It's too early to write off B.C. Lions kicker Paul McCallum
Moments after the B.C. Lions suffered their first loss of the 2012 Canadian Football League season on July 14 in Saskatchewan, radio talk shows and the Twitterverse were full of people suggesting veteran kicker Paul McCallum had passed his best-before date.
The 42-year-old missed two of his four field-goal attempts against the Roughriders, and both of the failed efforts punished the Lions as return man Tristan Jackson brought one back 60 yards (which resulted in a field goal) and took the other 129 yards for a game-changing Saskatchewan touchdown.
Both missed kicks came in the second half, when the Lions had a chance to take control of the football game.
However, instead of putting points on the board, the Lions watched the Riders turn the missed field goals into 10 points of their own. There is no doubt those two plays were major turning points in Saskatchewan’s 23-20 victory.
But those pointing the finger at McCallum shouldn’t make a big deal of his age. The guy didn’t get old overnight, and last year he had the greatest field goal–kicking season in the history of Canadian football, earning special-teams player-of-the-year honours and becoming the CFL’s all-star kicker. Simply put, it’s ridiculous to make age the issue.
McCallum certainly needs to be better than he’s been through three games this season—but the same can be said for almost every member of the Lions, despite the fact they’re sitting with a 2-1 record.
That he has already missed three of his 12 field-goal attempts in 2012 just reinforces how ridiculously good and consistent he was last season.
But whether he’s 42 years old now or 22, it was going to be impossible for McCallum to kick the way he did last year, when he missed only three attempts all season—he went a mind-boggling 50 for 53 (94.3 percent)—and was flawless from inside 40 yards.
McCallum’s first miss against the Riders was from 45 yards out, and it can be forgiven because kicks of that length are never a sure thing. But the second miss was from a very manageable 40 yards and would have drawn the Lions into a 16-16 fourth-quarter tie and given them momentum that, perhaps, they could have ridden to victory. That’s a kick McCallum has to make.
Sure, the coverage team has to find ways to get downfield to make a tackle to prevent a huge return in the event of a miss. But much of the responsibility falls on the right foot of McCallum, who should have split the uprights and never brought Jackson’s electrifying return into the equation.
McCallum was a remarkable insurance policy for the Lions’ offence last season, virtually guaranteeing three points any time the Leos marched the ball into enemy territory. That hasn’t been the case in the early going this season, and it’s certainly something that must be monitored.
McCallum has earned every benefit of the doubt that he can continue to provide the Lions with competent kicking, but he needs to return to the form he demonstrated so capably a season ago.
Whether it’s technique, confidence, or finding a rhythm with a new holder, he has to iron out the kinks that have troubled him in the early going. But don’t suggest for a second that at 42 he’s too old to get the job done. There will come a time when age is an issue, but that time is not now.
Whitecaps also face challenges
The B.C. Lions aren’t the only team having trouble converting with their feet these days. The Vancouver Whitecaps have been a terrific success story in the first half of their second season in Major League Soccer. And with their results in the early going, the Caps have positioned themselves perfectly to take a run at an MLS playoff spot.
But in order to make that happen, they’re going to need to score more than they have of late—and, in particular, they need someone other than impressive rookie Darren Mattocks to find the back of the net.
On a recent five-game road trip that ended with a 1-0 loss in Chicago on July 14, the Caps managed just three goals—and two of them came in a disappointing last-second setback to league laughingstock Toronto FC.
With three goals in five games—all three, by the way, scored by Mattocks—it’s hardly a surprise the Whitecaps managed just one victory. They scored another two in a tie against the L.A. Galaxy on July 18.
Under first-year head coach Martin Rennie, the Caps have quickly established themselves as a team with solid defensive structure and one that is difficult to play against. But without the ability to score more than sporadically, it places too much pressure on the goalkeeper and the defenders. It also makes it difficult to dig out of a hole in the event the opponent opens the scoring.
Just past the midway mark of the season, the Whitecaps are the second-lowest-scoring team currently holding down an MLS playoff position, having managed 23 goals in their first 21 games this season.
Only eight of those goals have come on the road, and that’s an issue because there is a very strong possibility the Caps will have to open the playoffs away from home—if they get there.
The recent trade of veteran Sebastien Le Toux and his four goals to New York Red Bulls leaves Mattocks leading the team with his six markers and no one else on the roster with more than three.
The recent addition of Scottish striker Kenny Miller was made to address the offensive woes, but it has yet to be seen how effective he will be.
The Whitecaps have done so many things well this season, but goal-scoring hasn’t been one of them. It would be a shame to see the first-half success slip away due to a lack of finish.
The team has come an awfully long way in just a year, but it’s clear for all to see that it still has plenty of work to do.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter @patersonjeff.