McCallum's success raises questions about Lions' offence
The most consistent member of the B.C. Lions this season is also the oldest player in the CFL.
Placekicker Paul McCallum has been Mr. Automatic during a year where the Lions have sometimes struggled to find the right gear.
The 41-year-old, who grew up only blocks away from the team's training facility in Surrey, has kicked 21 straight field goals this season. He is getting close to Dave Ridgway's record of 28 in a row, but McCallum has a bigger goal in mind.
"It would mean something to me if I finished the rest of the year and didn't miss at all," McCallum said Monday after the Lions had a brief run-down.
"It means I have some more to go. I will take it one field goal at a time. We'll see what happens at the end of the season."
McCallum went four-for-four in the Lions 28-6 win over the Toronto Argonauts Saturday. The 19-year veteran has made 27 of 29 field goals this season.
He missed a 47-yard attempt in the opening game against Montreal, then was wide and about a yard short on a 57-yard try on the last play of a 34-32 loss to Calgary the following week.
Since then McCallum has been perfect. His consistency is one reason why the Lions have won four of their last five games and moved into third spot in the West with a 4-6 record.
"I'm just focusing on every kick, working on my rhythm and my timing," said McCallum, who joined the Lions in 2006 after 12 seasons with Saskatchewan. "Things just seem to be going well.
"I have just sort of found a little groove over the last few years that I seem to be able to get back into. I just want to keep going with that."
The 106 points McCallum has scored this year leaves him third in the league.
Montreal's Sean Whyte, who the Lions traded to the Alouettes prior to the season, leads with 117 points. Whyte recently saw his streak of 24 consecutive field goals snapped.
McCallum's 93.1 per cent average is the best in the CFL. Former Lion Lui Passaglia set the season record of 90.9 per cent in 2000.
While McCallum's numbers are impressive they raise some questions about the B.C. offence.
The longest field goal McCallum has made this year is from 46 yards, on three occasions. He's kicked 13 from 30 yards or less.
In the last five games, B.C. has battled inside the opponent's 20-yard line 20 times but come away with just eight touchdowns.
Wally Buono, the Lions' coach and general manager, admits his team is playing with fire.
"We're not talking about long field goals," said Buono. "We've been fortunate so far the last couple of games it hasn't hurt us.
"If you don't score touchdowns eventually it will catch up to you."
Quarterback Travis Lulay said the Lions must get better at scoring inside the red zone.
"Everything gets tight down there," said Lulay. "The defence knows what's at stake.
"Everything has to amp up a little bit when you get down there. No question, going forward we need to get better."
Lulay said having McCallum is like being dealt an ace when playing 21.
"We have a ton of confidence in Paul," said Lulay. "Realistically, that should help us play very confident football once we get down inside the 40-yard line.
"We know in a worst-case scenario we should get three out of the situation. You put a good drive together [and] come away with no points it can be a bit demoralizing."
Shorter attempts improves McCallum's chances of finishing the season perfect. He still believes he has the leg strength to hit field goals of 50 or more yards.
But Buono shook his head when asked if he thinks his kicker has that range.
"No, I don't," said Buono. "That's just being honest. If we have to, Paul will try it."
Pressed, Buono refused to say what he thinks McCallum's range is.
"I have a range I feel Paul is money and so far it's worked well," he said.
"It has to do with the wind, a lot of things. If we have a choice we are going to try and keep [Paul] in his comfort zone so he doesn't have to change his stroke and doesn't put the coverage in jeopardy."
McCallum will argue he already has beaten Ridgway's record. He ended the 2009 season with 14 straight field goals, then started 2010 by kicking 24 in a row before missing.
In the playoffs, McCallum has made 31 consecutive field goals dating back to 2004.
During his career, McCallum has been a West all-star four times and was an all-Canadian last season. He won the outstanding Canadian award in B.C.'s 2006 Grey Cup win when he was good on six of six field goals.
Off the field, McCallum is a real estate agent. He's not sure how long he will continue playing football.
"The way I feel right now I know I can play next year," he said. "We'll see how I feel at the end of next year.
"As long as I'm contributing, I'm still competing at a high level, I'm going to keep doing this. You don't get to do this forever, so I'm going to do it for as long as I can. Do I want to grow up and join the real world full time? Probably not."