Earlier this season B.C. kick returner Tim Brown was forced to sit out a couple of games while the Lions tested someone else at his position.
For most players that would have created plenty of angst or shaken their confidence. Brown, who lives in California during the off-season where he works with autistic children, was able to keep things in perspective.
"You get up in the morning and thank G-d for allowing you to breathe and function normally," said the 28-year-old from Stockton, Calif., wearing his customary wide grin. "We all have problems and issues that we go through. Seeing those kids and seeing their issues, it's real."
The Lions have faced plenty of questions over their lack of a return game this CFL season. Brown supplied some answers Saturday by returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That was the difference in BC's 26-22 victory over the Calgary Stampeders and helped Brown earn CFL Special Teams Player of the Week honours. BC and Calgary are now tied for second in the West.
The Lions' coaching staff could supply complicated analytical explanations on the blocking schemes and procedures that made the return a success. Brown kept things simple.
"I just saw guys blocking," he said. "I just did the best to run on guys butts and get into the end zone."
Sounds simple enough. But it was the first time a Lion had returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Yonus Davis ran 88 yards for a major against the Edmonton Eskimos on July 30, 2010. Brown did return two punts for touchdowns last season, the last a 56-yard romp against Calgary in a 41-21 loss to the Stampeders Oct. 26.
Maybe it was the Lions' spiffy new black stealth uniforms but Brown finished Saturday's game with four kickoff returns for 140 yards. He ran back nine punts for 72 yards.
"I really didn't feel any pressure," he said. "It's a team thing.
"I can't do it without the guys in front of me and they know it. I think we really have been improving the last couple of games on kickoff and punt returns."
Even with Brown's performance against Calgary the Lions are ranked second last in the CFL with 564 kickoff return yards. Their total of 218 punt return yards is just one yard ahead of Toronto and Hamilton, who are tied for last.
Chuck McMann, BC's special teams coordinator, said the team has come close to breaking a big return several times this year but have fallen victim to a missed assignment or taken a penalty.
"We have been working so hard," said McMann. "Tim has been studying so much film.
"Finally we were able to get something for him. I don't know of a returner I have dealt with that works as hard as he does."
Head coach Mike Benevides said Browns' touchdown has removed some pressure from the return team. He expects more improvement when the Lions play the Alouettes Thursday in Montreal.
"They have been working extremely hard and getting a lot of criticism," said Benevides.
"Tim takes so much pride in what he does. Those guys did a great job blocking. You gain confidence, you start not pressing so much. You play the way you need to play."
Rolly Lumbala, one of the special teams leaders, said the Lions need to be more consistent.
"We just have to hold on one more second on our blocks," said Lumbala, who also leads the Lions with 10 special teams tackles. "That's really the difference.
"It's not that we don't know our assignments. It's just the actual effort to give that chance to succeed."
At five-foot-eight and 190 pounds, Brown isn't going to run over many tacklers. He uses his speed to slip through holes opened up by his blockers. He is averaging 6.5 yards on punt returns and 21.6 yards on kickoffs.
The Lions experimented using speedy wide receiver Korey Williams as a returner for two games but when his numbers failed to impressed they went back to Brown.
"I rooted for Williams as much as I could," said Brown, who was a West Division all-star last year after leading the division with a career-best 2,687 all-purpose yards. "He's a heck of a player.
"It's a business. I don't think anyone really enjoys the business side of sports but it's part of the game. You have to deal with it."
The Lions are not the only team having trouble on their return game. League statistics show the average punt return so far this year is 8.1 yards. That compared to 10.2 yards last year.
McMann said teams are putting faster players on punt-return defences and punters are keeping the ball away from the returners.
"They are punting the ball all over the place," he said. "It's really difficult."
Brown said the special teams performance against Calgary "was huge," but just the first step.
"It gives you more to work on for the rest of the season," he said. "It was definitely a confidence booster for us.
"We still haven't played our best football yet."
Lumbala said the return game becomes even more important as the season progresses.
"It's the second third of the season, we all need to pick it up," he said. "We have one heck of a returner back there. It's on us to make him shine. If you give him a chance he will make a play."
|October 25, 2014||@||Winnipeg||4:00 pm PDT|
|November 1, 2014||@||Edmonton||4:00 pm PDT|
|November 7, 2014||.||vs.||Calgary||7:00 pm PST|