BRITISH COLUMBIA

Stampeders won't give Tiger-Cats' returner Brandon Banks special treatment

11/27/2014 06:52 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - The Calgary Stampeders say Brandon Banks won't be getting any preferential treatment in Sunday's Grey Cup.

Seven days after torching the Montreal Alouettes for 226 punt return yards and two touchdowns in the CFL's East Division final, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' speedster will take the field at B.C. Place Stadium against a Calgary team that isn't planning on changing its kick coverage for one player.

"Play fast, play aggressive, cut him off, make him stop his feet," Stampeders linebacker and special teams ace Karl McCartney said of the keys to stopping Banks. "Obviously he's a speed guy, so once you make him stop his feet, his timing's off and we can catch up.

"But if he's allowed to run he's going to change the angles. The main thing is getting on top and trying to slow him down and trip him up."

Slowing down Banks — nicknamed Speedy-B — was something the Alouettes were unable to accomplish in the East final.

Apart from his two TD returns of 93 and 88 yards, Banks had another 78-yard run back negated by a penalty in Hamilton's 40-24 victory. The 226 yards were a playoff record, while the two punt return scores tied a CFL post-season mark.

Despite the gaudy numbers, the Stampeders don't plan on altering their scheme.

"We're going to try and play our game. We feel good about the guys we have covering kicks and the way that we do it," said Calgary special teams co-ordinator Mark Kilam. "Our guys are looking forward to the challenge.

"Brandon Banks is a special player, and not only is he making a lot of plays, the guys that are playing in front of him are doing a great job. We've got to be able to win our 1-on-1s against them and get into position to make a play."

The Stampeders defeated the Edmonton Eskimos in the West final and have a core group of veterans on their cover teams — including McCartney and Rob Cote — who have been through the battles and know what to expect on Sunday.

"Those guys have worked hard all year. They're leaders with what they do," said Kilam. "They play their roles very well, they understand their roles and that's why we've been successful."

McCartney said making Banks' life uncomfortable early in the championship game will be critical in setting the tone.

"You have to get on top, smack him good a couple times," said the Saint Mary's University product. "That might slow him down."

Cote said keeping Banks from getting into the open field will be key.

"We will try to hit him and smother him in coverage then there won't be much room for him," said Cote, who signed with the Stampeders out of junior football in 2007. "He's not a big guy. He's not a huge tackle breaker, but he's got a lot of speed. If you take away the space that's to our advantage."

Cote stressed that while Banks is a talented returner, the preparation is no different than any other week.

"He's not the only guy in the league that's a great returner. We see those guys all the time," he said. "We just approach it all the same way."

Added Kilam: "It's one of those dynamic positions on a roster and week in and week out we try to bring the same urgency, the same mentality."

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin said he expected the Stampeders to be ready for the threat Banks poses while emphasizing that his blockers will have to rise to the challenge.

"I don't think he's going to surprise Calgary," said Austin. "They're really good on defensive special teams. They cover well. And we've got a big challenge in front of us to continue to hold blocks and give Brandon a chance."

Banks, who also had three carries for 35 yards and four catches for 33 yards to finish with 294 total yards against the Alouettes, was allowed to touch the ball so much in the East final in part because of the kicking rules in the CFL that favour the return game.

Apart from the five-yard halo, teams are penalized for kicking the ball out of bounds in the air between the 20s, greatly impacting field position.

"It's a stiff penalty to kick the ball out of bounds," said Kilam. "If you're kicking it out of bounds you're maybe netting 20, 25 yards at the most. It's a tough way to go if you believe in the guys that are covering your kicks. You want to give them a chance to make plays.

"This league is set up for returns. It's a returner's league. The rules are set up that way, the field is set up that way. That's an exciting part of our game and I think it's a good thing that you can't kick the ball out of bounds. It forces people to play."

Calgary punter Rob Maver netted an average of 38 yards per boot in 2014 and said the coverage unit won't be intimated by Hamilton's five-foot-six 153-pound gamebreaker.

"You can't play the game scared because if you're worrying about somebody else you're not focusing on what you're doing," said Maver. "We have a lot of vets on our punt team and the young guys we have play fast, play aggressive.

"At this stage of the game it's about what you do and how you do it."

McCartney, who makes his living tracking down players of Banks' ilk, said Maver putting the ball in the right spot on the field can make all the difference.

"Kick placement means a lot," said McCartney. "If you kick to the sideline the lanes are a lot smaller, it's harder for (the returner) to get out."

It's always said that along with offence and defence, special teams is one third of the game, but McCartney still chuckled that so much focus has been put on the kicking game this week — mainly because of Banks.

"It's very important and it always has been," he said. "I don't know why this game we're getting all the credit, because every time we play the returner is the best player on the field and you always have to be ready because one move and they're changing the game.

"We can only do what we do. We can't have one guy changing our game plan so we're just going to keep playing the same way — play fast, play physical. That's it."