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CFL’s defensive coaches ready for challenge of new rules aimed at boosting offence

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Defensive co-ordinators in the Canadian Football League are keenly aware of how important it is to win championships and sell tickets.

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Like other fans of the game, they are happy to see plenty of points scored. Against other defences. So they view the recently announced rule changes — most aimed at increasing offence and scoring — as a necessary evil.

“You can see it from a company standpoint, and when I say company I mean as far as the CFL goes, you can definitely tell it’s a thing to enhance viewership and people in the stands,” said B.C. Lions defensive co-ordinator Ryan Phillips. “We understand we have to do things to keep people in the seats. The general public sometimes doesn’t want to see a 20-17 game. They want to see high-scoring and high-impact plays. So I get it from that perspective.”

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The CFL’s board of governors approved a rule that will see the hash marks moved eight yards closer together, ostensibly to put the wide side receiver in play more often by reducing the length of the throw. Drives will start at the offensive team’s 40-yard line rather than 35 following an opponent’s successful field goal or single. Teams will be allowed to deploy two quarterbacks in the game at the same time. And all no-yards penalties will be 15 yards, causing teams to respect the five-yard halo more often and perhaps increase the frequency of big returns.

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We asked three DCs about some of the changes that will affect their defences:

Hash marks

Corey Mace – Toronto Argonauts

“It’s going to change the game a little bit in how the offences attack and for defences, how we have to respect everything now on the field. Not to say defences didn’t necessarily before, but more players will be playable now that we tightened up the hash marks and opened up the field of play. It might change a little how you react defensively to certain formations and personnel-wise it should be interesting.

“It’s not an easy throw. In years prior there were only a few quarterbacks who had the arm to throw that on a regular basis. There are good defensive backs out there and the ball is travelling for a lot longer than you’d like. It’s a little bit of a risk/reward throw. Now with the hash-marks tightened up, it’s a shorter throw.”

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Phillips

“At the end of the day, you have to play football and everything starts with the quarterback anyway. Regardless of field side, you have to affect the quarterback. If he’s at liberty to sit back and throw the ball, regardless of the field side he’s going to be accurate and precise and more effective. The hash marks play a bigger role in the sense of maybe how you balance out your personnel; having guys be in position to cover in a lot more space.”

Brent Monson – Calgary Stampeders

“It’s definitely going to create more of a middle-of-the-field thought process for us as defensive coaches. So it’s going to be more of those kinds of snaps. Creating more space also creates a longer throw to the boundary. So I’m not necessarily sure exactly how it’s going to play out consistently, but you have to think that sometimes the boundary is an easier throw.

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Two quarterbacks

Mace

“It’s another risk/reward for the offensive guys. If they want to take a true playmaker off the field to bring on another quarterback and not run a gadget play, that’s up to you. I think it’s something that on the defensive side of the ball we’re going to have to respect it and again it’s going to bring more creativity to the league, which is maybe a cool element. We’ll see if it’s something that sticks. As a fan of the game, I’m just interested in seeing how that’s going to look. Myself and my staff and players are going to be interested to see how we can defend those kinds of sets.”

Monson

“Any of the athletic quarterbacks, once there’s two on the field, right away you have to take into account the potential for gadget plays. So that’s going to be a point of emphasis depending on the team we play. I’ve always tried to take into account which receivers in the league were ex-quarterbacks on the roster. Who am I playing, because some offensive co-ordinators get very creative. But now, you’re going to see that two quarterbacks are on the field, so it’s something you’ll have to take into account when seeing the personnel.”

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Phillips

“Will you see a wrinkle every now and then in the regular season? For sure. Some teams will be able to do it, those who have enough quarterbacks on the roster that they trust to be able to do those things.”

Five-yard field position changes

Monson

“All those rule changes for field position, we’ve got to embrace the challenge. We might have shorter fields sometimes. That’s just what it is. Even the no-yards stuff could create worse situations for the defences. It’s a field position game and you’ve got to be ready to have more two-and-outs. We’re ready for the challenge, man. I’m excited for it.”

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Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

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