Kevin Bourgoin had seen snippets of Canadian Football League games on TV while growing up in Vermont. And he had naturally undergone a crash course on the three-down game the moment he landed a gig as running backs coach with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
But nothing could have prepared the former receiver and long-time offensive coach in the NCAA for his first in-person glimpse at the ‘Waggle’ in action back in the spring of 2017.
“Before I came up here for my first job, I had watched some games on TV and then LaPo (former offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice) sent me a video of the Banjo Bowl when I got hired,” said Bourgoin in a recent chat with bluebombers.com. “And yet when I first got here, I was coaching running backs and the first couple of practices my eyes should have been on Andrew (Harris) and the running backs. But they were wide open looking around and I’m thinking, ‘Why are all these receivers buzzing around and moving around so much?’”
The ‘Waggle’ is one of the most unique aspects of the three-down Canadian version of football and for those new to it – primarily the American receivers and coaches who venture north – it can be as foreign as the metric system and yet as tasty and satisfying as a diving into a big helping of poutine for the first time.
“When I first got up here the Waggle, aside from the bigger size of the field, was the biggest adjustment I had to make as a coach,” said Bourgoin. “The amount of movement you have pre-snap for the guys coming up from the U.S. is a shock. And once guys understand it, get it and use it to their advantage it is an unbelievable weapon.”
What the ‘Waggle’ is and how it works is the subject of our second ‘Inside the Game’ series, a new feature on bluebombers.com which aims to give fans – both old and new to the game – a bit of a peek behind the curtain or provide answers to some commonly-asked questions.
Previous Inside the Game: The ‘No Yards’ rule
In the American game, a receiver or running back can be in motion horizontally along the line of scrimmage and a player moving toward the line of scrimmage must be set before the ball is snapped. Those restrictions don’t apply in Canadian football, where all offensive backfield players may be in motion, as long as they are behind the line of scrimmage at the snap. That motion, either laterally or toward the line of scrimmage, was believed to be first called the ‘Waggle’ in the 1980s by Don Matthews as a play on words on receivers wiggling. FYI, Matthews later retired as the winningest coach in CFL history before being surpassed by Wally Buono.
What that pre-snap motion does is allow offensive players the chance to gather more speed toward the line of scrimmage going forward as the ball is snapped rather than starting from a set position or moving horizontally along that line. Couple that with the longer and wider field and it is gives the offence a chance to be so much more creative in route running.
“Funny thing is, I also still think it’s under-utilized,” said Bourgoin. “I don’t think all guys use it as much as they can or should be. Certain guys don’t understand why or how this can be such an important tool for them to make them a better receiver.”
“When I was coaching receivers in the States a big teaching point to avoid getting jammed by a defensive back at the line was, ‘Know what you’re doing before people get hands on you. If you’re good enough with your releases and your feet, you should be able to get off the ball without them being able to get their hands out, without them being able to jam you.’ That’s when you’re on the ball and there’s a guy across from you.
“Up here, not only is there a Waggle, but you also get a yard (defender has to be a yard off the line of scrimmage). So, you even have more space up here before the Waggle. Add on the Waggle and you got a guy running full speed at the defender, so you’ve got to worry about this vertical acceleration coming at you.
“To me, it’s an extension of your route and it is such an advantage.”
The biggest advantages of the Waggle, besides the ability to avoid being jammed by a defensive back at the line of scrimmage, is how it allows a receiver to control how he can set up a defender. As a result, there are many, many, many variations of passing routes in the CFL game as a receiver uses that speed and angles.
“As a receiver, whatever way I want to get you to move your feet or move you away from where I’m going, I can do that with a Waggle,” Bourgoin said. “If you’re playing man (defence) on me… I’ve got a route I’m running, and I can go inside or outside, but I want to get you moving opposite of where I’m going. I might do it by running right at you and make it look like I’m going out and then go in. It’s all about leverages.”
The trade-off is this: receivers will run so much more over the course of a CFL game – especially with the smaller rosters compared to the NFL and NCAA – that overall fitness is just as important as speed and route-running.
“Even before guys come up here, I tell them they have to understand the physical condition they have to be in,” Bourgoin explained. “Think of it this way: if there are 65 offensive reps in a game, add on 5-10 yards on every single route that you run. The volume you have to train for before you even come up here is a big deal. The first couple of years I was here I can remember seeing a crazy amount of receivers who would break down in camp because they weren’t used to the amount of running – not so much the speed, but the volume. I’d have so many guys early on say, ‘Coach, don’t worry. I’m in great condition.’ And I’d be like, ‘I’m just telling you… it’s different.’ And then halfway through camp they’d come up and say, ‘Coach… this is crazy. You were right. I’ve never done this much running before.’
“Here’s another thing to consider: that 12-yard hook route you ran in the States is now a 22-yard route because you’re 10 yards behind the ball. Plus, you’re running it at full speed if you’re a good Waggler. When you get to 19-20 yards on that 22-yard route, you are flying. Physically you’ve got to get used to breaking down, putting on the brakes, then getting out of your break and then coming back to the quarterback. So many guys when they’re doing it their timing is off, or their footwork is off because of the clock they had in their head after running that route so many times is off. Some of these guys could run the route with their eyes closed because there’s a feel for it. All of a sudden, they get up here and that feel is gone.”
Interestingly, while Canadian receivers grow up learning how to use the ‘Waggle’ from the first moment they put on a helmet and shoulder pads, American pass catchers can also be a quick study in the concept and its advantages. And there’s no better example of that than Dalton Schoen, who had nailed the Waggle the first day he stepped onto the field for camp last year and by the end of the season not only led the league with 1,441 receiving yards and tied for the lead with 16 touchdowns, was also named a CFL All-Star and the Most Outstanding Rookie Player.
“What I love about the Waggle is it allows for so much creativity and expression in routes,” said Bourgoin. “We tell our guys, ‘Don’t be a robot. Come at it with an angle; come at it with a skip and then start going fast. Use it as an advantage.’
“Dalton Schoen was one of our best, if not our best Waggler last year. He had done his homework before he got here. Plus, what helps him is he plays full speed, he plays hard, and he plays fast.”