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Marcello Simmons took over as the special teams coordinator for the BC Lions prior to the 2016 season and he immediately elevated the unit from good to great in his debut season. Following a successful playing career, Simmons entered the coaching profession in 2003 as the special teams coordinator with the Toronto Argonauts. He is as charismatic as he his knowledgeable, making him a favourite amongst the players.
“Training Camp is going good,” said Simmons on the work put in by the special teams unit in Kamloops. “Compared to last year at this point in time, I think we are more competitive, I think we are more aggressive and obviously we have a bigger team this year.”
Richie Leone brought many things to the BC Lions. He was handsome, southern, a fantastic punter and a great co-host of BC Lions Cribs. However, he was not always the world’s best field goal kicker. Leone is now competing for the starting punting job with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL and the Leos have a new man putting his toe on the pigskin in Swayze Waters.
Prior to getting signed by the Carolina Panthers in 2016, Waters was one of the most gifted and versatile kickers in the CFL. Blessed with the ability to convert 50-yard field goals while also possessing the rare gift of pinpoint accuracy as a punter, Waters figures to add a new dimension to the kicking game in BC this season.
Aside from his kicking acumen, Simmons believes Waters will bring leadership to the locker room, saying “Swayze is a veteran, he brings experience to the team. He has a powerful leg and he gets the ball high up in the air. He is a good football player. He definitely brings a veteran element to our team and a sense of calm.”
The Lions possess arguably the most explosive return man in football in Chris Rainey. The University of Florida product is fresh off his best season as a pro, averaging 13.9 yards per punt return and taking a pair of punts to the house. Rainman also returned 58 kickoffs for over 1,300 yards en route to being named a CFL All-Star.
When asked about the Leos’ electric returner, Simmons stated that “Rainman has come back and he is ready to work. He is ready to get back to business.” This is music to the Black and Orange nation’s ears, as Rainey was a key factor in the club making it all the way to the West Final in 2016.
It’s hard to imagine the Lions topping their performance last season on special teams, but the pieces are in place for the club to excel in the kicking game, the kick coverage game and the return game. It should be a fun unit to watch in 2017.
Mike Benson LS, Chris Rainey RET
Newcomers And Where They Came from
Ty Long K/P – Standing tall at 6’2 and tipping the scales at 215 pounds, Long is not your typical kicker. The UAB alum joined the Leos this offseason as a free agent. Long was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Washington Redskins in 2015, but was cut loose at the end of the preseason. He latched on with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016, but failed to make the regular season roster.
Swayze Waters K/P – The Jackson, MS product was inked as a free agent by the Lions this offseason. Waters began his CFL career with the Toronto Argonauts in 2012 and quickly established himself as one of the premier kickers in the league. He earned the 2014 CFL Outstanding Special Teams Player award after leading the league in scoring (192 points), field goals (47) and punting average (47.7).
The Elder Statesman
Mike Benson and Swayze Waters are both 30 years old, but Benson edges Waters as the Leos’ oldest specialist. The Winnipeg native was born five days earlier than the import kicker. Waters and Benson are also both entering their fifth season in the CFL, but once again Benson beats Waters as he has dressed in two more games.
The Big Question
Will the presence of Swayze Waters improve the Lions field goal kicking in 2017? As a team, BC converted 39 of 55 field goal attempts last season. That converts to a mediocre 71%. Waters spent 2016 trying to realize his NFL dream with the Carolina Panthers, but prior to that he was one of the premier kickers in the game. During his four-year run with the Toronto Argonauts, Waters connected on 80% of his field goal tries and averaged 46.9 yards per punt. He should provide consistency to the kicking game in 2017.
It Could Happen In 2017
Swayze Waters, Mike Benson and Chris Rainey could all potentially eclipse the 50 career games threshold in the early part of the 2017 season. Benson has been arguably the top long snapper in the league since arriving on the shores of Vancouver in 2014 and he enters the season with 48 CFL contests under his belt. Waters is also an experienced vet, as he has played in 46 career games. Rainey has a bit harder of a hill to climb, as he has to play all 18 regular season games this year to get to 50.
“We have all seen [Waters] punt before in Toronto, he can put the ball up there, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure he is going to make a name for himself as Mr. Consistent two, next to Paul McCallum. He can kick field goals really well too, so having a dual threat like that is great for any team. Swayze is going to put a lot of points on the board and he is going to pin a lot of teams deep, so that’s definitely what we need.” – Mike Benson on the potential impact of Swayze Waters.