Thursday, 31 May 2012

Cats Open Camp

It may only be the rookies until Sunday, but today means one thing: Football is back!

The CFL off-season is the longest of any of the five major North American sports leagues, but it feels like yesterday that I watched the Ti-Cats lose the East Division Final to Winnipeg. That loss led to an off-season of changes, all of which have been dissected, debated and dissected again. That was fun, but now the real fun is about to get starter.

Everything that happened from the end of last season and until yesterday was the dinner roll on the side of your plate. Today we got our first taste of the meat and potatoes, and boy does it taste good.

Our long winter is over; it is football season once again.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Training Camp Preview: Special Teams

With training camp about to start (rookies report today, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, we end the series by looking at special teams.

Whether it was Justin Medlock last season or Marcus Thigpen the season before, the Ti-Cats have been blessed with some amazing special teams play the last couple of seasons. But both of those players are gone; Medlock signed with the Carolina Panthers and Thigpen used the option-year window in his contract to sign with the Miami Dolphins. Replacing the two of them won't be easy, but it must be done.

On the kicking front, the Cats will have a two-man battle between Luca Congi and Josh Maveety. Australian Josh Bartel was brought in as a punter, but I don't think his job is secure by any means. It's always nice to have one player do both jobs to free up another roster space, so if Congi or Maveety impresses enough on both ends, the Cats will go with one kicker. But if Bartel is head and shoulders above the rest, the fact that he counts as a non-import is a huge plus.

At returner, there are no clubhouse leaders, but the team has more than a few options. A couple of guys who are in the mix are rookies Chevon Walker and Chris Duvalt. Both possess tremendous speed, which is an obvious asset in the return game. Terry Grant is another guy who could contribute at returner, but the gruesome leg injury he suffered in Montreal last season is not fully healed, so he will not be ready for the start of the season. The team signed Deon Murphy to compete for a spot at kick returner as well. And watch out for Sam Giguère. He has experience returning kicks and punts, and should the team wish to ease him back into the Canadian game after four years away, they could do so by using him as their returnman at the start of the season.

The final area, and often the most underreported area of any football team, is the kick coverage unit. The Tiger-Cats coverage unit has been superb the past couple of seasons, and with the return of ace special teamer Ike Brown, expect that unit to continue to excel.

There are a lot of question marks surrounding Hamilton's special teams this year, and training camp is going to decide a lot of battles. There will be a lot of new faces on special teams in 2012.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Team Leaders Needed for Toronto-based CFL franchise

Normally I keep it 100 pre cent Ti-Cat around here but sometimes stories about other teams require me to comment. I especially like to comment when that team is the Toronto Argonauts.

Argo defensive back and linebacker Willie Pile announced his retirement today. Pile spent the last five seasons with the Argos where he was universally regarded as one of the team's best players. Pile is just the latest Argo veteran to leave the team this off-season. The Argos have already dealt with:
That brings the tally of veterans to depart the good ship Argonaut to seven, and it's not just what these players brought on the field, but off it as well. Sure, some of them the team let walk away, but that still doesn't mean their departures won't be felt. Every single one of those players could be classified as a team leader and losing all them at one time creates a leadership void that the Argos will have to address.

Ricky Ray is a natural choice to assume a leadership role, but he can't be the only one. Guys like Ricky Foley, Kevin Huntley and Jason Pottinger are going to have become even more vocal; Cory Boyd, Chad Owens and Andre Durie are going to have to step up and assume leadership roles as well.

Every team loses veteran players, but rarely does such a mass exodus occur at one time. The Argos have Grey Cup aspirations, and if they are to come close to reaching those expectations, new players are going to have to step up and become leaders sooner rather than later.

Training Camp Preview: Secondary

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the secondary.

I promised that I would do two today, so after the earlier post about the linebackers, it's time to turn our attention to the final defensive group.

Probably no group of players was more scrutinized last year that the Tiger-Cat secondary. No matter what mix of players the team put out there, it seemed like they just couldn't bring it all together. The unit got better as the season went on, but they never fully gelled. But coming back this year are a group of players that could form the nucleus of a good secondary.

The only sure thing in the secondary is uncertainty. Ryan Hinds is the only player likely to be guaranteed a starter's role, with everything else being up in the air. Milt Collins is the presumed starter at safety, but I remember Carlos Thomas excelling in that role late in the season. I mean, the guy hits like a truck – just as Geroy Simon – which is a great skill to have when playing safety.

Dee Webb, who was brought over in the trade that sent Maurice Mann to the Argos, is a guy to keep an eye on. He was given a contract extension in the off-season, so the team sees something in him. Getting to be with the team in training camp will give Webb a chance to start off on the right foot. He could end up being the player that makes the biggest impact in the secondary in 2012.

Two other youngsters to keep tabs on are Woodney Turenne and Marcell Young. Both looked good in spots last season, and another year of growth could see them produce some big things.

Another player returning to the fold is the often-vilified Bo Smith. I will admit that I did not like Smith when I first saw him play, but upon his return to from the New York Jets, he looked a lot better. Last year, despite leading the team with three interceptions, he seemed to regress back to the old Bo Smith. He was trying to return from an achilles injury suffered late in the 2010 season, so perhaps he can go back to the guy we saw in 2010 now that he has had over a year to recover.

The secondary was easily the target of the most vitriol last season. But the unit improved near the end of the season and with a full off-season and training camp for the players, the secondary could be the one area that we see vast improvement come from little movement.

Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the linebackers.

It looks like the Tiger-Cats will once again field the league's best linebacking group. It is almost unquestionable that Markeith Knowlton, Jamall Johnson and Rey Williams form the league's most intimidating trio of linebackers. Their accomplishments speak for themselves. While Williams and Johnson were division all stars last year, it was a bit of a down year for Knowlton. Injuries played a part in that, I fully expect him to bounce back and return to the form that made him the CFL's top defender in 2010.

Behind the three all-star-calibre starters are a plethora of talented, starter-quality backups. The Cats signed Kevin Eiben away from the Toronto Argonauts in what might turn out to be an important acquisition. If one of the starters was to go down, Eiben could fill in admirably. Ray Mariuz returns for another season of stellar special teams play and some spot defensive duty, and so is Ike Brown. Brown missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a knee injury in training camp last year, but after a year off, and with a contract extension, Brown looks poised to pick up where he left off in 2010.

The Tabbies also have two young guys worth watching in Patrick Jean-Mary and Byron Bullock. Jean-Mary was selected in the fifth round of last year's draft and Bullock played sparingly with the Roughriders two seasons ago and was on Hamilton's practice roster late last season. Both will make their biggest contributions on special teams this season, but they could be two players to keep an eye on for the future.

The Ti-Cats have very little to worry about when it comes to their linebackers. Even if one of the starters was to get injured, the team has enough talent backing them up to almost not miss a beat. This is one unit where most everything is set prior to camp. If everything goes as planned, the unit will be a dominant force once again.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Ozzie Hired as Special Teams Assistant

It's been a busy day for yours truly on the Tiger-Cat front. I have continued my daily looks at position groups as we head into training camp and the team had their yearly conference call for members of the media. You can hear the full audio over at the Scratching Post. If you'd rather not listen to the whole thing – it lasts about 35 minutes – Drew Edwards was kind enough to transcribe the points probably of most interest to fans.

The point that interested me the most was the announcement that Paul Osbaldiston has been hired by the team as an assistant special teams coach.

There is no better player to help out the new kickers than Ozzie. Bringing him back, especially this season, is a stroke of genius. He has been there to help whenever asked in the past, serving as a consultant last season, so it is about time the team put him on the coaching staff. If there is one player who knows about kicking in Hamilton, it's Ozzie. The Ti-Cats did the smart thing by bringing him in to help the kickers. Whichever player wins the training camp battle, be it Luca Congi or Josh Maveety, will have the honour of getting tutored by inarguably the greatest kicker in Tiger-Cat history.

Training Camp Preview: Defensive Line

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the defensive line.

Since I missed yesterday, I decided to double-up today and tomorrow. Earlier today, I looked at the offensive line, so now it's time to look at the defensive line.

Like the offensive line, the defensive line is an area of concern for more than a few people. After seeing Justin Hickman depart for the NFL and with the release of fan favourite Stevie Baggs, the Ticats look woefully thin along the front four. Much like the offensive line, I think this might be a tad overblown.

The team signed Greg Peach away from Edmonton in the hopes that he could replace Hickman (Baggs was still a member of the team when Peach was signed), so that means that the Cats only need to find one other edge rusher to compliment Peach. I thought that person would be Shawn Crable, and I turned out to be very, very wrong (Crable was released in mid May). The Cats will use training camp to find the gy to take the other end position.

In the middle, the Cats are actually pretty well stacked. The hope was that Arnaud Gascon-Nadon would be in the mix, but it looks like he has decided to return to Laval for his final season. Even without Gascon-Nadon, the Tabbies have Eddie Steele, Maurice Forbes and Robert Rose on the roster. I'd expect Steele and Rose to start, with Forbes as a backup.

The Ti-Cats have a fairly good track record when it comes to finding hidden gems along the defensive line. Khari Long (10 sacks in 2009), Garrett McIntyre (eight sacks in 2010) and Justin Hickman (13 sacks in 2011) were all unknown players when they signed with the Tiger-Cats. There could already be another diamond in the rough on the Hamilton roster. All the changes means that new players will be forced to step up. Whether they can or not will something worth watching over the course of the season.

Training Camp Preview: Offensive Line

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the offensive line.

With all the splashy acquisitions the team has made over the off-season, one area that still seems to concern many is the offensive line. Some of that has to do with injuries, but some of it has to do with concerns that the talent the team still doesn't have the players it needs.

I don't agree with the latter assessment. I think a line made up of Marwan Hage, Peter Dyakowski, Tim O'Neill, Belton Johnson and Brian Simmons, with Pascal Baillargeon and Cody Husbands as the top backups, is a strong one. It is definitely one that can get the job done. Since the team made few moves in the off-season to address the offensive line, they must feel they have the right mix of players.

Injuries, however, are always a concern. The team will enter the season with Hage attempting to come back from a knee injury that sidelined him after Labour Day and Dyakowski nursing some injuries. The word is that Hage is on schedule to return on time and the Dyakowski injury has gone mostly unreported, so it would seem injury concerns as they stand right now might be a tad overblown.

In any event, the offensive line will be worth watching at training camp and during the early portions of the season. The belief here is that there is enough talent up front for the team to be successful. I understand that not everyone sees it that way, but with a different offense and a lot of different players around them, the offensive line could be a pleasant surprise this season.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Training Camp Preview: Receivers

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the receivers.

If there is one unit I am most excited to see together, it is without a doubt the Tiger-Cats receiving corps. In my opinion, Hamilton is home to the most talented group of pass catchers in the entire league.

When the season ended, and before Hamilton made any moves, the Ticat receiving corps looked pretty solid. Dave Stala, Chris Williams, Bakari Grant and Aaron Kelly would have made for an excellent top four. Then the Cats brought back Terence Jeffers-Harris and that top four became an even scarier top five. Then they went out and signed two top-flight Canadians in Andy Fantuz and Sam Giguère. Now I look at the receiving corps and see seven players that are worthy of starting spots. Seven. The Ticats will have two players on the bench that could start for almost any other team in the league.

It will be difficult for Henry Burris to keep everyone happy, but this offense with these receivers has the chance to go down as one of the all-time greats in CFL history. We could see three or more players eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. We could see three or more players top 10 touchdowns. The possibilities are endless as to what this receiving corps can do over a full season. I am giddy (yes, giddy) just thinking about it.

My gut tells me the five starters to start the season will be Stala, Fantuz, Williams, Grant and Jeffers-Harris. I think Giguère will need a little time to get his feet wet and I think Kelly will be in tough to jump ahead of Williams, Grant or Jeffers-Harris. The team also has Chris Duvalt and the three receivers they signed earlier this week, Joe Collins, Michael Galatas and Deon Murphy. While all of them are talented and could impress enough to earn a roster spot, they are going to be in very tough.

The Ticat receiving corps is stacked and they are going to present countless matchup nightmares for opposing defenses all season. If everyone plays to their potential, there is no telling what these receivers will be able to accomplish in 2012.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the running backs.

Entering the off-season, running back was not something I thought would be an area that the Tiger-Cats would make a change. So when the Cats announced the signing of Martell Mallett and the subsequent release of Avon Cobourne, it came as a pretty big surprise, at least to me. Cobourne was a steady hand and respected leader, and it was surprising to see him let go.

So now the running game falls to Mallett. It would be unfair to expect him to be a leader like Cobourne because few players are; however, if he can provide the type of play that Cobourne did with a slight uptick in the stat department – say 1,700 total yards and 10-12 touchdowns – then it will have been a smart move to make the change. Some may disagree, but I think a running back's most important job is to pick up those three or four yards needed on second down to keep drives going. I love seeing backs break big runs, but I want to know that, when needed, he will put his head down and get those tough yards. Cobourne was able to do that, and Mallett will have to as well.

Aside from Mallett, the Ticats will once again rely on very little. Terry Grant proved last year that he can play, but an injury suffered in Montreal late last season means he will not be ready for the start of the season. That leaves rookie Chevon Walker as the only legitimate running back behind Mallett (Daryl Stephenson is listed as a running back, but is rarely used in that role).

The Tiger-Cats have been able to find talent at running back in the past. Before Cobourne, DeAndra' Cobb went from being the team's fourth-string running back to a two-time 1,000-yard-plus rusher. Hamilton seems to have an eye for running back talent, so should Mallett get hurt, I wouldn't be surprised if Walker stepped up to become the next running back plucked from obscurity to succeed in Hamilton.

The goal is for Mallett to be the team's runner, but he doesn't have to be Cory Boyd for the Ticats to be successful. Hamilton enters the season with one of the most explosive offenses in the entire league, which lessens the load on Mallett and the rest of the running backs. If the Ticats are able to get their running backs between 15-18 touches per game, I think that portends to a successful season.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

With training camp about to start (rookies report on May 30th, veterans on June 3rd) it's time to look at each position group as we head into the 2012 season. Today, it's the quarterbacks.

In short, this is Henry Burris' team. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Burris will be behind centre for the entire 2012 season. I still have some concerns over whether Burris can lead the team – no matter how hard I try I just can't shake the image of him skipping passes against the Argos last season – but he looks to be in good shape and perhaps the trade will motivate him to get back to being the player he was just two seasons ago. Reuniting with George Cortez gives me reason for optimism. Burris was at his best when he was working with Cortez, so my hope is that they rekindle that magic here.

Backing up Burris will be Quinton Porter. While I doubt he sees the field for any significant time, I do think 2012 could end up being the most important year in Quinton Porter's career. Porter and Burris are very similar quarterbacks, which means the offense that is going to be run this year will play to not only Burris' strengths, but also Porter's. It also doesn't hurt Porter that his new head coach is renowned for working with quarterbacks. This is the year that Porter will either take a step up in his development or be allowed to leave (he is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season).

The Cats will have two players vying for the third-string job in Tate Forcier and Sedrick Harris. There is no chance that either of them see the field after the final preseason game. They are both projects and developmental guys, and neither of them are ready to be put on the field. Forcier is the more well-known name, but the team signed Harris for a reason. The team released Jason Boltus because they thought both of these guys can play. While I think the edge goes to Forcier, counting out Harris would be foolish.

The only thing that really matters when it comes to the quarterbacks is whether or not Burris can bounce back from his terrible 2011 season. If he does, the Cats will be an elite team, possibly even a Grey Cup favourite; if he doesn't, and we find out that 2011 was the beginning of the end, then the team will be lucky to make the playoffs. Cautious optimism is how I'd define my attitude towards Burris. I think he can bounce back, and I hope he does, but I'll need to see him play before I put my full faith behind him. After the first month of the season, we should know whether or not Burris is back to being Burris.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Thoughts on Picking the All-Time Tiger-Cat Team

When the Ti-Cats announced their plans for the Final Season at Ivor Wynne Stadium almost two weeks ago, the part that I found the most interesting was how us fans will have a chance throughout the season to select players for an all-time Tiger-Cat team that will be unveiled during the final game on October 27th.

A couple of things popped into my head when it was announced. The first thing was that this is not going to be easy. Fans are going to have to narrow the field from 122 players down to 28. That means a lot of excellent players are going to be left off. Just look at receiver, for example. I count no less than seven guys – Hal Patterson, Garney Henley, Tommy Grant, Tommy Joe Coffey, Tony Champion, Earl Winfield and Darren Flutie – that could easily make the team (some might wonder my Tony Gabriel's name is missing, but I think he's more synonymous with the Ottawa Rough Riders than the Ti-Cats). Try and tell me which one of those players doesn't deserve to be on the team. They all do, but there is no way that all seven of them will get selected.

That brings me to the second thing that popped into my head: how will the team be comprised? With 28 spots for the taking, I imagine that 12 will go to offensive starters, 12 to defensive starters, one to Paul Osbaldiston (we all know he's the choice and kicker) and one to a kick returner (this could be where Winfield makes the team, taking him away from the receiver category). That is 26 total, which leaves two more spots. Could punter be one? Maybe coach? We won't know until the ballot is released at some point in June.

Perhaps the coolest thing that will happen during all this is that fans will get to become familiar with players from the past. I didn't take in my first Tiger-Cat game until the late 1980s, so there are plenty of players from the glory days that I never got to see play. Fans younger than I who didn't get to appreciate the players that drew me to the game, the Tony Champions and Earl Winfields, will not become fully aware of how great these players were. Picking the team will be a history lesson for some and nostalgia for others.

And, of course, there are the inevitable debates that are bound to spring up. Is it Danny McManus or Bernie Faloney at quarterback? Gerry McDougall or Troy Davis at running back? If coaches are involved, is it Ron Lancaster or Ralph Sazio or Al Bruno? That's what I mean when I say this is going to be no easy task. Find a reason for one, and someone will counter with two for another. Counter those two with two of your own and those will be counter with three more. Around and around it will go. The debates could end up being the most entertaining part about this whole process.

But regardless of who gets selected, I hope everyone has fun with it. In the end, there are no right or wrong answers. We are being tasked with picking the best of the best, which means there truly are no incorrect answers. Fans of all stripes (no pun intended) will not only get to debate who they think belongs, but also take a stroll down memory lane. Since celebrating the past seems to be the theme for this season, having the fans select an all-time team is a great idea.

Monday, 14 May 2012

What the Forcier Signing Means

In a bit of unexpected news, the Ticats have gone out and signed one-time Michigan starter Tate Forcier.

Being a diehard Notre Dame fan, I vividly remember Forcier leading the Wolverines to a thrilling comeback against the Irish in 2009. Notre Dame were up by four with 2:13 to go and Forcier led the Wolverines down the field for the winning touchdown with 11 seconds left to play. It was an amazing moment, and should have been the launching point for a stellar career. But injuries derailed his freshman year, and the Wolverines finished a disappointing 5-7 after a 4-0 start.

After that, Forcier took a back seat to another 2009 recruit, Denard Robinson. The man known as "Shoelace" took the starting gig from Forcier and never looked back. Robinson became firmly established as the quarterback of the Wolverines, even after Rich Rod was fired and replaced by Brady Hoke. Forcier then left Michigan, and after having a cup of coffee with San Jose State, was out of football altogether. It comes as a bit of a surprise that the Tiger-Cats would sign him.

In Forcier's favour is a skill set suited for the CFL. He can throw and isn't afraid to run, which are two big check marks in the positive column. But his physical tools have never been his issue; his problem has always been located above his neck. He was ruled academically ineligible for the 2010 Gator Bowl, and it is reported that the same issue led to his decision to leave San Jose State. Lucky for him, he won't have to attend class while playing for the Cats, but he will have to show a maturity and a caring for his craft that he has so far not shown.

The old saying goes "nothing ventured, nothing gained" and the Ti-Cats have nothing to lose by bringing Forcier to camp, but perhaps a lot to gain. The team is not resting its future on him, so allowing him to compete for a spot during training camp hardly hurts. But if he can revert back to the player we saw at the beginning of the 2009 college football season (which I understand is asking a lot), the Cats might have gained something significant.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ivor Wynne Memories

There will be a lot of looking back over the next several months with it being the final year of Ivor Wynne Stadium. I am sure we will see a lot of articles and hear a lot of conversations about what Ivor Wynne means to people. Last Word on Sports has already published an article, and Drew Edwards is seeking fan submissions to post on The Scratching Post blog. I am not immune to walking down memory lane. Over the course of the season, I plan on publishing several posts about some of my memories of Ivor Wynne.

Today marks the final season ticket pickup party to be held at Ivor Wynne. While this will only be my third trip to this event, it's something I have looked forward to every year. And no, not because of the free Swiss Chalet. Getting my tickets makes the season feel real. It means in about a month we'll be watching football once again. And with this being the last season any of us will watch games at Ivor Wynne Stadium, today's little shindig will carry a little more sentiment. I guess today is the first of the last, as it will be the last first trip I take to Ivor Wynne. While it's not for a game, it's till for something Ti-Cats related. For me, that's all that matters.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Timmies and Tabbies Team Up

When you think of Hamilton, the first few things you think of are steel, the Tiger-Cats and Tim Horton's. Since Arcelor Mittal Dofasco is already a Tiger-Cat sponsor, it only makes sense for the other two iconic Hamilton brands to partner up as well. Yesterday, that is exactly what happened.

The Tiger-Cats and local-area Tim Horton's have teamed up to help celebrate the final season at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The new "Final Season at Ivor Wynne Stadium" logo will be plastered on coffee cups, Tim Cards and donuts at over 200 locations in and around Hamilton.

The partnership with Tim Horton's is part of a larger campaign to celebrate the last year at Ivor Wynne. Former players will be at the stadium to sign autographs on game days, and tickets will feature iconic images of great moments that took place at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

But perhaps the coolest, and easily the most fan-interactive, part is the selection of the all-time Hamilton Tiger-Cat team. Starting in June, fans will be able to vote on the players that will make up the all-time team, and those players will be present at the regular-season finale against Winnipeg on October 27th.

It's going to be a sad day when the gates close for the final time, but the journey to get to that last game is going to be full of memories and excitement. I, for one, cannot wait.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Quinlan Signs With the Als

Despite going undrafted in last week's draft, Kyle Quinlan is getting his shot to play quarterback in the CFL. The 23-year-old McMaster product signed a deal with the Montreal Alouettes.

After leading McMaster to their first ever Vanier Cup championship last November, many thought Quinlan would be a shoe-in to get drafted. His performance in the championship game against laval was nothing short of amazing. It was the type of performance that gets players noticed. So when the six-round Canadian draft came and went last Thursday and Quinlan's name was not called it took some by surprise. Many felt that he at least deserved an opportunity, and now he will get one. Montreal bringing him in is not a PR move; Quinlan was brought in because the Alouettes feel he can compete for a job. The best he can hope for is to be named the team's third-string QB, with Anthony Calvillo and Adrian McPherson firmly entrenched as the Als' Nos. 1 and 2 QBs, respectively.

Hamilton is becoming something of a training ground for Canadian quarterbacks as Quinlan joins Brad Sinopoli as former Tiger-Cat training camp invitees who have found CFL homes, yet neither of them found homes in Hamilton. That might not be such a bad thing, especially where Quinlan is concerned. With him being a McMaster player, there might have been pressure from fans to get him on the field. That won't be the case in Montreal.

Quinlan beating out Ricky Santos and Josh Neiswander would do more for the future of Canadian quarterbacks than any rule change or ratio alteration ever could. I, for one, will be cheering for Quinlan to succeed.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Plesius, Petrus Get NFL Shots

Two recent Tiger-Cat draft picks are getting a chance to make it in the NFL.

Drew Edwards confirmed today what he reported last week that Offensive Lineman Moe Petrus, a 2011 second-round pick, was signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Petrus always had fringe NFL chances, and it was part of the reason he was still available in the second round of last year's draft. Now that he has signed with the Bucs, he will be out of the picture until the end of the summer.

The other Tiger-Cat to get a chance to make an NFL squad is 2012 second-round pick Frédéric Plesius. Plesius will attend the Philadelphia Eagles' mini-camp this weekend. He is not the only 2012 CFL draftee that will be attending, as Eskimo first-round pick Shamawd Chambers will also be in attendance. Plesius has just been granted an invite to a rookie mini-camp, and has not been offered a contract. While he could make a big enough impression over the weekend, it is still possible that he will be with the Tiger-Cats when training camp opens at the end of the month.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

New Ti-Cats Ad

The Ti-Cats debuted a new ad during Thursday's draft featuring linebacker Jamall Johnson. The ad is pretty cool, and getting to relive that Buck Pierce hit over and over again is always a good thing.

With this being the final season at venerable Ivor Wynne Stadium, I think these ads (I assume there will be more) strike the right note. I suspect a lot of the team's advertisments this season will focus on the history of the team and the stadium. If the same type of ads are shown throughout the season, these will be much better than last season's mediocre "In Your Own Backyard" ads.

And I don't know about anyone else, but this gets me even more pumped for the upcoming season.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Ti-Cats Draft Thoughts

Putting grades on a draft that is less than a day old is a bit silly. We won't know how good these players will be until we've actually seen them play a few games.

That said, if you look at the Tiger-Cats draft class, it's hard not to get excited. They addressed some of the needs they had, found great value with their picks, gained some immediate help and positioned themselves well for the future. The front office played the draft game like a fiddle, and if their players pan out as expected, this could be one heckuva draft haul.

They addressed immediate needs at offensive line (Carson Rockhill) defensive line (Arnaud Gascon-Nadon), and at receiver (Simon Charbonneau-Campeau); they grabbed a top-five player with the 10th pick (Frédéric Plesius); and they selected some futures (Courtney Stephen, Michael Atkinson, Bo Palmer) to help them down he road. It was a masterfully executed draft strategy, with the steals coming with Plesius and Charbonneau-Campeau selections. Kudos to the Tiger-Cats front office for a job well done.

With the draft over, we can all turn our attention to the start of Training Camp, which, believe it or not, begins later this month. It seems like only yesterday I was watching the Grey Cup, and now it's almost time for the season to start.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Cats to Trade First-Round Pick

According to always reliable Dave Naylor, the Ti-Cats have a tentative deal in place to trade the third-overall pick in the draft to Winnipeg for their eight and thirteenth overall picks. This would mark the second year in a row that Hamilton has dealt their first pick (last year, the traded it to Edmonton).

Trading the pick doesn't surprise me at all, and doing so is a smart move. There is no obvious need that could be filled with the third pick, so trading down and getting additional picks is a no-brainer. The trade is still contingent on a player being there that Winnipeg wants, so it could still fall through. But if the deal happens, it is a great move by team.

Changes to the CFL Draft

It's Draft Day, Draft Day, getting down on Draft Day. Everybody looking for to the first pick.

Sorry about that.

Anyway, today is the 2012 CFL Draft. The draft has grown in stature over the last couple of years, and the league has made great strides to make the draft a must-see event for fans. But there are a few things that the league should consider doing to make the draft an even bigger event.

The first thing is to move the date back to the weekend. The last couple of years saw a Sunday afternoon start time, yet the league moved the draft to 3:00PM on Thursday. Most fans will still be at work at that time, making them unable to watch the draft. By putting the festivities on television, the league and its television partner TSN, want to maximize viewership. Drafts are no longer niche products; they are mainstream events that interest even some casual fans. By holding the draft on a Saturday or Sunday, more people can enjoy it.

My next idea is to take the draft out of the TSN studio. The NFL holds their draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York; the NHL and NBA host theirs in arenas, rotating them between teams; the CFL could do something similar. Take the draft on the road and alternate between the eight, soon to be nine, CFL cities. There are numerous places in each city that could host the event, and it would be a great way to engage fans while add another revenue stream.

One of the aspects of the CFL Draft that has always bugged me is the eligibility rules. The CFL allows for players that still have university eligibility to be drafted, and that needs to change. The CFL should adopt similar rules to the NFL where a player can only be drafted if he no longer has any college eligibility left or if he voluntarily leaves early to enter the draft. In light of recent examples that have seen teams waste high draft picks, the CFL would be wise to alter their eligibility requirements sooner rather than later.

Those are three changes that I would like to the see the CFL make to the draft. I am sure there are plenty others and I'm curious if anyone has any ideas of their own.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What Hamilton Might Do Tomorrow

While we all come down from the high of the Sam Giguère signing, we turn out attention to tomorrow's big event: the 2012 CFL Draft.

Over at Examiner, I looked at what the Ti-Cats might do with their first-round pick, so I won't go into that here. But what about their other draft picks? What could the Cats do to help bolster what is shaping up to be a very stacked roster?

A lot will depend on what they do in round one, but I expect the draft to heavily feature both Offensive and Defensive Lineman. Those are the areas of most concern for the Cats. Even if the team takes an offensive or defensive lineman in round one, it doesn't preclude them from taking more in later rounds. Bolstering the lines if of the utmost importance, so I could see Hamilton using half of their draft picks on players along the lines.

With Sam Giguère now signed, I would think that takes Receiver completely off Hamilton's draft board. But with so few holes to actually fill, the Cats could take a flyer on someone in the late rounds and hope they pan out. The team is not thin at Receiver, but it never hurts to add players to that position.

Lastly, we have Kyle Quinlan. The topic of Canadian Quarterbacks has been hotly debated this off-season, and Quinlan is the main reason. A lot of Quinlan's hype came after he put up that masterful performance in the Vanier Cup against Laval, and he has kept that momentum going throughout the draft process. He may be a marginal prospect, but he is one that holds a lot of intrigue. Quinlan participated at Ti-Cats Training Camp last season and he plays at McMaster, so it is natural that he would be linked with the Tabbies. I could see him going to Hamilton in the fifth round.

The Ti-Cats are in a very fortunate position entering the draft this season. They don't have a ton of holes to fill; they selected mostly futures last season, many of which will be coming to camp this year, so they can afford to take chances. We'll see what they do starting tomorrow at 3:00PM.

Finally! Giguère a Ti-Cat

It took nearly four years, but the long journey of Sam Giguère to the CFL is finally over. The Ti-Cats announced this morning that the former Sherbrooke product has signed a deal with the team.

It is nice to finally have an ending to this long saga. I posted a while back that I was suffering from Giguère fatigue, and that I didn't care how this ended as long as it ended.

Today, it ended.

Now the questions arise as to what does this mean for the Cats. Hamilton now has a lot of options to consider, and getting Giguère's name on a contract creates one of those good problems that teams like to have. It will be interesting to see what the team does now that they have have finally secured Giguère's services.

At long last we can finally say: Welcome to Tigertown, Sam.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Look at the New Uniforms

After months and months of speculation, we finally know what the uniforms will look like.

For the most part, I like them. I really like that the team has given a tip o' the cap to the history of the franchise with some of the changes they've made. I like the return of stripes on the sleeves, and the gold numbering and lettering on the home jersey. I like that they did the contrasting sleeves on the away jersey (that is a holdover from the last jerseys).

The only complaint I have is that I would have liked to see white sleeves on the home jersey, if just to change it up a bit. The jerseys are very black. That said, they look quite good in person. I think the team and Reebok did an excellent job.

I have seen the other uniforms, and I think the Cats and Argos are the best. Winnipeg's look good, if a bit busy, and Montreal's look the exact same (there might be some slight changes, but I don't see them).

Tomorrow, the West Division teams will unveil theirs, but as of now, I think Hamilton slightly edges out Toronto for best looking new uniforms.