Saturday, 30 June 2012

Guess We Should Just Blow Things Up

So after getting hammered by the visiting Riders last night, the Ti-Cats are going to have to make some changes if they hope to get things back on track when they head west to take on the defending champs on Friday.

There were a lot of questionable decisions made by the team. For starters, the decision to dress just one running back was incredibly risky. Also, Walker looked great, but he's not an inside runner. Having Cobourne there to pick up those tough yards in between the tackles could have made a slight difference. The two should be used in tandem, with Walker's speed being used late in games when the opposing defense is tired.

Secondly, the decision to start Kevin Eiben did not work out. He was not a difference maker at all and I can't recall hearing his name called more than once or twice. I know the ratio is a factor, and I know that some say Knowlton has lost a step, but I can't imagine anyone would say Eiben was a significant step up. I don't know what the answer is, but head coach George Cortez did say that the ratio would be fluid, so he needs to figure out a way to juggle the lineup to get Knowlton back in there.

Thirdly, all those concerns about the lines still don't look like they've been addressed. On the defensive side, Durant faced very little pressure from the front four, but the Riders also made use of quick passes to negate any type of pass rush. Not being able to adjust to stopping Weston Dressler on those screens is more concerning that a lack of pressure on Durant, in my opinion, but the line will still need to be better if the team is going to be better. On the offensive side, Burris didn't have much chance to get settled in the pocket and this is where the decision to sit Cobourne may have had the biggest impact. The Ti-Cats don't have a fullback in the traditional sense of the word – Darcy Brown is listed as a fullback, but he didn't play that position until he was drafted by Hamilton – so the team needs a good blocking running back to help out from time to time. As good as Chevon Walker was last night, he's not the kind of blocker that Cobourne is.

Finally, the team traded away Glenn for Henry Burris so that they could open up the passing game with more downfield throws. But aside from the called-back bomb to Chris Williams, I do not remember more than a couple of passes that traveled in the air further than 20 yards. I know Saskatchewan's defense played well and that Hamilton's offensive line didn't give Burris much time to find someone deep, but the Ti-Cats still have to take their shots.

I, as much as anyone, bought into, and help propogate, the hype surrounding this team. I got excited based on what I saw out of the offense, Burris especially, during the preseason and training camp, and started to get a little ahead of myself. I know as well as anyone that when a team makes a boatload of changes, like the Ti-Cats did, things don't go smoothly right away. I still think this is a good team and one that is fully capable of finishing the first five weeks strong – though my hope of a 4-1 record at the end of July is pretty much down the toilet – so I'm not overly concerned with one terrible outing.

That said, the Ti-Cats do have to make some changes in order to get things on track. When a team loses by nearly 30 points, it's not just some tinkering that needs to be done. But one game does not define a season and while this one game was a terrible one, there will be better ones ahead.

Saskatchewan 43, Hamilton 16

Not exactly how many (any?) thought the Ti-Cats would start the final season at Ivor Wynne, was it? I have been in the stands when the team got crushed, but never have I been more surprised by a butt kicking as I was tonight. This is a brand new team, but it sure looks like the same Ti-Cat team we've been watching the last three seasons. Hamilton simply got hammered by the Roughriders.

Positives

I didn't know until I walked into the stadium that Avon Cobourne was a healthy scratch, but Chevon Walker made fans forget about "Deuces" rather quickly. Walker finished with 132 yards on seven carries and a touchdown, with most of them coming on a 89-yard run in the second quarter, and an additional 36 yards on three catches. I was one of the most impressive debut performances I have ever seen.

Sticking with the offense, Chris Williams put together a nice game with nine catches fro 109 yards. Those numbers would be higher if not for a penalty that whipped out a 97-yard touchdown catch. It seems like every week it is going to be a different receiver that will get open and this week it was Williams.

Staying with players named Williams, Rey Williams had an excellent game manning the middle. He finished with nine tackles and one sack, and was all over the field the entire game. Williams continued his solid play from last season when he led the team in tackles and was named an East Division All-Star. If he keeps putting up numbers like this, he'll be a two-time All-Star at the end of the season.

Negatives

I praised Rey Williams, but the rest of the defense was just terrible. When a defense gives up 43 points and 511 total yards, it was not a good day at the office. The Riders seemed to be able to do what they wanted when they wanted, especially when it involved Weston Dressler. Dressler tore up the Ti-Cat defense to the tune of 180 yards on 13 catches and three touchdowns. He did most of his damage on short screens that the Cats just did not know how to defend. It was a bad day all around for the defense.

The penalty on Peter Dyakowski that negated a Chris Williams touchdown that would have put the Cats up was arguably the turning point of the game. But that was just one of many mistakes on the night. The Cats racked up nine penalties for 65 yards and had at least a half dozen dropped passes. There were way too many mistakes by the Black & Gold.

Final Thoughts

Brutal is really the only way to sum up this game. Or maybe what sums up the game best is "same old, same old." Despite all the changes the team made, they once again start the season with a loss. For all the hype the team came into the season with, the results remained the same at least for the first week (where the Ti-Cats have not notched a win since 2004).

It doesn't get any easier as the Cats will travel to BC to take on the defending Grey Cup champions. Hamilton has won their last three in BC, so maybe they can right the ship out in Vancouver. If not, and the team starts 0-2 for the third consecutive season, the fan base is going to start to wonder if the Ti-Cats are headed for another .500 or worse season in 2012.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Preview: Roughriders at Tiger-Cats

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Kickoff of the 2012 season is finally here and the whole shebang begins with the Roughriders making their final trip to Ivor Wynne Stadium to take on the Ti-Cats.

It was an off-season of change for both teams, as each team poached from the other to get someone they wanted. The Riders snagged former Tiger-Cat defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin to be their new head coach, while Hamilton took one of Saskatchewan's best players when they signed receiver Andy Fantuz during free agency.

The Riders were a complete mess last season, with the firing of Greg Marshall midway through the season being their biggest blunder. They replaced him with former head coach Ken Miller and continued to do nothing en route to posting a league-worst 5-13 record. It was a season to forget on the Prairies. The team hopes that bringing in the 35-year-old Chamblin will jump start the rebuilding process, but the team looks a long way from contending. The Riders have plenty of good players, and added another one in the off-season when they dealt for 2011 co-sack leader Odell Willis, but they don't look like a legitimate threat right now. But out of all the good players they have, there was one very important player they weren't able to keep around.

Adding Andy Fantuz was just one of a slew of moves the team made in the off-season. A new coach, new quarterback and two new non-import receivers have brought high expectations for the Ti-Cats. It might take a while for them to come together, but that won't stop the catcalls from raining down should the team not perform to expectations early on. If the preseason is any indication, the offense will be a well-oiled unit before too long, but the defense will take a little longer.

On paper, the Ti-Cats have the advantage in pretty much every category, but as we all know, games aren't played on paper. Season openers are notorious for revealing things that no one ever thought about, and trying to pick who the best team is based on a month of camp and two preseason games is usually unwise.

Having said all that, the Ti-Cats are the superior team. While Saskatchewan looks to be on the right track, it is going to take them longer to come together than it will the Ti-Cats. Hamilton will be playing at home in the last home opener ever at Ivor Wynne Stadium and the fans are going to be amped up. It should be an electric atmosphere when the game kicks off at 7:00PM.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ivor Wynne Memories: My First Game

With it being the last season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, I said I am going to post some of my personal memories I have of the stadium. I will start, where else, than with the story of my first adventure down to the stadium.

When you're young, you don't remember much and the memory of my first game at Ivor Wynne Stadium is rather hazy. There is one thing I know for certain: the Ti-Cats played the BC Lions.

I believe the year was 1988, but it could have just as easily been 1987 or 1989. It would have been during that three-year span because that was around the time I got into football. I became a football fan immediately after I saw Joe Montana throw a touchdown pass for the San Francisco 49ers, and after the 49ers, it was on to the Tiger-Cats.

As far as I am concerned, there is only one person a young boy should go see his first game with and lucky for me I got to go to my first game with the greatest person I have ever known, my dad. I have attended many games over the years with my dad, and I hope to get to attend many more in the future, but no matter how many games we sit and watch together, the first one will always have a special place in my heart.

So it was me and my father in the southside stands at Ivor Wynne Stadium as the Ti-Cats did battle with the Lions. I could not tell you who won the game (if we went in '87 or '89, the Cats won; if we went in '88, it was the Lions) but I do remember doing something I never did before and haven't done since: I cheered against the Ti-Cats.

Yes, I admit, that when I was in the stands for my first game, I cheered for the Lions. But I have a good reason, I swear. I started off the game cheering for the Cats, but at some point I noticed a guy sitting a few rows behind us that was waving a Lions flag and taking some heat from fans in the stands. I turned to my dad and asked why everyone was booing that guy and he answered my question as best he could (a generic answer about him cheering for the opposing team) and I told my dad that I felt bad for the guy and so I decided to cheer for BC too. So out of empathy, I turned my back on the Cats and rooted for the Lions. Again, I don't know who won, but I didn't stay a BC fan for long. As soon as the game was over, I was a Tiger-Cat fan once again.

There will probably be some little boy in the stands on Friday who, like me back in late 1980s, will be sitting with his dad taking in his first game. And like me, it will be a something he will never forget. I don't have any pictures of that outing and I can't remember everything, but I still remember enough to say that my first game at Ivor Wynne was truly something special.

2012 Season Preview

I have already given you my preview of the West and East divisions, so now it's time to make some predictions for the league as a whole. These are the things that I will likely be very wrong about come August November.

2012 CFL Regular Season






1) Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 12-6
2) Montreal Alouettes, 11-7
3) Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 8-10
4) Toronto Argonauts, 7-11

For perhaps the first time ever, the East Division looks like the stronger of the two. The worst team in the East last year was Toronto and they made so many upgrades that some are saying they might go to the Grey Cup. Winnipeg did it last year (finishing 4-14 in 2010 and getting to the Grey Cup in 2011), so it's not impossible to think the Argos can match that feat. But I think this is going to come to a battle between Hamilton and Montreal. Last year, the Ti-Cats took out the Als in the playoffs and finally showed they they aren't afraid of Montreal. Winnipeg is a team I have a hard time getting a read on, so I pegged them as an around .500 team, but I believe I could be wrong and the team could be much better or much worse than I anticipate.







1) BC Lions, 13-5
2) Calgary Stampeders, 9-9
3) Saskatchewan Roughriders, 6-12
4) Edmonton Eskimos, 6-12

We should probably just hand the division title to BC and let the other teams fight it out for second place. I know that things change quickly, especially in the CFL, but I don't see any way that the Lions don't have this wrapped up by the end of September. The Lions are just that good. Calgary is a team that looks good, but has a young quarterback with four starts on his résumé. I also think Kevin Glenn will take over at some point. I think .500 is just right for the Stamps. Both Edmonton and Saskatchewan will be in tough to compete. The Riders are rebuilding, whether they want to say so or not, and we all know what Edmonton did in the off-season. I just don't see how either team does enough to hold off the Argos from crossing over.

2012 CFL Playoffs
East Division Semi-Final
Winnipeg at Montreal

I just can't see the Als dropping a second consecutive playoff game at home. I also think Winnipeg takes a step back this year. I think they saw a team that went to the Grey Cup and felt they had a team good enough to get back, but the team won't be able to use a 7-1 start to mask the fact that they won four of their last 12 (including the playoffs) to end last season. Als take this one.

Winner: Montreal

West Division Semi-Final
Toronto at Calgary

For the first time ever, an East team crosses over into the West. I think by the time this game gets going, the Argos will have found their mojo and Ricky Ray will come back and haunt the team he tortured when he was in Edmonton. Argos shock the Stamps.

Winner: Toronto

East Division Final
Montreal at Hamilton

The only possible way that Ivor Wynne Stadium can close its gates for good is to re-stage one of the classics that occurred on that field. In a rematch of the 1998 East Final, the Ti-Cats take out the Als on a last-second field goal to win 22-20.

Winner: Hamilton

West Division Final
Toronto at BC

The West Final will become the Braley Bowl. Argo and Lion owner David Braley will be torn over which team to cheer for, so he'll don a half blue/half orange shirt to the game. After three quarters of tight play, the Lions will pull away in the fourth to head back to the Grey Cup.

Winner: BC














Hamilton vs. BC

A jungle battle. A feline feast. Whatever lame title involing cats you can come up with will be used to describe the 100th Grey Cup. In front of a packed house at the Rogers Centre SkyDome, the Ti-Cats and Lions will battle for the title. And since this is the third year I've done predictions, I'm not going to break with tradition now. The Cats will finally win the Grey Cup I have been predicting for them the last three years.

Winner: Hamilton

2012 CFL Awards










Most Outstanding Player
West Nominee: Travis Lulay (BC Lions)
East Nominee: Henry Burris (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

I think that Anthony Calvillo will put up the best overall numbers, but I believe that Burris will rebound from a poor season in Calgary and that will impress the voters. Lulay has no peers in the West, but don't be surprised if there is a push from Calgary running back Jon Cornish. In the end, Lulay will win his second MOP in as many seasons.

Winner: Travis Lulay

Most Outstanding Canadian
West Nominee: Jon Cornish (Calgary Stampeders)
East Nominee: Andy Fantuz (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

Had Fantuz not left to go to the NFL, he probably would still be in Saskatchewan and he'd be a two-time winner of this award. And while I doubt he'll lead the league in receiving yards, he does have a chance to put up career numbers across the board. Jon Cornish will finish come darn close to winning the rushing title losing out on it in the final final week to Brandon Whitaker. But his amazing season will be enough for him to capture his first Most Outstanding Canadian award.

Winner: Jon Cornish

Most Outstanding Defensive Player
West Nominee: J.C. Sherritt (Edmonton Eskimos)
East Nominee: Jamall Johnson (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

Sherritt was the West's nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie last year and looks to have a chance to be even better in 2012. Johnson has a chance to put up great numbers in Casey Creehan's system. I'll give the award, ever so slightly, to Johnson.

Winner: Jamall Johnson

Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
West Nominee: Jovon Olafioye (BC Lions)
East Nominee: Josh Bourke (Montreal Alouettes)

Bourke was last year's winner and looks poised to continue his stellar play again in 2012. He beat out my pick for the West nomination in Jovon Olafioye. Both will be up for the award again, but this year it will be Olafioye that takes home the hardware.

Winner: Jovon Olafioye

Most Outstanding Rookie
West Nominee: Jabar Westerman (BC Lions)
East Nominee: Bloi-Dei Dorzon (Winnipeg Blue Bombers)

Picking rookie nominees is always hard (I think I've opened with a similar sentence the last two years) and 2012 is no different. So I'm giving the nod in the West to Jabar Westerman because he has a shot to contribute for the Lions pretty early on, and Bloi-Dei Dorzon the nomination in the East because he will be the lead back for the Bombers with Chris Garrett out for the year. I'll give the win to Dorzon because if he stays healthy, he'll eclipse the 1,000-yard mark which should be good enough to give him the award.

Winner: Bloi-Dei Dorzon

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
West Nominee: Larry Taylor (Calgary Stampeders)
East Nominee: Chad Owens (Toronto Argonauts)

I picked Owens because it doesn't seem to matter what he does or doesn't do, he gets the nomination. There was no way he should have been chosen last year over Justin Medlock or Sean Whyte, but he was. He'll be chosen again this year. The West is tougher to decide, so I picked Larry Taylor. It's possible that Paul McCallum could capture the award again, but I don't see him having the type of year he did last year. That will be used against him, even if he has a great year. Give the award to Owens, though, because he always gets the benefit of the doubt.

Winner: Chad Owens







Coach of the Year
Nominee #1: George Cortez (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
Nominee #2: Mike Benevides (BC Lions)
Nominee #3: Marc Tresman (Montreal Alouettes)

With parity at an all-time high, deciding who the top coaches are will not be an easy task. At the end of the day, the team's with the top-three records will be nominated. It seems as if a coach that wins the Grey Cup has a leg up on the competition, so with my prediction of Hamilton winning it all, I predict George Cortez to be named the Coach of the Year.

Winner: George Cortez

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

What To Do With "The Monster"

This whole Markeith Knowlton situation has the chance to turn into a really big distraction. Coaches and players, whether they like it or not, are going to be asked about this for as long as the situation exists.

There are a whole host of reasons that the Cats are choosing to, likely, sit Knowlton for the season opener against Saskatchewan on Friday. Drew Edwards put together some excellent thoughts on why Knowlton might be sitting when the Roughriders come town. While I don't agree with all of them, and I will challenge some of them below, Drew offers a pretty compelling case for why the team might be right to sit Knowlton.

However, there are a few things I take issue with, and the first is the idea that Knowlton doesn't "fit the system" that the Ti-Cats are going to run. While Knowlton had his best years in Greg Marshall's zone scheme, that doesn't mean he can't be a factor in the scheme that Casey Creehan wants to run. I discount last year's system under Corey Chamblin because aside from Rey Williams and Justin Hickman, no one stood out. And I don't mean Stevie Baggs or Knowlton; Jamall Johnson went from back-to-back 100-tackle seasons to 77 in 2011. Chamblin tried to fit a lot of square pegs into round holes last year and it didn't work. Creehan runs a similar system to Chamblin, but the team made a lot of changes in the off-season to perhaps address the problems they had with personnel last year. But I also question why the team would bring in two successive defensive coordinators whose schemes don't maximize the talent they have. If you run a defense that can't find a place for Markeith Knowlton, then there is something wrong with your defense.

Then we come to the ratio and receivers. As I have already stated, starting Dave Stala would eliviate this problem. Put Stala in at wide receiver and the problem is solved. I saw Burris hit Stala on a corner route to the wide side of the field during training camp, so Stala can play out there and not be the decoy that Chris Bauman and Matt Carter were the last few seasons. I also don't understand Drew's belief that starting Stala would take either Bakari Grant or Chris Williams off the field. The team starts five receivers and that fifth receiver looks to be Onrea Jones. Take him off the field and the problem is solved. Also, if playing Stala out wide is not what the team wants, put him inside with Andy Fantuz and Grant, and have Sam Giguère or Williams out wide. Out wide, their speed would an asset and their lack of height a non-issue. Again, problem solved.

I refuse to believe there isn't a way to make up the starting roster in a way that puts Markeith Knowlton in his familiar spot in the lineup. But if the team cannot find a way to put him out there, then the only thing they can do is deal him.

Trading Knowlton would have been an unfathomable thought just one year ago, but it might be best for all parties involved if the team finds someone who is willing to take Knowlton. The only way to make this all go away is for the team to either start Knowlton (and that looks highly unlikely at this point) or get rid of him. Cutting him would be foolish, so the team might as well deal him for something tangible. Whether that be draft picks or a player, at least they'll get something for him. While I would not be happy to see Knowlton in another jersey, it seems like the only way out of this very messy situation is for the team to send him elsewhere.

CFL East Division Preview

With the CFL season kicking off on Friday, there is no better time to take a look at what could be in store in 2012. Today, it is a look at the East Division.

The defending division champions saw a lot of roster turnover in the off-season. Doug Brown, Odell Willis, Fred Reid and Brendon LaBatte are all no longer in Winnipeg. Brown's departure will be the most felt, but don't discount how much LaBatte meant to that offensive line. The Bombers think they have the right guys to make another run at a championship, but the losses they suffered in the off-season, coupled with the additions the teams below them made, puts the Bombers in a tough spot to repeat as division champs.

The Ti-Cats made a lot of moves, but the key ones were signing Andy Fantuz, trading for Henry Burris and naming George Cortez as the team's head coach. Making that many major changes in one off-season usually leads to rocky start, but a favourbale schedule the first five weeks gives the Ti-Cats a chance to start strong. A lot of questions comes on defense, but it would be unwise to forget about the loss of kicker Justin Medlock. With his booming leg, the guy was automatic points from 55 yards inwards. His loss may be the biggest one the team will deal with all season.

A lot of people will say that the Als are on the down swing, but they still have one of three best quarterbacks in the history of the game (Anthony Calvillo), the best receiver in the league (Jamel Richardson) and last season's top rusher (Brandon Whitaker). The question marks come on defense, where the team let go of plenty of former starters and will be using a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Jeff Reinebold. The Als still have plenty left in the tank and it would be foolish to not consider them a threat to win their third Grey Cup in four years.

Much like their provincial rivals, the Toronto Argonauts underwent a massive restructuring over the winter. A new quarterback in Ricky Ray and a new head coach in Scott Milanovich has Argo fans thinking championship. It might be too soon for that, as the roster does have its share of holes, especially at receiver. Aside from the multi-talented Andre Durie, the Argos receiving corps leaves a lot to be desired. The Argos will be more competitive than they were in 2011, but a 9-9 record is likely the ceiling for a team that probably needs one more off-season to get the roster in shape.

Five Bold Predictions (aka What I'll be Wrong Probably Be Wrong About)
  • It will be a battle all year between the Cats and Als for first in the East, Winnipeg will easily finish in third, but a few games back of Hamilton and Montreal, and Toronto will finish in fourth.
  • Henry Burris will break many single-season Tiger-Cat records, including passing yards and touchdown passes.
  • The Als will have another triple crown with Anthony Calvillo leading the league in passing yards, Jamel Richardson leading in receiving yards and Brandon Whitaker narrowly edging out Jon Cornish for the rushing title.
  • Buck Pierce will get hurt and lose his starting job to Alex Brink. Brink will pilot the Bombers offense into the playoffs, leading to Pierce's release in the off-season.
  • The Argos will struggle at the start of the season and it will cost them any chance of making the playoffs in the East. But they will find their stride in the second half of the season and make a real push to cross into the West.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

No Need to Sit "The Monster" If You Simply Start Stala

How the Tiger-Cats will utilize the ratio has been a topic of much discussion ever since the possibility of Markeith Knowlton becoming a backup was brought up. It now looks like it is even possible that Knowlton, who two seasons ago was named the best defensive player in the league, might not even dress for Friday's game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

I came up with the not-so-original idea of the team running a 3-4 defense. This way, both Eiben and Knowlton could be on the field and the ratio issue would be solved without one of the best linebackers in the league being forced to the sideline.

Now I know that the team switching to a 3-4 is pretty unlikely (and the fact they didn't run one against Winnipeg last week tells me they won't), but changing the defensive alignment isn't the only way to ensure that Knowlton stays on the field. There is a much simpler way to keep Knowlton as a starter on defense:

Start Dave Stala.

For much of camp (or at least the parts that I have seen), Stala has been working with the second-team offense. The receivers making up the first-team offense have been, for the most part, the following five players: Andy Fantuz, Sam Giguère, Chris Williams, Bakari Grant and Onrea Jones.

There is one player on that list that Stala can replace and that is Onrea Jones. I have been very impressed with what I've seen from Jones, but that doesn't mean he has to be a starter. I say let him sit and watch before thrusting him into such a prominent position. Make Jones a backup and put Stala in the starting lineup. This way Knowlton can remain one of the team's starting linebackers and Eiben can be used situationally.

The season opener is Friday, so the team's decision will be known very soon. Hopefully the decision keeps Knowlton on the field as a starting linebacker, and one way to make that happen is to insert Dave Stala into the starting lineup.

CFL West Division Preview

With the CFL season kicking off on Friday, there is no better time to take a look at what could be in store in 2012. Today, it is a look at the West Division.

This division might as well be called the BC Lions and everyone else. After starting 0-5 last year, the Lions lost just one more time the entire season en route to winning the franchises Xth Grey Cup. Travis Lulay came of age, winning MOP and Grey Cup MVP, and solidifed himself as the next great CFL quarterback. BC returns with a loaded lineup in the hopes of repeating as champs. With Wally Buono doing his best Ron Swanson and gobbling up all the available defensive backs, the Lions look like the class of the West and arguably the class of the entire CFL.

For Edmonton, who lost the West Final to the Lions last year, the biggest question they have is at quarterback. Gone is Ricky Ray, dealt to the Argos for a bag of balls package that included quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a 2012 first-round draft pick. It's a classic Eric Tillman move. The Eskies will sink or swim on that decision. My guess is they sink quite a bit in 2012. A playoff berth is possible, but another 11-win season is probably out of the question. The lucky things for Edmonton is that aside from BC, the other teams in the West have major question marks as well.

The Calgary Stampeders underwent their own massive overhaul in the off-season, with Henry Burris, Joffrey Reynolds and Ken-Yon Rambo, key contributors to the championship team in 2008, all no longer in Cowtown. Burris is now the starter in Hamilton after a January trade, Reynolds is out of work after his release and Rambo is looking to join the Argos when he is healthy enough to resume his career. This offense will be lead by quarterback Drew Tate and running back Jon Cornish. The Stamps have a little more continuity than their division rivals in Edmonton and Regina, so the Stamps probably have the inside track to a playoff spot.

Last year was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. They hired a coach and fired him before the summer was over. The Riders did nothing last season and finished with a league-worst 5-13 record. While a repeat of the 2011 disaster is probably not going to happen, the top end for this team is probably a 9-9 record, and that only happens if everything goes right.

Five Bold Predictions (aka What I'll be Wrong Probably Be Wrong About)
  • BC will win the West, Calgary will finish second, Saskatchewan third and Edmonton fourth. The biggest threat to the Riders' playoff chances won't come from Edmonton, but from the East. The fourth-place team in the East could find a way to finally cross over into the West.
  • Travis Lulay will once again be the division's MOP, but Jon Cornish will give him a run for his money.
  • Cornish seems like the obvious candidate to be named the division's top Canadian, but a pair of BC Lions in Andrew Harris and Shawn Gore could make some noise as well.
  • As much as I like Drew Tate and think he can be a great CFL quarterback, at some point this season I think he will be benched in favour of Kevin Glenn.
  • Darian Durant will lead the league in interceptions and fans will be calling for his job by the middle of September.

Bodog, TSN and Five QBs

Quite a bit of news regarding the Tiger-Cats came out over the last few days, especially last night thanks mostly to TSN, but also from the team itself.

For starters, Bodog (a gambling website) released their odds for the upcoming CFL season and they like the Cats. Bodog has the Ti-Cats as the favourites to win the East Division, while placing them behind just the BC Lions as favourites to the Grey Cup.

TSN spent three hours on Monday night covering the CFL. They continued their excellent series of "Road to the Grey Cup" features which looked at last year's champs, the BC Lions. One of the big stories: last season's trade of Arland Bruce. While I concede that the team looks better this year without Bruce, I still have a hard time stomaching just how little the Cats got in return for Bruce. But I don't want to harp on it. What's done is done and it is time (for me) to move on and shut up about it.

TSN followed up their look at last year's Lions by unveiling their list of the Top 50 players of 2012. Out of the 50, seven of them were Tiger-Cats, with Jamall Johnson being the highest ranked at No. 22. Avon Cobourne (No. 46), Markeith Knowlton (No. 39), Chris Williams (No. 34), Henry Burris (No. 32), Rey Williams (No. 28) and Andy Fantuz (No. 25) were the other six. Matt Duingian noted that only four linebackers made the list, and three of them were Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Best linebacking group in the CFL? Damn right!

Marwan Hage did not make the list, which was somewhat of a surprise. My guess is that his injury last season caused his stock to plummet. Should he regain his form, he'll find himself on the list in 2013.

TSN also aired their annual CFL on TSN season preview show, which means analysts gave their predictions. Four panelists picked the Cats to go to the Grey Cup. Milt Stegall, Doug Brown and Matt Dunigan had the Tabbies losing to the Lions in Toronto, but it was Jock Climie who tossed out the dream match of all dream matches, at least as far as I am concerned: Hamilton versus Toronto for the title. Climie believes that with a weaker West Division, the Argos will crossover into the West and win the West Final to earn the right to take on the Tiger-Cats in Toronto for the Grey Cup. That would just be awesome. While I think it is unlikely to happen, I wouldn't be the least bit upset if it did.

And last, but certainly not least, the Ti-Cats themselves unvieled (via the Tiger-Cats Show on AM900 CHML) who are the five quarterbacks that fans will get to choose between for the All-Time Tiger-Cat team. Voting on the team began today, and will continue from now until October 5th, with a new batch of players being unvieled each week until Labour Day on the Tiger-Cats Show. Anyway, here are the five QBs to choose from:
  • Danny McManus
  • Bernie Faloney
  • Joe Zuger
  • Mike Kerrigan
  • Tom Clements
No real surprises on the list, and I would have to think, as I posited previously, that the battle is between Danny Mac and Bernie Faloney. Only one QB will make the team and my vote is going to Danny Mac. I respect what Faloney did for the team, but I never got to see him play. In my opinion, it would be unfair of me to vote for a player simply on reputation when I saw another player dominate during his time here. If any of the five are voted as the QB, it is deserving, but my vote is going to McManus.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Tabbies Set Roster, Bring Back Tisdale

A busy day in Tiger-Cat Land as the team set its roster and brought back defensive back Geoff Tisdale.

Trading for Tisdale meant the team needed to release someone to make room for him and that someone turned out to be fellow defensive back Josh Wilkins. Wilkins looked decent in camp and the preseason, but Tisdale is an obvious upgrade. Getting Tisdale back will give the secondary a much neded boost, with the only question now being if he'll be ready to play against Saskatchewan or not. Time is not on Tisdale's side, with just six days before the home opener, but Tisdale is a veteran and may not need a lot of time to get up to speed. In any event, bringing Tisdale back is a great move and one that really upgrades the secondary. Tisdale is the type of ballhawking presence the team needs in the defensive backfield. He'll up the team's interception numbers considerably. This is a great move.

As far as the other roster moves are concerned, there are a few worth noting. Greg Peach, Aaron Kelly and Ryan Hinds are the three biggest names on the injured list. Hinds' injury has created all sorts of ratio issues, and now that it is know he will miss at least the first game, it likely means that Kevin Eiben will get the start at linebacker over Markeith Knowlton. With Kelly also being put on the injury list, I wonder if that opens up the possibility of Dave Stala returning to the starting lineup. With four Canuck pass catchers making the active roster – Stala, along with Andy Fantuz, Sam Giguère and 2012 draft pick Simon Charbonneau-Campeau – it is possible for Stala to start and have Charbonneau-Campeau be the backup non-import at receiver. With four American receivers on the active roster, and one of them (Deon Murphy) being almost exclusively a kick returner, the team could start just two imports (Chris Williams and Bakari Grant), and have one (rookie Onrea Jones) back them up. It will be interesting to see how the Cats decide to use the ratio in next week's game.

One name that is not on the injured list is Marwan Hage. That means Hage can possibly play against the Roughriders in the team's season opener in six days. If Hage can get back into the starting lineup next week, that would give a giganic boost to the offensive line. It would allow Tim O'Neill to slide back to guard and not force a young guy like Cody Husband into the starting lineup.

The most notable name to be placed on the practice roster is former McMaster offensive lineman Jason Medeiros. Medeiros went surprisingly undrafted in May's draft, but was signed by the Ti-Cats prior to the start of camp. He had a very good camp and it's always nice to see local product do well.

With the roster now set, the focus for fans and the team can now be entirely on the upcoming home opener against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Cats Release Jeffers-Harris

While nothing has been made official, Arash Madani has reported it and Drew Edwards has confirmed it: Terence Jeffers-Harris is no longer a Hamilton Tiger-Cat.

I wish I could say that this comes as a surprise, but it doesn't. That's no offense to Jeffers-Harris, who I am a big fan of, but just based on what I saw during training camp and in the preseason, I felt like this move was coming. From the way things looked at camp, there were four players – Onrea Jones, Aaron Kelly, Chris Duvalt and Jeffers-Harris – battling for two spots. Jones and Kelly were the players that won those spots. Jones spent the majority of training camp working with the first-team offense, so the team must be high on him; Kelly probably separated himself after his performance against Winnipeg (five catches for 53 yards and one touchdown) in the second preseason game. That left Jeffers-Harris and Duvalt, who was one of the nine players released yesterday, as the odd men out.

I really hope Jeffers-Harris catches on with another team as I enjoy watching him play. I think he is a very good receiver that could make another receiving corps better. He's still young and has plenty of talent, so I can't see this being the end for him.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Cats Cut Nine

As a fan, cutdown day is the day I like least. For a handful of players, their dreams of playing professional football come to an end and it makes me feel for the guys that get cut. It was especially difficult this year because I went to six or so training camp sessions and watched how hard these guys worked. It is one thing to watch them perform on gameday, but if you really want to see these guys work, head to a practice.

Anyway, that is a long-winded way of saying the Cats cut nine players earlier this afternoon. I won't sit here and tell you that all deserved to be kept, because that's simply not true. While all of these players are talented – they wouldn't be at a professional team's training camp if they weren't talented – some of them just weren't talented enough to crack this roster. That said, there were a number of surprising cuts, with three standing out from the rest.

Probably the most surprising was the release of Belton Johnson. Johnson started all of last season, a majority of the 2010 season and spent the entire training camp working with the first-team offense. It was pretty surprising to see him let go, especially because Brian Simmons is still on the team. I thought Johnson outplayed Simmons during the preseason and if the team was going to let go of any veteran offensive lineman, it was going to be Simmons.

Just slightly less surprising was seeing the team get rid of Milt Collins. Collins was acquired less than a year ago in a trade with Calgary and I thought he'd be the team's opening-day starter at safety. It looks like they are very high on rookie safety Craig Ray and that is why Collins was let go.

Finally, we all knew that the team was going to have to part ways with a receiver or two and the first one let go was rookie Chris Duvalt. Duvalt looked good in both mini-camp and training camp, but he didn't show a great deal in either preseason game (to be fair, he got hurt against the Argos). With all the talent that the team has at receiver, a good player was going to be released and Duvalt just happened to be that player.

What I Learned From the Preseason and Training Camp

I don't like drawing too many conclusions (some conclusions, but not too many) based on what I saw during the preseason – I have lost count of how many times guys looked like all stars in the preseason and then flamed out in the regular season – but there is a reason for the preseason and there is no fun in saying, "Wait until the regular season starts." This was also the first training camp that I was able to attend. While I didn't make it out to every practice, I made it to more than my fair share. So with that said, here are a few things that I learned over the past three weeks.

Henry Burris still has plenty of game left

I will wait until after Labour Day to pen my mea culpa article on Henry Burris, but from the looks of it I was way off when I said that Burris was done. He has looked magnificent during the preseason and seems ready to take back his spot atop the quarterbacking mountain. I don't care what resident Winnipeg loud mouth Jovon Johnson has to say, Burris has looked mighty impressive in his three quarters at the helm of the Tiger-Cat offense.

Chevon Walker could start

As happy as I am to have Avon Cobourne back, and as bummed as I was that Martell Mallett got injured, the most impressive running back I've seen has been Chevon Walker. He has speed to spare and hits the hole with amazing burst. If Cobourne goes down at some point this season, the team's running game will be in good hands with Walker.

Josh Bartel is good, but still a work in progress

I have been impressed a lot by what I saw out of Josh Bartel, especially when it came to the distance he got on his punts. The guy has a big leg. That said, part of me wonders if his leg is too strong. I know that sounds silly (borderline stupid even) but in the game against Winnipeg he kicked his punts so far that the Winnipeg kick returners were able to field them with almost no one within 10 yards on them. I have seen him kick in practice and he gets good hang time, but he needs to do that consistently if his powerful league is to be an asset. I'd rather the team get 40 yard punts and two yard returns as opposed to 55 yard punts with 25 yard returns. Bartel is new to football, so hopefully he can master this as time goes on.

The lines still need work

Injuries have made it difficult to judge the offensive and defensive lines, but they still don't look like dominant units. Now, I don't believe they have to dominate in order for the team to be successful, but they need to be solid. I thought the offensive line did a good job against the Argos, but not against the Bombers. The running lanes and pass protection that were present in the Argo game were not there in the Bomber game. With the defensive line, I found the opposite. They were nearly invisible against the Argos, but played very well against Bombers. I think if both units are 100 per cent healthy, the lines should be fine. But both still need to be better.

George Cortez is the right guy for this team

I was a fan of Marcel Bellefeuille's and thought that he could lead the Tiger-Cats to a championship. I don't subscribe to the theory that he was too soften spoken or too passive to be successful. If you don't think an even-keeled coach can win a championship, see Tony Dungy. But I also was not unhappy to see George Cortez hired as his replacement. It could just be a case of the team needing a new voice to get them over the hump – the Tom Higgins-to-John Hufnagel change in Calgary back in 2008 parallels nicely with this one – and I can't think of a better man than Cortez to be that voice. I've have been very impressed with how he's handled himself and the team during practices. He lets his coaches coach and only intervenes when he has to intervene. I never saw Bellefeuille run a practice, so I can't comment on the differences, but I like what I have seen from Cortez on the practice field. He is the right man at the right time for this team.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hamilton 26, Winnipeg 25

For a preseason game, that sure was intense. Someone must have forgotten to tell the players that the outcome didn't matter because both teams played like a birth in the Grey Cup was on the line. If this is a sign of things to come, the East Division is going to be one tough division to win.

Positives

While I hesitate to make a blanket statement after two preseason games, I think I was wrong about Henry Burris. I questioned whether he still had anything left, and so far he has shown that he very much does. Burris looked confident and in command, and if this is the player the Ti-Cats get for a full season, playing a game in late November is a realistic possibility.

Aaron Kelly, filling in for the injured Bakari Grant, had an excellent game. I still, after three weeks of camp and two preseason games, have no idea which receivers the team is going to keep. Kelly's performance, leading the team in yards and receptions, is going to make the decision even more difficult.

Saw some things I liked out of the defensive line, especially newcomer Ronnell Brown. The d-line has been a concern, but they applied a lot of pressure and the defense picked up four sacks on the night. Now th ekey is to do that consistently.

A tiny mention, and perhaps a little campaigning, for Dave Stala. Stala was solid once again and I don't understand why the team doesn't insert him into the starting lineup instead of shuffling the linebacker deck. The fifth receiver slot has been filled by rookie Onrea Jones, so stick Stala in there and let the rookie watch.

Negatives

The offensive line, missing two starters in Marwan Hage and Belton Johnson, did not do a great job. The holes were not there for the running backs and, most importantly, the pocket seemed to collapse all too frequently around the Ti-Cat quarterbacks. Lucky for them, Burris can make plays on the move, but it was not a good performance from the hogs.

The defense was susceptible to big plays against the Bombers, especially when the orignal play broke down (think the 57-yard bomb to Kito Poblah). Gobbling up huge chunks of yards on one play is a staple in the CFL, so this is something the team will need to correct. They didn't get burned on these plays last week, so it might not be as big of a deal as I am making it out to be.

Final Thoughts

It was nice to see Hamilton end the preseason with a victory, but it was even nicer to see the team play better than they did a week ago against Toronto. The penalties and the turnovers were drastically cut down, and the team played the type of game they need to play to win. The starting defense held Buck Pierce mostly in check (he complete a mere 33 per cent of his passes on the night) and held the Bombers to eight first-half points. The Hamilton offense was able to pretty much move the ball at will, and as has already been mentioned, Burris was magnificent.

The team now turns its gaze even further west to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But before that, the team will have to get their roster down to the maximum 53 players (46 on the active roster and seven on the practice squad). The team is going to have to make a lot of tough decisions over the next few days.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Blue Bombers

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The Ti-Cats have a lot of roster questions still left unanswered and the performances of players in tonight's game could have a big impact on who is still around after final cuts are made. Like last week, I'm going to name a few players (or position groups) that people should keep an eye on.

Just like last week, the defensive line is an area that's worth monitoring. One player in particular to keep a watchful eye on is Brandon Boudreaux. Boudreaux had a pretty good game last week against Toronto, and another solid outing could find him not just on the roster, but in the mix as a possible starter. Boudreaux could be the next unknown – like Khari Long, Garrett McIntrye and Justin Hickman – to emerge as a solid contributor along the Tiger-Cats' defensive line.

A player I have noticed that is having a quietly good camp is defensive back Marcell Young. Young looks like a lock to start in the secondary, and with good reason. Watch him carefully as he matches up with the Winnipeg receivers. He's a player that could take a big step up in his second year.

Another defensive back worth keeping an eye on is Hamilton-born Matt Bucknor. Bucknor, like Young, has had a solid camp and is making a real push to make the 46-man roster. A strong showing tonight could solidify his position with the team.

And last, but certainly not least, is Avon Cobourne. We all know what Cobourne is capable of, and his spot on the roster is secure, but it will still be interesting to see him back on the field in his Black & Gold duds.

We Tiger-Cat fans are lucky as this is the only Week 2 preseason contest that will be aired on TSN (TSN2, to be exact). The fun starts at 8:00PM.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Observations From Today's Practice

According to the schedule on the Tiger-Cats' website, today was the final day of training camp. With that being the case, I made the trek one final time to Ron Joyce Stadium to watch the team practice. Here is what I saw:
  • Bakari Grant limped off about midway through the practice session after getting tangled up with a defender during the team's no huddle drill. The injury did not look too serious, but he sat out the remainder of practice.
  • In other injurt news, running back Terry Grant was doing a little work with one of the trainers during practice. He was standing on what looked to be a blue piece of foam catching passes on one foot. He did this for about 15 minutes, alternating which foot he stood on a few times.
  • Jim Daley tore a strip off the kick coverage unit. He lost it on his players after coach Cortez blew the whistle to change drills. Daley clearly wanted the team to get more kicks off, and when they didn't, he flipped.
  • George Cortez also had a moment when he lost it on the offense. Using language I would rather not reprint, he yelled at the offense for not doing things properly. It is probably the first time I have seen him that angry.
  • Henry Burris made a couple of very nice passes. He found Andy Fantuz for a big gain, hit Dave Stala for a large gain as well. The pass to Stala was particularly impressive considering he threw it from the left hash all the way to the sideline on the wide side of the field. Burris' arm strength is a site to behold in person.
  • The team piped in some crowd noise during 12-on-12 drills. With a road game this week, this was obviously used to get the players comfortable with making play calls when the noise is not ideal.
So that's it; another Tiger-Cat training camp has come to an end. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say this is the last camp the team will hold at McMaster for some time. Given the acrimony over McMaster refusing to host games next season, my gut tells me that the team will be looking for a new place to host training camp next season.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

First Round of Cuts Saves the Tough Decisions for Later

The Cats made their cuts to get their roster down to 65 players and none of them were very surprising. The five guys that were let go are running back James Berezik, defensive lineman Jada Brown, linebacker Alex Joseph, defensive end Matt Oh and offensive lineman Brandon Thomas. The team also put defensive back and ace special teamer Marc Beswick on the nine-game injured list.

Probably the hardest decision the team had to make was letting go of running back James Berezik. Berezik looked great in camp and looked just as good against the Argos last Wednesday, but with a backfield that is already home to Avon Cobourne and Chevon Walker – not to mention the injured Terry Grant and Martell Mallett – there just wasn't enough room to keep Berezik on the roster. The Tabbies probably want to get Cobourne some more reps in practice and some time on the field during Wednesday's preseason tilt against the Blue Bombers, so getting rid of Berezik now made more sense than keeping him around.

The other four players let go don't surprise me in the least. I didn't see much of Alex Joseph or Jada Brown during the practices I attended because, as Drew Edwards has stated, both have been dealing with injuries recently. Thomas is a guy I never even noticed, and Oh was someone that I only heard mentioned when Casey Creehan was yelling at him. I didn't expect Oh to make it out of camp.

Losing Beswick will hurt, but it is a loss the team can overcome. It won't be easy, because Beswick is an excellent special teams player – he led the league in special teams tackles with 27 – and is a Canadian to boot. Beswick has been on the sidelines during almost every practice I've seen in person, but I am surprised to see that he was nine gamed.

But the big news out of all this is that the team has saved the really tough decisions for a later date. No receivers or defensive backs were released, and those are the two positions that the team will have to make the toughest decisions. There are just too many receivers and defensive backs on the squad for the Cats to be able to keep them all. Some very good players at both positions are going to be let go )and potentially scooped up by other CFL teams) when the roster is finalized. What happens in Winnipeg on Wednesday could have a major impact on the makeup of the 2012 roster.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

What I Saw at Burlington's Black & Gold Day

I went to the team's Black & Gold Day at Burlington's Nelson High School today. I saw the vast majority of the team's practice, but I spent a good half an hour speaking with a reporter from the Hamilton Spectator about all things Tiger-Cats, Black & Gold and Ivor Wynne, so there were portions of the practice that I missed. But here is what I did see:
  • The first thing I noticed what that this Black & Gold Day was not as well attended as the one they staged in Burlington last year. A number of things could have contributed to that, such as last year's taking place a week early before the team had played a game. The people who were starving for Tiger-Cat football got their first fix at Black & Gold Day last year; this year, they got it at the team's preseason opener on Wednesday.
  • Terence Jeffers-Harris made two nice plays back-to-back during the team's scrimmage. He caught a pass and turned upfield for a long touchdown and then hauled in a pass a turned up field for a long gain. I have high hopes for Jeffers-Harris and what he did today is the reason why.
  • Avon Cobourne got more work today on the second-team offense. He is moving along at a regular pace, and my guess would be that he'll be ready to go by the opener on the 29th.
  • Marwan Hage got more work with the first-team offense. He looks like he's progressing and I would be surprised if he's not in the starting lineup on opening day.
  • Sticking with the offensive line, I liked what I saw out of the group today. They were making big holes for the running backs and gave the quarterbacks a lot of time. They're really coming together as a unit and I think Hage's return has a lot to do with that.
The team is back at Mac for one practice tomorrow, starting at 10:20AM. It is the penultimate training camp session of 2012, with the final practice set to take place at the same time on Monday. I am going to attempt to take in both and I will, as always, post what I see.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Afternoon Thoughts From Training Camp

I was at McMaster for today's afternoon training camp session and the first thing I noticed was how spirited this practice was compared to the others that I have attended. Guys were yapping more and seemed to very fired up. It made for one of the more interesting sessions I've seen so far this season. Here are a few other things I noticed:
  • During one-on-one drills, Jamall Johnson was an absolute beast. The running backs were tasked with blocking the linebackers and no one could block Johnson.
  • Nathan Kanya also performed well during the same drills. The second-year player was very impressive and manhandled more than a couple of players that were attempting to block him.
  • The team ran no huddle for a portion of their 12-on-12 drills today. I had not seen that during any of the previous practices I attended. It was very interesting to watch, and hear, what both the offense and defense will do during no huddle situations.
  • For the first time, I saw Avon Cobourne participate during 12-on-12 drills. He was the third running back behind Chevon Walker and James Berezik.
  • Carlos Thomas continued to sit out, but the walking boot he was sporting on Monday is gone.
  • Today was the most vocal I have heard George Cortez. Normally I hear him, but not as much as I did today. His assistants are the ones I normally hear, but today Cortez seemed to talk more than normal.
  • In perhaps the best news of the day, Marwan Hage did some hitting for, what I think, is the first time since his injury. He was the first-team centre during 12-on-12 drills and while I still doubt that he will play against the Bombers, I wouldn't doubt that he'll be in the starting lineup for the opener against Saskatchewan.
  • The team ended practice by singing "Happy Birthday" to Luca Congi. Congi turned 29 today.
The Ti-Cats will stage their second Black & Gold Day of the year tomorrow afternoon at Nelson High School in Burlington. The players will take the field at 4:00PM with an autograph session following the practice. I should be there and will report back tomorrow on what I see.

Ticats Cuts Bring Some Clarity

The Tabbies made a few cuts today, most notably letting go of quarterback Tate Forcier.

From what I saw during camp, Forcier looked about average for a CFL rookie. He didn't show anything that would knock your socks off, but he made no more mistakes than any other player in his first CFL training camp. He showed promise, if nothing else. The problem, however, is that when Dan LeFevour came into camp, he looked brilliant. Forcier, who is still old enough to be in college, just couldn't compete with guy who had been to two NFL training camps since being drafted in 2010. LeFevour is just a more polished player than Forcier and therefore a better player to have as the team's No. 3 quarterback.

The Cats also released receiver Joe Collins and defensive back Marcus Walker. I didn't see much out of Collins during camp, and I'm pretty certain he didn't see the field on offense during Wednesday night's game. The odds were stacked against him, so it is no surprise that he is among the first cuts. The Cats still have some tough decisions to make at receiver and releasing Collins may have been the easiest one.

I didn't really get a read on Walker because I haven't focused as much on the secondary. Looking at the roster I can see, like with Collins at receiver, why Walker was let go. The Cats have a lot of guys competing for spots out there and almost all of them have more experience than Walker.

The Cats now have a little less than two days before the CFL mandated deadline of midnight Sunday to get the roster down to 65 players. The team has another practice scheduled for this afternoon at McMaster and their second Black & Gold Day of 2012, this one in Burlington, tomorrow afternoon to evaluate players.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Toronto 29, Hamilton 24

For the fourth season in a row, the Cats have dropped their preseason contest with the Argos, this time losing 29-24. The last seasons have seen the Ti-Cats make the playoffs, so perhaps this loss portends to a somewhat successful season. It is not the loss that matters, though, but what the players did that counts. On that front, there are a lot of positives to take from the game, but a few negatives as well.

Positives

With the way Chevon Walker played – 62 yards on six carries – the team might not need Avon Cobourne. Walker looked unstoppable out there and did not look out of place playing with the starters. On his own he is deadly; in tandem with Cobourne, they could be downright lethal. Walker was the star of the game for the Ti-Cats.

But he wasn't the only player who looked great, so too did Henry Burris. Smilin' Hank slung the ball around the yard and piled up over 200 yards in just one quarter of play. He had three big pass plays – 52 yards to Sam Giguère, 41 yards to Bakari Grant and the coup de grâce, a brilliant 75-yard TD pass to Chris Williams – and looked like he is back in MOP form. If this continues, Burris is going to have one of the best seasons a Ti-Cat quarterback has ever had.

Sticking with quarterbacks, Dan LeFevour looked excellent when he took over midway through the third quarter. He looked poised and polished for a guy new to the CFL. It was a good debut, but before we annoint him as the heir to the throne, remember that it was against guys that will be out of the league before the month is over. Still, LeFevour's performance does deserve praise.

Another guy who did a lot for himself was defensive lineman Brandon Boudreaux. Like LeFevour, he played in the second half against the Argo reserves, but he had his name called on three straight plays in the fourth quarter. He was the best player on an underachieving defensive line.

Negatives

The defensive line is still very much an area of concern. Aside from Boudreaux, nobody did much of anything along the line. They got some pressure, but more should have been had against a rather woeful Argonaut offensive line. The did not record a sack and every QB seemed to have enough time to make their reads.

Quinton Porter did not look good out there. He started the game – but don't start thinking there is a QB controversy in Hamilton because there is not, especially after how Burris played – and looked out of place and out of rhythm. He completed a mre two passes and never got the offense going.

Staying at QB, Tate Forcier did not look good. He didn't complete a pass and didn't finish the third quarter. With the way the team was using its QBs, it sure seemed like Forcier got the early hook. The competition between he and LeFevour is still ongoing, but the advantage has to go to LeFevour.

The injury bug bit again. Training camp phenom Chris Duvalt was plastered on a kick return during the first half and did not return to action; linebacker Ike Brown got dinged up in the second half; and probably the worst injury, and one that might have gone unnoticed, was the one suffered by Yannick Carter. Right at halftime, Carter was helped to the locker room by the team's trainers and it looked like a leg injury from where I was sitting. Duvalt and Brown look like they'll be back for the game against the Blue Bombers, but Carter looks like he could miss significant time.

Final Thoughts

It has been a long off-season, so seeing the Ti-Cats play again was very exciting. Seeing them loss wasn't a lot of fun, but getting a chance to see the new players in their new duds was.

While I don't like to draw too much from a preseason game, from the looks of things, the first-team offense is going to be scary. Sure, Burris will not be on pace for 800 yards passing every game, but he still looks to have a lot left in the tank. His solid play was a good sign.

The team still has things to be concerned about, but with cuts coming on Sunday, the squad that takes the field in Winnipeg in one week's time will be a much more streamlined group. I expect the coaches to work with the players on limiting the mistakes they made that cost them this game.

It was a solid effort that shows the team there is still plenty of room for improvement. Since this is the preseason, that's pretty much all you can ask for.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Preview: Argonauts at Tiger-Cats

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Since this is a preseason game, I'm going to take a little different path with this preview. I did write a more traditonal preview article, if that is something you'd like to read, but what I'm going to do here is highlight some players (not obvious players, like Henry Burris or Sam Giguère) I think fans might want to keep an eye on.

Probably the unknown player that has impressed me the most is receiver Chris Duvalt. Every training camp session I've attended has featured at least one great play by the Illinois alum. I am really looking forward to seeing what he can do going up against players that aren't on his own team.

Everything I just said about Chris Duvalt applies to the next person to keep an eye on, receiver Onrea Jones. Jones has been seeing time with the first-team offense during practice and has not looked out of place with the veterans he's been out there with. Seeing what he can do against another team's secondary will be interesting.

Chevon Walker is the third rookie that has impressed during training camp. He is in a fight with James Berezik (who is also a guy worth keeping an eye on) for the backup running back job behind Avon Cobourne, but Walker seems to have a leg up in that competiton. He is also in the mix at kick and punt returner with a host of others. If he proves to be valuable on special teams, his chances of sticking with the team increase substantially.

The battle for the team's No. 3 quarterback spot was Tate Forcier's to lose until Dan LeFevour was brought in. LeFevour now looks like the front runner for the job and Forcier will have to impress against the Argos to get himself back in the competition. Neither will see meaningful reps, but they have a chance to impress in the little time they will see on the field.

Not so much a player, but seeing how the defensive line plays, including what players make up the starting unit, is definitely worth watching. There has been a lot of turnover in that unit from last season, so it is worth keeping a keen eye on how well the unit plays.

Sure, it might only be the preseason, but that doesn't mean the game isn't important. The result matters little, but seeing players in action against an opposing team will help the Ti-Cat brain trust decide who to keep and who to let go.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Afternoon Camp Thoughts

I got the chance to head down to McMaster today for the team's afternoon training camp session. Like yesterday, this was a no-pads practice (except for the quarterbacks and kickers, who donned pads); unlike yesterday, the team was on the field for nearly two hours and ran quite a few drills. Here are some of the things I saw:
  • Carlos Thomas did not take part in practice and was in a walking boot. Ryan Hinds also sat out. I expect that both players will sit on Wednesday.
  • During drills, Terence Jeffers-Harris had a dew drops. I could see him getting agitated after the second dropped pass. After that, though, he caught everything thrown to him.
  • I saw Tate Forcier drop back to pass and have the ball slip out of his hand on two occasions. He is in a battle with Dan LeFevour for the No. 3 job, so mistakes like that could be costly. Other than that, however, it was another decent outing from him.
  • The team practiced kick returns this afternoon and receiver Chris Duvalt continued his very impressive camp. He broke two for long gains – no one was wearing pads, but these would have been long gains even if they were hitting each other – and I expect him to see a lot of time on the return unit against the Argos. Add his return skills in with his excellent showing at receiver, and I think he's a near lock to make the team. Probably the most impressive player I've seen at camp.
  • Deon Murphy has changed his number from 74 to 17.
  • Both Mike Morreale and Damon Allen took in practice this afternoon. The two of them sat with each other and watched the proceedings for much of the session.
There is no practice tomorrow – or at least one not open to the public – which means the next time the guys take the field in front of people will be on Wednesday for their preseason opener against the Argos. Like last year, season seat holders were allowed to pick up 10 complimentary tickets and according to the team they were snatched up quickly. The game being against the Argos probably didn't hurt.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Very Little to Report From Ron Joyce

Very little happened at the Ti-Cats lone training camp session today. The team was on the field for about an hour and participated in a very light workout. They worked on a few things, but were not in pads and therefore did no hitting. The team ran about a half-dozen sprints and worked on some basic stuff, but that was about it.

The guys probably appreciated not being out on the field for very long since it was scorching outside. I was hot just sitting in the stands, so I cannot imagine what the players felt like on the field.

The highlight of the afternoon was the team practicing the only-in-the-CFL situation of kicking the ball out of the end zone after a missed field goal. It is a situation that rarely presents itself, though when it does it can produce an amazing moment.

I should be back at Ron Joyce Stadium tomorrow afternoon, hopefully with something more substantial to report afterwards. I still want to get a good look at the running backs and offensive line, so if the late session has more physicality than today's session did, I'll have some thoughts on those two units tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Ivor Wynne's Black & Gold Day

The Ti-Cats will be running a number of Black & Gold Days this year – the next is next Saturday at Nelson High School in Burlington – but today was the first and it was the last at Ivor Wynne Stadium. I only caught the tail end of the practice, but here are some of the things I saw:
  • Newly re-signed Avon Cobourne was in pads, but never saw the field. This isn't too surprising considering he's had all of one practice with the team. I would expect he'll be part of the fun next week in Burlington.
  • Couple of big names sat out, namely Andy Fantuz and Markeith Knowlton, but I am sure it was just precautionary. Dave Stala took Fantuz's reps with the first-team offense and Kevin Eiben took Knowlton's with the first-team defense.
  • The recently re-signed Shawn Crable picked up a sack on Henry Burris when the team was scrimmiging from their own three. For a guy who has already been released once before, Crable is trying to make the most of his second opportunity.
  • Another practice and another impressive outing from receiver Chris Duvalt. Every time I see him play he does something to stand out.
  • I feel like no matter what Quinton Porter does, he will never catch a break. He looked quite good out there, but yet I still heard complaints in the stands when he opted to run in a touchdown instead of throw it to his receiver (I believe it was running back Daryl Stephenson). The receiver was open, but so to was the running lane. I wonder sometimes if Porter will ever be accepted by Tiger-Cat fans. I know he has disappointed in the past, but it seems as if everyone else can get a fresh slate but him.
  • Third-string running back James Berezik had a couple nice runs, especially near the goal line. Looks like the Cats will once again have a very deep backfield.
As I said, I didn't see everything. As of now, I plan to be at tomorrow's lone training camp session and probably Monday's afternoon session (weather permitting, of course), before we get into game mode. Yes, we have an actual game to watch this Wednesday. Hard to believe it's already here. My goal for tomorrow is to keep an eye on Cobourne and the running backs as well as the offensive line. Those areas, along with the secondary, are the only ones I haven't focused on during camp.

Friday, 8 June 2012

What's Next With Mac Out?

So Mac's out.

The decision was made yesterday by the university that they will not host any Tiger-Cat home games in 2013. It is an unfortunate turn of events, especially considering the recent history between the university and the tea, The Ti-Cats moved their training camp practices from Brock University to McMaster not long after Bob Young bought the team, and Ivor Wynne Stadium hosted McMaster home games while the Marauders were homeless while Ron Joyce Stadium was being costructed. It would have been nice for McMaster to return the favour, but alas it is not to be.

Playing games at Mac during the 2013 nomad season was brought on by the correct belief that the Cats want to play as many games as close to Hamilton as they can. What the team lost in seating capacity they gained in being as close to their permanent home as possible. But now that McMaster has pulled out, the team is forced to look elsewhere. Where might that elsewhere be?

The obvious, and likely, choice is Western. When discussing what comes next, The Caretaker himself, Bob Young, said that Western is the most likely destination now that Mac has said no. But Western isn't the only choice. The University of Guelph is a possibility; so to is Moncton, if only for a game or two.

And don't forget about Toronto. While the Argos have a hard enough time getting the dates they want for their games, it is possible the Cats will try to play a few games at the Rogers Centre SkyDome next year. The Labour Day Classic will be there, but a few other games could be played there as well (even ones not against the Argos).

The only thing we know for sure is that the team will not be playing any games at McMaster. Where there will be playing, however, is still a mystery.

Deuces Set to Run Wild Again


The video says it all: Avon Cobourne is back!

The team reached a deal to bring back their leading rusher from last season after the devasting injury to fellow running back Martell Mallett that will see him miss the entire 2012 season.

Cobourne is going to show up ready to play and he will also have a humongous chip on his shoulder. He is going to be out to prove he is still the premier back in the CFL. That can only bode well for the Tiger-Cats.

I, for one, am glad he's returning to Steeltown. His desire to win is second to none, and with the group the team has assembled this off-season, Cobourne could be the guy that brings it all together. He cares about winning above everything else and that is the type of attiude this team needs.

Welcome back, Avon.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Mallett Done for the Season

By now we've all heard the news: Martell Mallett is out for the season. Mallett suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the team's morning traning camp session and will miss the entire 2012 season. This is another setback for a player that has had many over the last couple of years. The reason his NFL career never advanced was due to injuries. I hope he has a speedy recovery and can show in 2013 why he was so sought after.

But Mallett's injury means the team needs a new starter at running back. But just who might that new starter be? As much as I have liked Chevon Walker, I must eliminate him before we get started. He has looked great in camp, but his zero games of CFL experience is not something I think the team will comfortable with. I think if given a shot, he could be the next DeAndra' Cobb (but better), but with this being a veteran-laden team, I think they'll want a proven rusher in the backfield. So with that said, here are a few candidates for the job.

Maybe the most obvious candidate, and the one that is probably going to be the most popular, is Avon Cobourne. I know I would welcome him back with open arms. I think he did everything that the team asked of him last year. I was surprised when the team signed Mallet and released Cobourne. I think Cobourne would relish the chance to return to Hamilton and show that he never should have been replaced. The guy plays with a chip on his shoulder at the best of times and having been cut would add even more fuel to his fire. He's probably the guy the fans want, but that doesn't mean the team does.

The guy the team may want is Joffrey Reynolds. His connections to both Henry Burris and George Cortez from their days in Calgary make him an attractice option. He looks more on the decline than Cobourne – who, in my opinion, does not look even close to done – but perhaps getting back into a system that he's had success in would be the magic elixir to ward off Father Time.

Wes Cates, who has already received a phone call, is another guy that could take Mallett's place. He had some good years in Saskatchewan, and would make for a fine replacements. I don't know how likely it is that Cates would sign and, out of the three big-name veterans available, I'd rank him as the one with the longest odds of becoming a Tiger-Cat.

Another possible scenario sees the Cats wait it out and see what running backs get cut. I bring this up as a possibility, but it has less of a chance of happening of any possible outcome. I just don't see the team waiting that long to pick someone up. It is still early in camp, so there is plenty of time for a new guy to learn the system before the season starts. I would be stunned if the team waited until after camp and after the preseason to pick Mallett's replacement.

I have to think Obie, Cortez and the entire football ops staff are going over everything deciding what to do. I think the replacement will be signed sooner rather than later, perhaps as early as tomorrow morning. No matter what the team does, they will do it quickly.