SPORTS

Ticats receiver Luke Tasker doesn't envy defensive players in CFL

10/02/2014 05:42 EDT | Updated 12/02/2014 05:59 EST
Luke Tasker is thankful he doesn't play defence in the CFL.

Many nuances of Canadian football — notably the unlimited motion and wider, longer field — can make for a fast, high-scoring game. The wide-open space is great news for offensive players like Tasker, a second-year receiver with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but creates no shortage of challenges for those who must cover them.

"I'd really hate to play defence up here," Tasker said. "I think it (Canadian football) is a disadvantage to defences.

"Now, it's three-down football so that gives the defence a little bit of an advantage back but I still wouldn't want to play there."

Tasker, 23, has been a quick study. The former Cornell star is Hamilton's leading receiver in yards (517) and TD grabs (three) and second in catches (44) this season. Not bad, considering the son of former Buffalo Bills receiver/special-teams dynamo Steve Tasker wasn't sure what he was getting himself into when he joined the Ticats on Sept. 17, 2013 after being released by the NFL's San Diego Chargers.

"I didn't know too much about (CFL)," he said. "I knew about the Grey Cup because that's a game that's always been televised in the U.S.

"I knew about some of the rules and there being 12 players on the field but I didn't know what to expect."

The five-foot-11, 191-pound Tasker started three regular-season games and two playoff contests last year, including Hamilton's 45-23 Grey Cup loss to Saskatchewan. He had 13 catches for 202 yards and a TD during the regular campaign before adding three receptions for 52 yards in the CFL title contest.

But the biggest adjustment for Tasker was dealing with the unlimited motion.

"The big thing is not only being able to time it up (hitting line of scrimmage when ball is snapped) but also making sure you use it to your advantage," Tasker said. "The field is bigger but sometimes you don't feel that extra space because of the extra man so the second thing for me was recognizing the defences because they look different up here regarding the contours of the defensive secondary."

But in Hamilton Tasker was reunited with head coach Kent Austin and offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell, who were Tasker's head coach and receivers coach, respectively, at Cornell. Tasker quickly became familiar with the Ticats' offence because they were using much of the same terminology he had in university.

"That was really a huge help," he said.

This season, Tasker has developed a nice chemistry with new Ticats starter Zach Collaros, whose arrival in the off-season made veteran Henry Burris expendable.

"Zach is very good in practice at getting what he wants from us so come gametime he knows we're running exactly what he told us to," Tasker said. "There's a level that's come with me and Zach but also Zach and the receiving corps.

"We're getting smoother and smoother every week . . . I guess it's a level of maturity we're getting to."

And following in the footsteps of his All-Pro father, Tasker is also contributing on Hamilton's special teams, including as a holder for kicker Justin Medlock.

"A great special-teams player is unselfish and cares about his team," Tasker said. "My dad was a very, very good player, especially on that third side of the ball.

"If you ask his teammates, they'd say he was an unselfish player who was tough and expected to make the play."

Hamilton hosts the B.C. Lions on Saturday having gone 4-1 since Collaros returned after missing five games with concussion-like symptoms. The emergence of a solid defence has certainly contributed to the resurgence but Tasker said Collaros deserves his share of the credit.

"It's never one thing and it's never one guy . . . but Zach is the starting quarterback," Tasker said. "You can't underplay how important that's been for us during this stretch.

"He's had a huge part in that."

Despite a dismal start, Hamilton controls its playoff destiny heading into the final third of the regular season. Following Saturday's game, the Ticats will play their final five contests against East Division rivals — two with arch-rival Toronto and Ottawa, respectively, and another with Montreal.

"I think a nine-team league is exciting," Tasker said. "I'm from Buffalo and it reminds me of Sabres games where they're playing the Maple Leafs and then two weeks later they're playing the Maple Leafs again.

"It's an excitement that doesn't happen in the NFL or college football. The second half of the CFL season, I think, is one of the best in sports."

Finishing first or second in the East would secure Hamilton a home playoff game, which is important considering the club is 3-0 at new Tim Hortons Field. The Ticats moved into the new facility barely a month ago but it immediately felt like home after having to play all last year's home contests in Guelph, Ont., and the first three of 2014 at McMaster University.

"It's nice to finally be able to walk out of your own locker-room and on to your own field and not feel like every game was somewhat of an away game," Tasker said. "It's clear Tim Hortons Field isn't an easy place to come into and win.

"It's a pretty cool thing to be part of because we've only had three games there but it's kind of already getting a reputation."

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