finding the endzone. He did, however, average 35.3 yards on his three punt returns.
When they faced off the next week, though, Grant did even more damage. He returned a miss convert-kick all the way back to the Stamps’ endzone, going 122 yards. The play only counted for two points, but when we consider the Stamps only lost 29-28, it would again be reasonable to say Grant was the difference – he also nearly ran a missed field goal back, too.
“He’s a very good football player. He’s explosive,” said Stamps special teams coach Mark Kilam. “The thing he doesn’t get a lot of credit for is he breaks tackles, as well.”
To be clear, Grant has been an effective returner against a lot of teams, not just the Stampeders. Despite only playing in 11 games in his first season, the 25-year-old in the top-10 in the league in both kickoff return and punt-return yards and led the league in punt-return touchdowns, with three.
Two of those just happened to come against the Stampeders, and his success against the Calgary crew is notable as they prepare for their fourth head-to-head matchup of the year in Sunday’s West Division Semifinal.
In the playoffs, it’s often one or two big plays that can break a game open – think of Terry Williams’ return TD for the Stampeders in last year’s Grey Cup – and Grant has shown he’s capable of busting through the Stampeders’ special-teams coverage.
“He’s good, he’s fearless,” said Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson. “I think he runs hard, breaks a lot of tackles, he’s fast. A lot of time returners, their shelf life isn’t that long, meaning it’s hard to just keep going up in there year after year, so you get the young, fresh ones who are trying to prove something.
“There’s a lot in this league but I think he’s one of the best, if not the best.”
So what can the Stampeders do to stop Grant?
They allowed more big-play – more than 30 yards – returns than any team in the CFL this season and tied with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the most kick-return TDs allowed.
Special-teams coverage has been an area of concern, but it’s also been an area where we have seen gradual improvement.
“We’ve been growing as a cover unit all year,” Kilam said. “There’s different points of emphasis. You can’t take the field without urgency when you’re playing a guy like (Grant). That’s where it starts. It starts with kick-type, kick placement and covering as a group of 12.”
Speaking with the Stampeders, they don’t make it sound like there’s any special formula to limiting Grant’s impact. He’s fast and he breaks tackles and accelerates the split-second he gets the ball, but that’s true of most returners.
The key to stopping him might just be execution – imagine that.
“We’ve just got to keep our leverage on him and make sure we’re getting to his legs and get bodies to him,” said Stamps special teamer Charlie Power. “We’re focused on what we do and polishing it up.”
Around the dressing room, that same message was repeated.
The Stampeders know what Grant can do, but they also know how they can stop him. They just need to go out Sunday and actually do it.
“It’s just trying to limit plays,” Maver said. “How we kick the ball, how we cover, understanding what return looks we’re seeing and how do we beat certain leverage and cover well. It’s pretty simple. Playoff football is fast, it’s simple, it’s a matter of who executes better and makes less mistakes.”
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