HAMILTON - There's no such thing as a sophomore jinx, as far as Chris Williams is concerned.
Playing with a full year of experience behind him has just made last year's CFL outstanding rookie even better.
"Getting a season under my belt, seeing exactly what it was like so even in the off-season getting ready for this year, I knew generally what to prepare for and how to get myself ready for the season," said the 24-year-old Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver.
Just three games into the 2012 season, he leads the league with five touchdowns — three of them on special teams. Last week against Toronto he busted loose on a punt return for an 89-yard score and again on a missed field goal for a 119-yard TD to propel the team to its first victory of the season. As a result he was named the league's special-teams player of the week.
Williams scored seven touchdowns in his entire rookie season.
The speedy product of New Mexico State, who measures in at five-foot-nine and 155 pounds, has been given an expanded role on special teams since the departure of Marcus Thigpen to the NFL in the off-season. Williams said he feels like he's getting better, if not speedier.
"I feel like I just know more, so I can do what I need to do maybe a step quicker and not necessarily by me being faster," he said. "I might be. I haven't timed myself."
Special teams have been an exciting part of the game for the league early in the season, with seven TDs scored thus far. Last year, there were a total of eight special teams touchdowns scored in the entire season.
Hamilton's special teams coach Jim Daley says he doesn't have an answer as to why there have been so many touchdowns this year, and that these things often happen in cycles (there were 18 in 2010). But he does know that CFL teams, especially the Ticats, are working more and more on the play of special teams.
"Our guys are working hard to block," he said. "They know we have a guy who can be effective as a returner and they're pretty excited about doing it as a group. League-wide, we have a lot of good returners and we play on a big field. I think teams around the league are giving a tremendous amount of time to the return game and trying to capitalize on the big field."
Williams has now scored touchdowns off of punt returns in two consecutive games. Next up is Montreal, who comes to town Saturday night with a 2-1 record after a dramatic come-from-behind win against Calgary.
Montreal scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes to beat the Stampeders 33-32 last week, thanks in large part to an interception thrown by Stamps pivot Kevin Glenn, who was traded to Calgary from Hamilton for quarterback Henry Burris in the off-season. Three Alouettes were named CFL players of the week for that effort — quarterback Anthony Calvillo (offensive player), Jerald Brown (defensive player) who made that interception and returned it to the one-yard line, and linebacker Shea Emry (Canadian).
Calvillo is the league's leading quarterback (942 passing yards for seven touchdowns and two interceptions) heading into Week 4, but the Montreal defence has sputtered. They’ve given up an average 33.3 points per game. That’s sixth in the league, ahead of only Hamilton (36.3 points) and the winless Winnipeg Blue Bombers (38.7).
They'll get a boost, however, with the reported return of veteran DB Dwight Anderson, who missed two games with a fractured finger.
The Ticats are 1-2 and a win would put them in a three-way tie for first in the East Division with Montreal and Toronto, who beat Winnipeg 25-22 on Wednesday night. Plus they would hold an early edge in the tiebreaker race against both teams.
Hamilton's Burris, meanwhile, is third in passing with 824 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. But the Ticat defence also continues to struggle. Its 424.6 yards allowed per game is second-highest in the league, and it has managed a league-worst one interception and just two quarterback sacks.