Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Burris Wins Again and All-Time O-Line Nominees

Tuesday is quickly becoming news day as far as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are concerned. For the third week in a row a Tiger-Cat player has been named one of the four Players of the Week, and another position group was unveiled for the all-time team.

First, the award. For the second week in a row, Henry Burris has been named the league's top offensive player for Week 5. Burris has been awesome the last two weeks and is starting to put to rest any concerns there were over his ability to be a top-flight quarterback once again. Burris is the first player to be named Offensive Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks since Milt Stegall achieved the feat back in Weeks 6 and 7 in 2006. The only thing that can stop Burris from picking up a third award in a row is something he can't control: the bye week. The Ti-Cats are off this week, but Burris will have a chance to go for the three-peat on August 9th against his old team, the Calgary Stampeders.

The Ti-Cats have also released the name of the offensive lineman up for the all-time team. There are six tackles, seven guards and five centres eligible for two spots at tackle, two at guard and one at centre. The group is a who's who of former, and one current, Tiger-Cat greats. I have maintained for a long time that the receiver position would be the toughest to decide, but after seeing the 17 names up for spots (Ellison Kelly is up for both guard and tackle) I think I was wrong. There are three or four players at all three positions that merit consideration. It truly is a great group of players and one I most definitely cannot handicap.

Monday, 30 July 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 5

After five weeks, five teams have 3-2 records. Five teams! Each team got there in very different ways, but as the calendar turns to the second month of the CFL season, an amazing five squads tied for the top record in the league. Parity, thy name is CFL.

(1) Road teams dominate
After four weeks of home-field advantage leading to 14 wins in 16 games, Week 5 saw homes teams drop three of four games. The only team to win on their turf was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Argos beat the Als in Montreal, the Ti-Cats stunned the Riders in Regina and the Lions obliterated the Stamps in Calgary. Whether this was a one-week anomaly or if we're seeing the better teams start to separate themselves is something that we'll have to keep an eye on.

(2) Eskimos finally using Fred Stamps
Despite losing to the previously winless Bombers, it was to see the Eskimos utilize receiver Fred Stamps. Stamps picked up 91 yards, which is more than double the amount he's had in any game up to that point and those 91 yards are nearly half his season total of 201. Stamps also found his way into the end zone for the first time this season against Winnipeg. If Edmonton wants to be successful offensively, they will need to continue to feature Stamps.

(3) Alex Brink bounces back
Brink was widely and deservedly criticized for his putrid nine-for-34 performance against the Argos back in Week 4, but he bounced back big time in leading Winnipeg to their first win of the season. Brink finished the game going 26 for 38 for 294 yards and one touchdown. He did throw two interceptions, but he was steady all night and was a main reason why Winnipeg is no longer the lone winless team in the CFL.

(4) Brandon London is Montreal's best receiver
Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green get all the attention when it comes to Alouette receivers, but the team's best receiver this season has been the unheralded Brandon London. He sits seventh in the league in receiving yards and has been the biggest threat in the receiving corps for the Alouettes. While Richardson and Green get most of the ink, London has been putting up the numbers.

(5) Chad Owens emerging as a receiving threat
I have been one of the loudest critics of Chad Owens. I think he is the most overrated player in the CFL, bar none. But in his third season with the Argos, and playing with a capable quarterback for the first time in his career, Owens is on the verge of making me change my mind. The league's fourth-leading receiver tied his single-season high for touchdowns in just the fifth game of the season and he is on pace to smash his single-season high for receiving yards. If Owens makes it back-to-back-to-back 3,000 seasons in 2012, he will have earned it.

(6) It is early, but Montreal could miss the playoffs
Saying anything definitive after the fifth week of the season is usually foolish, but based on what I've seen from the Montreal Alouettes, I think there is a chance that the team will miss the playoffs for the first time since their rebirth in 1996. I can't be the only one who watches Montreal play and sees the makings of a bad team. Maybe it is not so much how bad they are, but how much better Toronto and Hamilton look, but regardless of the reason, this year could be the first playoff-less season for the Alouettes.

(7) Kory Sheets is on fire
The mass exodus of veteran running backs this off-season (Fred Reid, Joffrey Reynolds, Wes Cates) meant that some young players were going to have to step up. One such player who has done that is Saskatchewan running back Kory Sheets. Sheets has six touchdowns in five games and has scored at least once in all five of those contests. I wouldn't say that Sheets has been spectacular – his highest yardage total in a game is 89 – but he has been dependable and reliable. His production is one of the big reasons that the Riders are back to being a contender.

(8) What is going on with Jon Cornish?
Sticking with running backs, what happened to Jon Cornish? He was phenomenal in Calgary's Week 1 slaughtering of the Alouettes, but since then he hasn't rushed for over 39 yards in any game, with the low point coming on his six carry, -1 yard performance against BC. Whether it is Cornish himself or the play calling, Cornish has just plain stunk.

(9) Geroy Simon's early season struggles
Speaking of players who haven't performed up to expectations, Geroy Simon has been nearly invisible since breaking Milt Stegall's all-time record for receiving yards. He has yet to score a touchdown in 2012 and hasn't come all that close to a 100-yard game since putting up 105 yards in his record-breaking performance back in Week 1. Simon needs to be a focal point for the offense and I expect Simon's struggles will long gone by the time the leaves change.

(10) My guesses for Players of the Week
I guess picking last week's top players was actually pretty easy because I was able to get all four of them right. I will say that I think this week's decisions will be tougher because of the dearth of players who stood out on defense and special teams. But I'll try my best to pick who will win the awards.

There are more than a few players deserving of being named the week's top offensive player, but the race is down to two people: Travis Lulay and Henry Burris. Lulay threw for over 300 yards and three scores, while completing 30-of-37 passes. Burris threw for 356 yards on 29 of 40 and tossed four touchdowns for the second week in a row. This is truly a toss up, but I'm going to give it to Lulay. Burris was phenomenal, but he won it last week and I just don't see him winning it two weeks in a row.

Probably the most difficult choice is who was the best defensive player in Week 5. Hamilton's Brandon Boudreaux picked up two sacks and forced a fumble; Toronto's Patrick Watkins had six tackles and an interception, as did BC's Adam Bighill. But my pickis Edmonton's J.C. Sherritt. Despite being on the losing end, Sherritt added 10 more tackles to his league-leading total. In a week where I can't recall any standout performances, I'll give the award to perhaps the best defensive player in the league.

Andrew Harris as top Canadian is a no-brainer. Harris scored two touchdowns and had over 90 combined yards to help BC beat the Stampeders. He was far and away the best Canadian on any field this past weekend.

Special teams, like defense, didn't really have one great performance. So with no one standing out, I think the award will go to a kicker for the second straight week, this time it is Toronto's Swayze Waters. Waters accounted for 11 of Toronto's 23 points and went three for four on field goals. In a week that saw very little action in the return game, a kicker will likely win this award. I think that kicker will be Waters.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Hamilton 35, Saskatchewan 34

What a game. Coming back on the road in a hostile Mosaic Stadium after being down 19 in the fourth quarter is something the Tiger-Cats of the past have just not done. This does feel like a new team and one that might be (and I stress the word "might") the best team in the league right now.

Positives

It was another amazing performance by Henry Burris. He finished the game going 28 of 38 for 355 yards and four touchdowns. Burris now sits third in the league in passing yards, leads the league in touchdown passes and QB rating, and sits second in completion percentage. Burris has been on fire and it looks like Burris has found his groove in the offense. If he can keep this up over the whole season, or even something close to it, the sky is the limit.

Onrea Jones had a nice little breakout game by scoring two touchdowns, including the game winner. He had one bad drop in the first half and mistimed a throw from Burris, but bounced back to have his best game of his young career.

Though early, I think it is time we start talking about Rey Williams and defensive player of the year in the same sentence. Williams was his regular stellar self against Saskatchewan, with the big play being his recovery of a Darian Durant fumble that really turned momentum Hamilton's way. Williams has been steady to spectacular all season and that continued on Saturday night.

I also have to give some credit to the defensive line, especially defensive end Brandon Boudreaux. Boudreaux had two sacks and was the man that stripped Durant of the football that Rey Williams recovered. The line as a whole was able to get pressure and looks to be improving each week.

Negatives

The third quarter is still the dead quarter for the Ti-Cats. They finally scored an offensive touchdown in the third frame, but Saskatchewan scored 19 points in the third quarter. In their five games so far, the Ti-Cats have been outscored 64-17 in the third quarter. If the Ti-Cats were only able to shake of their third-quarter woes, they would be nearly unstoppable.

I will start by saying I like Chevon Walker and think he has done a pretty good job so far this season, but last night's game was not his best. His lackadaisical attitude on the kickoff that opened the fourth quarter was not something you want to see from any player, let alone a rookie. And once again, he allowed himself to be pushed out of bounds when the team was trying to milk the clock at the end of the game. Luckily, neither mistake cost the team, but those are mental errors than cannot be allowed to happen.

Final Thoughts

The comeback showed that this is not the same Tiger-Cat team of the past few years. When the call from Obie was to make the team "more better" I imagine this is what he had in mind. The team is one a major roll and the only thing that can stop the winning ways is the one thing they can't control: their bye week. The Ti-Cats will not play again until August 9th when they host the Calgary Stampeders.

But the Ti-Cats head into their bye on a three-game winning streak and atop the East Division standings for the second week in a row. When the season go underway one month ago today, I doubt anyone thought the Cats would have a share of first when the month ended. But a share of first they have and as long as the team doesn't get complacent, this could be a place they sit for quite some time.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Roughriders

2-2
3-1











For a Week 5 matchup between two non-division teams, tonight's Hamilton-Saskatchewan game s ripe with story lines.

The most obvious one is Andy Fantuz's return to the place he called his football home for six years. After being drafted in the first round of the 2006 CFL Draft, Fantuz starred for the Riders, helping them get to three Grey Cups and winning one in 2007. Fantuz opted to leave the Riders to head home to play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It rubbed some Rider fans the wrong way – though it is rather hypocritical of them considering the Riders were able to land Brendon LaBatte, the consensus best lineman available, only because he wanted to play closer to home – so it will be very interesting to see the type of reception Fantuz gets. It will likely be a lot of boos, with the few classy fans the Riders have giving him the warm ovation he rightly deserves.

We also have the mini-controversy that was Corey Chamblin's "Meow" comment following Saskatchewan's 43-16 win over Hamilton back on June 29th. Everyone has seemingly dismissed the comments as meaningless, but disrespect is disrespect. While I doubt it will be a major motivating factor behind Hamilton's performance tonight, there are more than a couple of players that would love to stick to Chamblin, Hamilton's defensive coordinator in 2011, just a little bit (especially those on the defense).

As we have seen for some time, whenever Henry Burris returns to Regina he is bombarded with boos. Burris left the Riders following the 2004 season and their fans have been on his case ever since. With Burris no longer in Calgary, perhaps the vitriol will dissipate over time, but he is not far removed from his days as a Rider tormentor that he will not be showered with boos. I'm sure the Rider faithful will be on his case tonight in the same way they have been since he left.

Lastly, this is a revenge game. The Riders marched into Hamilton back on opening weekend and spoiled the final home opener in the history of Ivor Wynne Stadium. The Ti-Cats will now try to go into Regina and return the favour.

But at the end of the day, it is still a football game between two teams trying to establish themselves. Hamilton is looking to continue their strong play of the past two weeks, while Saskatchewan is looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season last week at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders. Both teams will also be looking to stay atop their divisions; with a win, Hamilton will keep pace with the Toronto Argonauts, while Saskatchewan will stay a game up on Edmonton with a win.

Hamilton has been a little vexed by the Roughriders, especially in Regina where the team has not won since the 2000 season. But this might be the best Tiger-Cat team since the heyday of Danny McManus, Darren Flutie and Ron Lancaster, so if any Hamilton team is going to break the 11-year losing streak in Saskatchewan, it will be this one. To see if the Cats can extend their win streak to three games and send Saskatchewan to their second straight loss, make sure you tune in to TSN starting at 6 p.m.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Williams to Use Gaffe to Help Others


We've all seen the play. In fact, many who read this were probably there live. It ranks up there with one of the biggest gaffes in professional sports history. Chris Williams fielded a missed field goal and took it 117 yards to paydirt... except he didn't. He started to celebrate a tad too early and was caught from behind by Montreal's Brian Ridgeway, getting tackled at the one-yard line. It was a mistake that will stick to Chris Williams for sometime.

But instead of running away from it, he has decided to take that mistake and turn it into a positive. Williams and the Tiger-Cats have teamed up with Fox 40 on the "Play to the Whistle" campaign. For every touchdown that Williams scores from now until the end of the season, $1,000 will be donated to Liberty for Youth and City Kidz, a local-area non-profit organization that helps at-risk youth.

When I first saw the name of the program it made me laugh, and I wondered if this was pure coincidence or if it was all orchestrated after Saturday. It seems pretty clear that the genesis of the idea came after Williams' faux pas against the Alouettes. And I say good for Williams for owning up to his error and for turning what could be a career low into something that can help children in need.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Players of the Week and All-Time DBs

A couple of Tiger-Cat tidbits from today.

First, Henry Burris and Andy Fantuz have been named Players of the Week. Burris was named the league's top offensive player for his masterful performance against the Alouettes. A 90 per cent completion rate is unheard of, especially when you do it by throwing 30 passes. Fantuz was named the top Canadian after picking up 135 yards on eight catches and scoring one touchdown. It really looks like these two are developing some chemistry, and the offense as a whole is starting click like many thought they would in the preseason.

The other piece of news is that the Cats have unveiled the names of the defensive backs up for the all-time team. There are 13 players listed and fans will have to pick the five best. That will not be an easy task. I look at the list and see at least eight players that I would consider casting my vote for, and I have to get that number down to five. I can only imagine what older fans think when they look at the list. I think the only harder choices that fans are going to have will come when the list of receivers is released.

Monday, 23 July 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 4

It is incredible to me that we are already done with Week 4. I will say this at least three more times this season (minimum), but it feels like yesterday that I took in Tiger-Cat training camp for the first time. Now we're almost down the first month of the season. Incredible. Anyway, here are the "10 Things I Learned..."

(1) Khalif Mitchell crossed the line
By now we've all had a chance to see Khalif Mitchell's attempt to rip Simeon Rottier's arm off during Friday night's game. It was a despicable act and complete indefensible. Those types of actions have no place in the game. Football is violent enough without having to worry about goons like Mitchell tearing your arm out. The CFL suspended Mitchell for two games; that is the equivalent of 18 games in MLB, and nine in the NHL and NBA. Before I did the math, I thought the two games was too low. But not one player was suspended for nine games in the NHL last season, so two games now seems like fair and reasonable number.

(2) Home-field advantage is getting ridiculous
Another week where the home teams won more than they lost. Only the BC Lions lost as the hosts, joining the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the only two teams to drop games at home. For those keeping track, home teams have won 14 of the 16 games played. Never has home-field advantage meant so much.

(3) A stunning stat about the Bombers
We all know about Winnipeg's 0-4 start, but an even more surprising stat is the fact that Winnipeg didn't take their first lead of the season until 1:36 left in the second quarter of their Week 4 game against the Toronto Argonauts. That streak lasted over 208 minutes and explains why the Bombers have yet to win a game this season.

(4) I really like Chad Simpson
While it wasn't an Earth-shattering performance, I liked what I saw out of new Bomber running back Chad Simpson. He finished the game with 122 total yards – 91 rushing and 31 receiving – and gave the Bombers a spark. He was clearly still working himself into shape, and looked tired at some points later in the game, but Simpson could looks to be poised for a very good season.

(5) Calgary's comeback win was one for the ages
I'm not a fan of those "No Lead is Safe" ads because, honestly, some leads are safe. But on Thursday night, one lead was not safe. The Calgary Stampeders, led by former Tiger-Cat Kevin Glenn, came back from 17 points down with about fives minutes left to stun the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The game ended up going to overtime, where Glenn connected with Nik Lewis for the winning score. It was a game I missed live (I love the CFL, but The Dark Knight Rises only screens at midnight once), but got to see thanks to TSN's website. It was a game for the ages and is the front runner for best game of the year.

(6) Andrew Harris is on course to be 2012's top Canadian
If things keep going the way they are, Andrew Harris will be the runaway winner of the Most Outstanding Canadian award this year. Harris has been magnificent all season and picked up another 65 yards on the ground and 120 through the air. He is currently on pace for 1,776 rushing yards and 1,440 receiving yards. I doubt he'll finish the season with those types of numbers, but if he becomes the first 1,000-1,000 man in CFL history, he'll be a shoe-in for the top Canadian award and might even be the league's top player, period. On a team filled with offensive talent, none have been bigger and better than Harris.

(7) Edmonton's defense has the look of an all-time great unit
While their offense still leaves a lot to be desired, the 3-1 Edmonton Eskimos have what could turn out to be one of the best defenses in CFL history. After four weeks, the most points the Eskies have allowed in a game is 17. They have given up just 56 points on the season. They are 3-1 for a reason and that reason is their defense.

(8) Montreal's defense has the look of an all-time terrible unit
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Montreal Alouette defense. This unit is just terrible. The least amount of points they have surrendered is 30, and they have already given up a whopping 139 points. When you watch them play, they don't look like they can stop anyone. This defense could end up going down as one of the worst in the history of the CFL.

(9) Punt placement should be challengeable
I understand not wanting to bog down the game with endless challenges, put ball placement is always something I thought should be reviewable. In the Hamilton-Montreal game, Sean Whyte landed a punt on the two-yard line, but after seeing a replay, it looked pretty clear that the ball went out of bounds after crossing the goal line. It should have been one point for the Als and the ball at the 35-yard line for the Ti-Cats. While the incorrect call by the refs had no serious repercussions, it could in the future.

(10) My guesses for Players of the Week
So, I've decided to add this as my permanent No. 10 spot. I don't make game predictions anymore, so I need to do something that allows people to call me a moron. So each week I will take a guess at who the Players of the Week will be.

Offensive player came down to two: Kevin Glenn and Henry Burris. Glenn orchestrated that amazing comeback and put up great numbers, while Burris completed 90 per cent of his passes. I'm going to pick Burris.

Defensive player is a no-brainer. Joe Burnett of the Edmonton Eskimos intercepted two passes and ran one back over 100 yards for a touchdown. No doubt he wins it.

Canadian player came down to Andrew Harris and Andy Fantuz. Fantuz had his best game as a Tiger-Cat, hauling in eight passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. I already outlined what Harris did above, and despite another great outing by him, I think this goes to Fantuz.

Special teams player was tough because no one really stood out. Chris Williams would have been a lock had he not gotten a little too cocky, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say the award will go to Winnipeg's Justin Palardy. Palardy hit all five of his field goal attempts and was a main reason why the Bombers nearly notched their first 'W' of the season.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Hamilton 39, Montreal 24

For three seasons now I have been writing about the Tiger-Cats. For three seasons I have thought that they could be the best team in the league. For three seasons I have been wrong. But after last night's virtuoso performance by Henry Burris, and the team's obliteration of the Alouettes (the 15-point margin really flattered Montreal), the Cats look to be on the verge of something special and find themselves in a position they have not been in since July 2004: atop the standings in the East Division.

Positives

What can be said about Henry Burris? He finished the game going 27 for 30 for 360 yards and four touchdowns. He threw more touchdowns (4) than incompletions (3)! Just think about that for a second. The ball hit the turf more times because of touchdown celebrations than because of dropped passes. His completion percentage was 90. 90! I have seen a lot of excellent quarterback performances, but I have a hard time thinking of a better one that Burris' yesterday.

It looks like Andy Fantuz has found his groove. After finally scoring his first touchdown in Black & Gold last week, Fantuz followed it up by posting his first 100-yard game as a Tiger-Cat. Fantuz was excellent all night; his solid play and reliable hands made him an early, and often, favourite of Burris. After a slow start to the season, Fantuz is starting to look really comfortable in the offense.

I think it is time we put to rest the idea that the Ti-Cats aren't any good on defense. After getting embarrassed by the Riders, the defense has held opposing offenses in check, with last night's performance being the best so far. They pressured Calvillo, they bothered the Montreal receivers and they didn't allow Brandon Whitaker any room to run. They executed perfectly and have been getting better every week.

Negatives

Where else to start but with the boneheaded move by Chris Williams to begin showboating at about the 15-yard line. It was clearly a hot-dog move and one of the stupidest things I have ever witnessed in person, but to hear that Williams apologized after shows that he knows what he did was dumb. I'm not going to pile on, I just hope the young man has learned his lessen and we don't see a repeat ever again.

Despite an all around great performance, the Tiger-Cats' third-quarter offense still stands out as something that needs to be fixed. The team has scored 10 points in the third quarter in four games, and the lone touchdown did not come on offense, but on a Chris Williams punt return. That means the Ti-Cats offense has been responsible for three points in four third quarters. That is unacceptable. I don't know what the problem is, but a lethargic third allowed the Als to get back into the game, the same way it did Toronto the week before, and is something that needs to be fixed because it bites them in the behind.

Final Thoughts

The Ti-Cats may be 2-2 and tied with the Als and Argos, but this is a team that is clearly trending upwards. They have preformed better each and every week, and look like they are close to putting it all together.

It wasn't too long ago that people were talking about the hex that the Als had on the Ti-Cats. Then Hamilton won 40-3 late in the 2010 season, but that was dismissed as a meaningless game because the Als had wrapped. Then the Ti-Cats took two from the Als in 2011, but those two came in Hamilton and the wonder was whether they could win in Montreal. Then the East Division Semi-Final happened. Add this win into it and Hamilton has taken five of the last seven against Montreal and have won the last four times the two teams have played at Ivor Wynne Stadium. Any talk of hex or jinx or any of that is now long gone.

Next up for the Ti-Cats is a revenge game of sorts as the team travels to Regina to take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I think we all recall what happened the last time these two teams met. The Cats will be looking for payback next Saturday evening.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Preview: Alouettes at Tiger-Cats

2-1
1-2
Despite a somewhat ugly 0-2 start, the Tiger-Cats have a chance to claim a share of top spot in the East Division when they collide with the Montreal Alouettes tonight.

Part of the gameplan must be to hit Anthony Calvillo early and often. The Montreal quarterback is dealing with an arm injury, so if the defense can get some pressure and smack him around a little bit, especially early, they should be able to rattle him.

The secondary will also have to do their job to ensure that Montreal receiver Jamel Richardson continues his slow start to the season. Last year's leading receiver has just 11 catches after three games, well off his pace from a year ago. Richardson is too talented to be held done for much longer, but if the Ti-Cats want to claim that share of first in the East, they will have to put the clamps down on big No. 18 this week.

On the offense side of the ball, the Tabbies will have to find a way to be more consistent. In every game, the offense has disappeared for long stretches on the game, with the third quarter being particularly troublesome. The Cats have scored just 10 points, and have yet to score an offensive touchdown, in the third quarter. It is a trend the team will have to reverse if they hope to get a win over the Als.

It wasn't too long ago that the Alouettes would dominate the Tiger-Cats, but those days are gone. At one point, Montreal won 21 of 22 games over the Ti-Cats, but Hamilton has won four of the last six against Montreal, and have not lost at home to the Alouettes since early September, 2010. The supposed hex that the Als had on the Ti-Cats has long since been broken, and now these are two very equally matched teams.

These are the types of games the Cats have been apt to lose the last few years. Every time this team has had a chance to make a move up the standings, they have usually blown it. With a host of new players and a completely different coaching staff, now is the time for the 2012 Tiger-Cats to show they are nothing like their predecessors. A win over the Als, despite only taking them to a 2-2 record, will show that this team is moving in the right direction and that the failures of the past will not haunt this team of the present.

The Cats get their chance to make a statement when the game kicks off at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

My Friend Steve is a Game Changer

A little over a week ago, I wrote a post about my friend Steve and why I nominated him to be a Scotiabank Game Changer.

I am proud to announce that Steve has been selected as the Scotiabank Game Changer for this week's Tiger-Cat game against the Montreal Alouettes. He will receive a cheque for $1,000 that will go to Hamilton Health Sciences.

If you read my initial post on this, you know how I feel about Steve and his charity efforts. He is the most selfless person I know and I was proud to nominate him. I am so happy that he was selected and that his name and brand (High Fives 2 Help Lives) will get more publicity and get scene around the country. More people need to know what great work he does and that is one of the reasons why I nominated him as a Game Changer.

As great as it is that Steve has won the $1,000 for Hamilton Health Sciences, the work is not done yet. There is still a chance for Steve to go to the Grey Cup, represent Hamilton and come home with $100,000 for Hamilton Health Sciences.

To everyone who has voted, I give you my sincere thanks. I may have nominated him, but his hard work and your votes are what helped make this happen. I was but a cog, and a small one at that, in a much larger machine. You, the voters, and Steve, the great man that he is, are the main reasons why I can now call my friend a Scotiabank Game Changer.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Special Teams Galore; TJ Harris Goes Green

A few Tiger-Cat related stories from a very hot Tuesday in the Hammer. Two of them are abotu special teams and one of them is about a former player finding a new home.

The big news of the day was Chris Williams being named the CFL's Special Teams Player of the Week after his brilliant performance in Saturday's win over the Argos. There was no doubt that Williams would take home the honours this week. Everyone knows what Williams did on Saturday, but in case anyone lives under a rock, the 2011 top rookie ran back a punt 89 yards for a touchdown and then followed that up by returning a missed field goal 119 yards for a score. It was a game for the ages from Williams and he was deservedly named the Special Teams Player of the Week because of it.

Sticking with special teams, the Tiger-Cats revealed the players who are up for the all-time team at kicker and punter. There are five nominees at each position, with both Paul Osbaldiston and Bernie Ruoff eligible to be voted as both the punter and the kicker. The players are, at kicker, Tommy Joe Coffey, Ian Sunter, Don Sutherin, and Ozzie and Ruoff; at punter, it is Ozzy, Ruoff, Ken Clark, Cam Fraser and Joe Zuger. My vote is going to Ozzie at kicker and Ruoff at punter. Ozzie is a shoe-in at kicker, but the race for punter will be tougher. Ozzie might win that one too, but they split the kicking duties up, so my hope is that two different players make the team.

And lastly, former Tiger-Cat Terence Jeffers-Harris has landed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I had high hopes for Jeffers-Harris when he was brought in. I think he has the potential to be a great player and I was disappointed when he was cut at the end of training camp. Now he will have a chance to showcase that talent in Saskatchewan.

Monday, 16 July 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 3

I was told in the comment section that I was too negative last week. I said that I will try to make this week's post more positive. I think I have accomplished that. It is not all positive (hard to be when one team loses 42-10), but this is generally an upbeat post. So having said all that here is "What I Learned... In Week 3."

(1)Drew Tate done for the year
It was really unfortunate to find out on Sunday that Drew Tate has opted for surgery and is likely out for the season. That mean's Calgary is now Kevin Glenn's team. Tate was playing very well for the Stampeders up until he got hurt and he was making my preseason prediction of his benching look pretty foolish. I have been a Drew Tate fan for a long time (going back to his days at Iowa) and I do think he has a bright future in the CFL. I hope this is the last time I have to write abotu Drew Tate and an injury. He has all the tools to be a big-time quarterback, he just needs to stay healthy.

(2) Home-field advantage means something this season
Interesting stat came out after the final games this week: home teams have won 11 of 12 games so far this season. The Tiger-Cats' loss to the Roughriders in Week 1 stands as the lone road victory so far in 2012. That's pretty amazing when you think of it. I will keep an eye on this trend and see how it holds up over the full season.

(3) Swagger is dead
The home-field advantage that I mentioned above might partially explain Winnipeg's ugly start. The Bombers have been exclusively on the road to start the season, and have one more road test before finally heading back to the friendly confines of CanadInns Stadium in Week 5. But it's not the only reason the Bombers have not looked sharp. Frankly, they just don't look like a good football team right now. If not for Steven Jyles' horrendous accuracy, they could have lost by a lot more than 32 points to the Eskimos. Aside from a few players, one I will touch on in the next point, this Winnipeg team has been as bad as any I've ever seen.

(4) Matthews is a stud
One bright spot for the Bombers and their fans is the play of receiver Chris Matthews. The rookie from Snoop Dogg's hometown of Long Beach, California has 350 yards and three touchdowns in three games so far. He looks like he is getting better every week. Matthews' emergence shows that Bomber GM Joe Mack was right to let Greg Carr leave via free agency. It's hard not to like the way Matthews has played so far this season and he is definitely an early contender for top rookie.

(5) Nik Lewis' still got it
Even though he is the size a small house – 240 lbs for a receiver... really? – Nik Lewis continues to make plays. He now has a catch in 143 straight games, good for fourth all time. The man of many nicknames will get his ninth straight 1,000 yard season and surpass the 10,000-yard mark this year, and he has shown no signs of slowing down.

(6) Bratton shows his football IQ
Have to give a big hand to Alouette receiver Brian Bratton for his heads-up play against the Calgary Stampeders. Bratton fell to the ground to catch a pass, realized he wasn't touched and got back and scored a touchdown. It was a very heady play and turned out to be an important one in Montreal's one-point win over the Stamps.

(7) Sheritt's hit on Brink was boarderline at best
I understand where Bomber fans are coming from in calling it a dirty hit. I think it was a legal hit, but it darn sure was borderline. It was similar, but not the same, as the hit on Steven Jyles last season. TSN did a great job in highlighting the differences. If Sheritt gets suspended or fined, I wouldn't argue it.

(8) Could Chris Williams win MOP?
I know it is extremely early, but is Chris Williams the leader right now for MOP? His five total touchdowns have come through the air (two), on punt returns (two) and from a missed field goal return (one). He has epitomized the word "outstanding" and if he keeps it, he will be adding some more hardware to his trophy case.

(9) Argos need to rely on Cory Boyd
Despite the loss, Cory Boyd had the best game of his career. If the Argos are going to become a great team, not just a good one, they need to feature Boyd heavily. I know the acquired Ricky Ray to get the passing game going, but that offense should still try to run through Boyd as much as possible. He has his short comings as a back (basically, he's not that fast), but his punishing style will help the Argos wear down opponents, which will lead to better things for the offense.

(10) Refereeing left a lot to be desired
I think I did a pretty good job of being positive this week, but I will end with something negative: the officiating. I thought that the reffing this weekend was terrible. The clock problems in Montreal, the disqualification debacle in Edmonton and the inconsistent calls in Hamilton all cast a pall over what was a pretty good weekend of football. I try not to be too hard on the officials because I know they are not perfect, but there are some things that need to be corrected. Fans are quick to point out when players and coaches make mistakes, so refs should be under the same scrutiny. Probably the worst of the weekend was the stuff in Edmonton. They DQ'd four players, but got one of the numbers wrong for a Winnipeg player. They took a long time to try and sort out who did what and who deserved to be ejected and screwed it up. While it didn't have a significant impact on the game, it is still a screw-up that cannot be allowed to happen. For the most part I think refs do a pretty good job, but that doesn't mean they can't do a better job.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Hamilton 36, Toronto 27

It started as a blowout, but the latest chapter in the Battle of Ontario ended up being an unnecessarily entertaining game (I say that because I would have preferred the blowout). In the end, the Ti-Cats were able to secure their first 'W' of the season by beating the Argos.

Positives

Where should I start. Oh yeah, Chris Williams. I guess we can put to rest any possibility of a sophmore slump, eh? This guy has been unbelieveable the first three weeks. Over 100 yards against the Riders; two touchdowns against the Lions; and now three touchdowns, including an incredible 119-yard missed field goal return, against the Argos. In what is turning out to be another Year of the Returner, Chris Williams is at the head of the class.

For as much flak as the defense takes, and some of it deserved, they have quietly put together two rather good performances. They are still vulnerable against the run, as evidenced by Argo running back Cory Boyd's 168 yards on the ground, but they found a way to get pressure, though just one sack, and the defensive backs constantly forced Ray to look for his check-down option. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but this was a nice game by the defense.

One player in particular I have been impressed with all season is rookie defensive back Matt Bucknor. The Hamilton native has not looked out of place in his first CFL season. He hasn't made many standout plays, but he has been a steady presence, which is very impressive from a rookie. If he continues to develop and play well, the Ti-Cats could be starting two Canadians in the secondary before too long.

One last thing, it was really nice to see Andy Fantuz catch his first touchdown pass as a member of the Ti-Cats. Fantuz has had a bit of a slow start to the season, but he has been utilized more and more in the passing attack as the weeks have gone on, so he will have his big breakout game sooner rather than later. But for the time being, it was nice to see Fantuz finally break the goose egg that was his 2012 touchdown total.

Negatives

A team scores 36 points and you think the offense played pretty well, but that was not the case for the Ti-Cats. Of those 36 points, 15 came courtesy of special teams. There was a particularly troublesome dry spell in the second and third quarters when the team failed to score any points on offense. It was not until Bakari Grant's clincher late in the fourth quarter that the Tiger-Cat offense got the team back into the end zone. I'm not concerned that the offense because I know they have the horses to get it done, but less than 300 yards of offense is not good enough.

While I know he is dealing with a nagging injury, I have not been all that impressed with Sam Giguère so far. I did like that he put his head down to knock over a few Argo players on a fourth quarter catch – though I do wonder why he didn't use his superior speed to get around the corner and score the touchdown – but other than that he's been kind of invisible. This was probably his best game, but more is expected of a player who was drafted in the first round. Like the offense as a whole, I know Giguère will turn it around, but I just haven't been that impressed with him so far.

I'm not one to harp on refs (OK, maybe I am), but I really did not like the game that Murray Clarke and his crew called. For starters, just what the heck is "accidentlal pass interference"? That sure sounded like a made-up call to me. The pass interference call on Carlos Thomas in the end zone was bogus as well. But what bothered me the most about the reffing was that it was inconsistent. The Argos committed would could be classified as "incidental pass interference" later in the game and no flag was thrown. The same with a non-call against Chris Williams in the second half that was much more egregious than the one Thomas was called for earlier. Personally, I don't think any of the plays deserved a flag, but if the first plays got them, then the subsequent plays should have as well. I can accept bad calls, but I cannot accept inconsistent refereeing.

Final Thoughts

It was a really entertaining game: a blowout that turned into a nail biter. Both teams showed why pundits thought they'd be good and why naysayers were cautious about annointing either. Both teams still have work to do, but this was a good win for the Tiger-Cats.

Next up for the Black & Gold is a date with the first-place Montreal Alouettes. The Cats can claim a share of first, and will vault ahead of Montreal based on head-to-head record, with a win. To do that, the offense will have to be more consistent and the defense will have to continue to improve. Next week should be a lot of fun and with a share of first place on the line, the atmosphere for the Alouettes' final trip to Ivor Wynne Stadium will be electric.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Preview: Argonauts at Tiger-Cats

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Everyone ready for the latest round in the Battle of Ontario?

This game sure looks a lot different than it did the last time these two teams locked horns at Ivor Wynne Stadium (August 13, 2011). The two quarterbacks were Kevin Glenn (traded) and Cleo Lemon (released). The head coaches were Marcel Bellefeuille (fired) and Jim Barker (resigned; now solely the team's General Manager). Maurice Mann was on the Ti-Cats, now he's an Argo; Dee Webb was an Argo, now he's a Ti-Cat. Andy Fantuz was still in Chicago trying to make the Bears, and nobody in their right mind thought that Henry Burris and Ricky Ray would be in any provincial battle other than the one in Alberta. Just goes to show how much can change in the CFL in 11 months.

This is a big game for both teams. The Argos can keep pace with the Alouettes with a win, and Hamilton can finally get their first win and move into a tie for second with the Argos. A win for the Ti-Cats would also render moot all the talk of locker-room problems.

And speaking of big games, I can't be the only one that thinks one or both of Andy Fantuz and Sam Giguère are due for big games. Chris Williams has been the team's most consistent receiving threat the first two weeks, and Dave Stala emerged as (surprise, surprise) a reliable set of hands last week in BC, so I think it is time for the other two Canuck pass catchers to step up and make some plays.

Hamilton's defense, despite what people might have you believe, actually played a good game in BC last year. Did the Ti-Cats give up 39 points? Yes they did, but the defense could really only be charged with giving up 23 of those points. The Ti-Cats conceded a safety, gave up a punt return touchdown and Burris had a pass intercepted that was returned to the one-yard line. The defensive line, despite recording no sacks, did put some pressure on Travis Lulay and forced him out of the pocket numerous times. The secondary also put the clamps on BC's terrific receiving corps by allowing Lulay to throw for less than 180 passing yards. Take away the mistake made by the other two units and the defense's output doesn't look so bad. They will need to have a similar performance if they hope to beat the Argos. Ricky Ray is the league's top passer and getting him out of his rhythm will be a key to the game.

Another thing the Ti-Cats will have to do is stop Chad Owens. While I think Owens is an overrated player, he is still deadly weapon in the return game. Owens, however, has never had a really good game against the Ti-Cats. He has never scored a return touchdown against them and the Cats will hope to keep that scoreless streak alive. Stopping him has not been a problem in the past, but it will still be important tonight.

The Hamilton offense looked to finally come alive in the fourth quarter against the Lions and that type of performance over 60 minutes against the Argos will lead to a Hamilton victory. The defense looks improved, the special teams have something to prove and the offense looks like it's ready to explode; all those things could lead to good things for the Ti-Cats when the game kicks off at 7:00PM tonight at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Cortez, Creehan Clear the Air

The story the last two days has been the comments made by player agent Darren Gill stating that there is turmoil in the Tiger-Cat locker room between head coach George Cortez and the players, and Cortez and defensive coordinator Casey Creehan.

Today, both Cortez and Creehand addressed the situation and pretty much called it false and ridiculous.

The most surprising revelation came when Cortez said that Gill denied making the comments. I really do not understand why Gill would say that considering that he made the comments on the radio and the audio is readily available for anyone to hear it.

Like I said yesterday, once the team starts winning all of these problems will go away. The sooner the wins come, the sooner this story gets buried for good.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Supposed Rift is Much Ado About Nothing

What was looking like a slow news day turned out to be quite newsworthy when player agent Darren Gill went on the radio in Montreal and pretty much blasted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Gill said that there are some problems in the Hamilton lockr room between head coach George Cortez and his players, as well as between Cortez and defensive coordinator Casey Creehan.

The always reliable Drew Edwards transcribed Gill's comments:
“It's an amazing situation. Hamilton is experiencing some early struggles. In the off-season there was a lot of talk about the head coaching moves that happened around the league. Obviously, so far in Saskatchewan it's worked out. In Hamilton thus far it hasn't.

"I'm not going to tell you that there's major problems in that locker room but they are certainly starting. And they started before Henry Burris got a little tour on the bench. They started basically in week one. George Cortez is not known as a player's coach and that's been known from day one. He's not brought the veterans on his side and it's made it very difficult for him to try and get that team on the right page.

"In fact, there's been some pretty well known confrontations in that team's locker room between George Cortez and defensive coordinator Casey Creehan. They're not on the same page. The quarterback and the coach aren't on the same page. I'm not telling you this team is in trouble but there's certainly some early signs that they are in trouble.”
So according to Gill, Cortez is not a players coach, and is not on the same page as his defensive coordinator and quarterback.

And it all means exactly bupkis.

Are there problems in Hamilton's locker room? I have no idea. But the reason this is even a news item is because the team is 0-2. Remember when people were wondering if Wally Buono should be replaced after the Lions started 0-5 last year? Those same people looked pretty silly when last season ended.

When a team is losing, questions get raised and problems arise. When a team wins, everything is great. So once the Ti-Cats start winning – and believe me, they will start winning very soon – all of these supposed problems will mysteriously disappear. Winning cures everything and this situation will be no different. The alleged problems in Hamilton's locker room are nothing a few wins won't correct.

All-Time Running Backs and Cannon Street

A couple of little pieces of info from the past couple of days as it relates to the Tiger-Cats.

For starters, we have the team releasing the names of the running backs that are up for the all-time team. I was very surprised when the position breakdown came out that fans would be asked to select two running backs. I figured there would only be one and that fans would pick five receivers, not four. But two it is and the list of nominees has been revealed to be Willie Bethea, Troy Davis, Jimmy Edwards, Dave Fleming, Cookie Gilchrist, Andy Hopkins, Gerry McDougall and Ronald Williams.

Troy Davis is a no-brainer. He is the all-time leading rusher in team history, and onws the single-season and single-game records for rushing yards. Davis is arguably the greatest running back in team history and his four-plus year run with the Ti-Cats was one of the few bright spots in a less than stellar era of Tiger-Cat football. He's definitely getting one of my votes.

Where to cast my second vote is where I'm having problems. The remaining seven players all have a compelling case as to why they should be the second running back on the all-time team and my last votes seems to be a back and forth between Jimmy Edwards and Ronald Williams. I never saw Edwards play, but what he did was nothing short of spectacular. Three all-star nods in three seasons, two MOP nods, and 1977 MOP award. Had the guy stayed with the team, he might have gone down as the greatest CFL running back of all time. Williams I did watch and man was he good. He's often forgotten when discussing those early McManus-led teams, but he was an integral part of that offense. My vote is going to flip flop between those two until voting ends.

The second bit of Tiger-Cat news involves, what else, the new stadium. A report given to the city recommends that the area of Cannon Street in front of the new stadium should become a "civic space" and be closed to traffic.

I think that is a great idea, even if it is only put in place on game days. I think turning the area around the stadium into a more pedestrian-friendly one would be wonderful. I hope this comes to fruition in 2014.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Scotiabank Game Changer

Normally when there are two or three things going on in Tigertown, I like to combine them. I will post something on the all-time running back nominees and the possibility of closing Cannon Street in front of the new stadium later, but this post is about something a lot more important than football, so I felt it deserved its own post.

Those who attend games or watch on TSN have probably noticed that Scotiabank has a Game Changer program where they will give money to people who have or are making an impact in their communities. It just so happens that I know one of these people and when I first heard of the program, his name was the first one that popped to mind. So after getting all the needed information, I decided to nominate my good friend Steve Gillon as a Scotiabank Game Changer.

You can read Steve's profile by clicking the link, and I think it does a good job of encapsulating all the great work he does, but there was a word limit, so I would like to go into a little more detail (and get a little more personal) about why I nominated Steve.

Steve decided when his grandparents and uncle passed away that he wouldn't just sit around and do nothing about the diseases that took those he loved away from him. I remember attending what I believe was his first fundraiser at the London Tap House in downtown Hamilton in July of 2009. I'm not the most social guy in the world, but I figured it was worth it to support my friend. Since then, Steve has held numerous fundraisers, and even a toy drive, in an effort to give back. All this fundraising led him to establish his own non-profit organization, High Fives 2 Help Lives, in 2011.

Since establishing High Fives, Steve has helped raise almost $5,400 for various charities, with his Movember campaign being his most successful so far. You may recall that last NMovember I posted a piece lamenting the fact that the CFL was not doing something to promote Movember like they had with their breast cancer awareness program in October. You may also remember who happy I was to find out that memebers of the Tiger-Cats office staff were getting in on the Movember fun.

My support for Movember came because of one man: Steve. If you look at the first link in the above paragraph you will notice his name is featured prominently. There is a reason for that, and it goes beyond us being friends for over 20 years. I am, to put it bluntly, damn proud of him. He took what is one of the worst things in the world, losing the people you love, and turned it into something positive. He found a way to give back and has done some amazing work over the last three years. So when the chance came to help him out, I jumped at it. He has worked so hard to give back to others, that is was time for me to finally give back by helping him.

When I heard about the Scotiabank Game Changer program, I thought of no one else but Steve. So in addition to this post, I will also be adding a link to Steve's Game Changer profile on the sidebar. Please, just take a minute or two to read his profile and vote for him. I know he would appreciate it and so would I.

Monday, 9 July 2012

10 Things I Learned... In Week 2

Another week in books and it was filled with mostly some exciting action. The first three games were excellent, with each being better than the one before it. Unfortunately, the league didn't go four for four thanks to a terrible game played in Regina. But it was a good week of football action and another week where I learned some things.

(1) Drew Tate's injury
Probably the biggest development of the week was the injury to Calgary QB Drew Tate. It is not yet known how long Tate will be out, but he missed six weeks last season when he injured his non-throwing shoulder. With Tate out, Kevin Glenn becomes the team's starting quarterback. Glenn will keep them afloat for however long Tate is out. Glenn nearly led the Stamps back after getting thrust into the game, so now that he'll be given starter's reps in practice, he'll be fully capable of guiding the Stamps to a few victories while Tate heals up.

(2) I really don't like the second helmets
This trend of having alternate helmets needs to stop. Calgary's black ones are hideous; Saskatchewan's white ones were worse; and Edmonton's green ones, while better than the other two, just don't do it for me. Teams should stick with one helmet and one helmet only. I don't understand why this trend began, but it can't come to an end sooner.

(3) The Matthews-Edwards combo looks like a good one
Perhaps the most exciting 1-2 receiver combination in the CFL this season has been Winnipeg's Terrence Edwards and Chris Matthews. We all knew what Edwards was capable of, but Matthews has been a revelation. Against Montreal, the two combined for 14 catches, 257 yards and one touchdown (scored by Matthews). Many blasted the Bombers when they let Greg Carr leave for Edmonton, but with the emergeance of Matthews, it looks like they made the correct decision.

(4) Jamel Richardson's rough start
Staying with receivers, has anyone noticed how invisible last year's leading receiver, Jamel Richardson, has been? Seven catches for 99 yards in two games? That's it. He's behind 16 other players in receiving yards and two of those players are running backs. I have faith that Richardson will break out of his slump, but this still must be concerning.

(5) Whitaker wants his title back
Last week I said that Jon Cornish might be the best running back in the CFL, which would mean he would take that title from Brandon Whitaker. Well, it appears Whitaker is not ready to relinquish that title just yet. He had an excellent games against the Blue Bombers, picking up 235 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. A great game that might be enough to earn him top offensive player honours this week.

(6) Weekend of the returner
What a weekend for returnmen. Four types of kicks returned for touchdowns by four different players, but the two standouts were Tim Brown and Larry Taylor. Brown got it started against Hamilton with his 296 combined return yards, which was highlighted by his 81 yard punt return touchdownd. Less than 24 hours later, Larry Taylor went off on the Toronto Argonauts, totalling 441 combined yards, the second highest combined yardage in league history. His 125-yard missed goal return was a sight to behold. After a lacklustre year for returners in 2011, it is nice to see the returnmen do some damage early in 2012.

(7) Argos need a new kicker
Despite his game-winning field goal, I think it might be time that the Argos gave serious consideration to parting ways with kicker Noel Prefontaine. I know his six-for-eight performance against the Stamps might indicate otherwise, but he has been very erratic and not very reliable so far this season. He has been a very good kicker for a very long time, but he doesn't look to have the oompf that he has in past years.

(8) Edmonton's offense is terrible
Scoring 20 points in two games, including one point in Week 2, is not the way the Edmonton Eskimos wanted to start the season. They have quarterback problems, sure, but they also have protection problems. I don't care who the quarterback is, they can't produce if they can't get comfortable in the pocket. Jyles and Joseph couldn't get comfortable and the Eskimos put up one of the worst offensive performances I have ever seen.

(9) Saskatchewan's defense is pretty good
While Edmonton couldn't move the ball at all, the Saskatchewan defense is looking mighty good after two games. They have given up a mere 17 points over eight qaurters of football. I don't care who you play, holding a team to one point is extremely impressive. After a terrible 2011, the Riders are looking like the bounce-back team of 2012.

(10) The Eskimo-Rider game was one of the worst I've ever watched
After the week started with three excellent games, the Riders and Eskimos decided to try to set football bak a generation by playing some of the worst football I have ever seen. The first touchdown of the game wasn't score until after the three minute warning in the second half. Neither team scored at all in the third quarter and the score, prior to the touchdown, was 7-1 in favour of Saskatchewan. Those eight combined points came on a field goal, three singles and a conceded safety. It is one of the worst games I have ever watched. I hope to never see a game this bad for the rest of my life, but I'll settle for the rest of the season.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

BC 39, Hamilton 36

The three-game winning streak in BC is over. The Ti-Cats did their best to overcome a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, but a late rally fell just short. It was a game that started great, got really ugly in the middle and then ended with the team looking like they've flipped a switch.

Positives

Another week, another electrifying performance from Chevon Walker. I know they call him "Chevy," but I'm starting to wonder if they should call him "The Rock" because he sure looks like the most electrifying man in all of sports. Walker put up 154 yards from scrimmage, highlighted by a 95-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Walker had two TDs on the night and while it may only be two games, Walker has to be the leader at this point for top rookie.

Despite not being able to come up with a stop when the team needed it, the Tiger-Cat defense actually played a really good game. The Lions may have scored 39 points, but 14 of those points came directly from mistakes from other units (a punt return for a touchdown and an interception that led to a one-yard touchdown). There were a few near interceptions (and one called back on a somewhat dubious penalty) and while they didn't register a sack, they did put some pressure on Travis Lulay. It was the type of game the defense can build on.

It is beginning to look more and more like Chris Williams is the team's best weapon. A two touchdown performance, one via a punt return and one on a pass by Henry Burris, as well as close to 150 all-purpose yards. Another solid outing from last year's top rookie.

Negatives

The turning point of the game came when the Lions scored two touchdowns in the span of about 20 seconds and on of those touchdowns came on an 81-yard punt return by Tim Brown. The Hamilton coverage units could not stop Brown last night as he tallied close to 300 yards on punt and kick returns. With Chad Owens next on deck, the Ti-Cats will need to find a way to shore up this part of the team.

Marwan Hage went down with an injury in the first half and did not return. The injury was not related to his ACL injury from last year, but it was still a scary site to see Hage walking off the field with the trainers.

We all know that George Cortez is an offensive genius, but his decision making in his first two games as head coach has left a lot to be desired. He inexplicably threw a challenge flag on a very clear fumble by Dave Stala, and while he might have had an itchy trigger finger after not challenging the Weston Dressler catch that wasn't a catch last week, there was no way he should have called for a challenge. He's going to get some leeway since this is his first go-around as head man, but that slack won't last much longer.

Final Thoughts

There are no thing as moral victories in professional football, but the Ti-Cats did look like a much better team last night than they did a week ago. While the offense seemed to disappear for about two quarters, the defense held them in there as well as they could until the offense finally awoke from its slumber. A three-point loss to the defending champions at home is not what you want, but considering the Cats were down 19 midway through the third quarter, it might have been the best they could hope for.

The Ti-Cats still have some areas they need to work on, but they can take the positives from this game and hopefully finally put it all together a week from now when they host the Argos. If the Hamilton team that played BC last night shows up to play the Argos next week, it's going to be a bloodbath in favour of the home side. The team might be 0-2, but they look like they are headed in the right direction.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Preview: Tiger-Cats at Lions

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After getting trounced by the Roughriders last week, the Tiger-Cats will look to rebound against the defending Grey Cup champions. Not an easy feat – going across the country to play a game in a different time zone never is – but it is especially difficult since the Lions have not lost a game at the renovated BC Place and have lost just one of their last 14 games, including the playoffs. That one loss, however, came at the hands of the Tiger-Cats.

Winning in BC is a daunting task, but the Ti-Cats have had their fair share of success on the left coast recently. Hamilton has won their last three in BC and will look to continue their winning ways tonight. Hamilton is looking to put last week's debacle behind them and a win over the defending champs in their barn would be a good place to start.

BC enters this game coming off a dominating win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Week 1 and look to still be the class of the CFL. They have a deadly receiving corps that will be tough to stop and an all-star secondary that will be tough to beat. The Lions look nearly unbeatable and beating them will be a tall task for the Ti-Cats.

The Ti-Cats are making some changes in the hopes of not falling to 0-2 for the third year in a row. Markeith Knowlton and Dave Stala will be in the starting lineup for the first time in 2012, taking the places of Kevin Eiben and Onrea Jones, respectively. These are changes that will hopefully lead to better results. If they do, the changes might not be temporary.

The Ti-Cats are in tough against the Lions, but it is usually a fairly exciting affair when these two teams meet up, so expect a hungry Hamilton team to want to make amends for their poor showing last week, while BC will look to beat Hamilton in Vancouver for the first time since 2008. The fun gets going at 10 p.m.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Defensive End Candidates for the All-Time Team

For some reason this slipped my mind, but the Ti-Cats have unveiled the second position group for fans to vote on for the all-time team. The quarterbacks were revealed last week; this week, it is the defensive ends.

Seven players are up for two spots on the team, and while all seven are great players, the two that will make it are likely to be no-brainers. All due respect to Tim Cofield, Billy Ray Locklin, Vince Mazza, Tim Cheatwood and Pete Neumann, but the two that will be named to the team are Joe Montford and Grover Covington.

Simply put, they are two of the greatest pass rushers in CFL, not just Tiger-Cat, history. Covington still holds the league record for sacks in a career, while Montford was a three-time winner of the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award and holds the team records for sacks in a season with 26.

When I think of defensive ends for the Ti-Cats, the first two names that come to mind are Covington and Montford. They are the two most identifiable pass rushers in Tiger-Cat history and they are the two players who will receive my votes for the all-time team.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Avon Cobourne and Hamilton's Roster Problems

We are not even at Week 2 of the CFL season and the Ti-Cats are already dealing with their second roster controversy. Last week, the Kevin Eiben-Markeith Knowlton situation was discussed not once, not twice, but three times just by me. That doesn't take into account the articles written by Steve Milton and Drew Edwards on the subject. The Knowlton-Eiben saga spawned its own cottage industry last week.

So it is a new week and the Ti-Cats have another roster quandary to deal with. This time it is what to do at running back with Avon Cobourne and Chevon Walker. As everyone and their grandmother knows, Cobourne was a healthy scratch for last week's season-opening loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, with Chevon Walker getting the start. Walker then went on to rush for 132 yards on seven carries, including an 89-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. But Hamilton still lost the game, and lost it badly, to the tune of 43-16. It was an almost inexcusible home loss to the team that finished last in the league last season. A new season means new realties, but the Cats should have beat the Riders.

So Cobourne sat and he has said all the right things when asked about the situation, which should come as no surprise. He was nothing but professional in the winter when the team signed Martell Mallett to replace him. He quietly asked for his release, was granted it, and never said another word about it. When Mallett got hurt and Cobourne was contacted, he came back. No bridges burned, no hard feelings.

But bringing him back came at a significant financial cost, which makes the decision to bench him all the more puzzling. He is reportedly one of the highest-paid running backs in the league (if not the highest paid) so it is very surprising the team would make the decision to have him be a healthy scratch given the economics of the situation. If you're paying a player that much money, you expect that he should be on the field producing.

There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when trying to figure out how to deploy both Cobourne and Walker. The ratio is a great place to start, but as always, that can be worked out if the team has good enough players. The same can be said about Cortez's explanation that if one of them were a "top-notch kickoff and punt returner" it would be easier to get them both on the roster. If the team has enough talent, that can be compensated for. When the team used Cobourne and Terry Grant at running back last year, Grant never ran back kicks or punts (at least according to the stats found on the CFL's website). So they found a way last year to put two import running backs on the roster without one of them being a kick or punt returner, so I don't understand why they couldn't do the same this year.

At some point, the Ti-Cats are going to have to find a way to get both Cobourne and Walker on the roster at the same time. Sitting Cobourne just doesn't make any sense, but taking Walker off the gameday roster is also not a good idea. Using them in tandem, as the team did with Cobourne and Grant last year, would be the best way to maximize the skill at the running back spot. Whatever changes the team has to make, regardless of how difficult they may be, are necessary for the Ticats to field the best team possible, because the best team has Avon Cobourne on it.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Hamilton's 2012 Intro Video


One of the cool things about attending so many live games is that you get to see stuff at the stadium that the fan watching at home does not. One of those things is the debut of the latest intro video for the Tiger-Cats. They do these videos every year, and this year's version rivals the 2009 version as the best one the team has done.

I always feel like the song choice makes or breaks the video. Last year's video, for instance, featured a generic version of Metallica's "Master of Puppets," which is a great song to get you pumped up (I hate metal and I like that song), but only if it's the original. The 2009 and 2012 videos share one thing in common about their songs: they come from film scores.

What most don't know about me is that I'm a bit of a nut about movie scores. I own more than my fair share of film scores (and not just ones from Star Wars, either). Two of my favourite films scores are from Requiem for a Dream and Inception. It is also no coincidence that my two favourite songs from said scores are used in my two favourite intro videos: "Lux Aeterna" from Requiem and "Mind Heist" from Inception. (Side note: before I get a deluge of comments or e-mails calling me an idiot, I know the versions of the songs used aren't actually from those scores: the extended version of "Lux Aeterna" used in the '09 video is most known for being used in the trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and "Mind Heist" was only in the Inception trailer, not the actual film.)

Both songs give off the epic feel that I believe makes the videos all the more entertaining. I know when I watch them I get more than a little excited for the game that is about to be played. I still put the 2009 video ahead of the new video because of the blatant Batman allusions – I love Batman almost as much as I love my own family – and I have enjoyed "Lux Aeterna" longer than I have "Mind Heist." Both are great songs, but I've loved "Lux Aeterna" for over a decade, so I have to give the 2009 video the nod.

That said, this year's video is excellent and whoever put it together deserves major kudos. It's a great way to start every game and I look forward to seeing it eight more times this year.

For those wondering, here is my favourite intro video from 2009:

10 Things I Learned... In Week 1

After two years of doing "Morning-After Thoughts," I decided to change things up in my third season of blogging about the CFL. So instead of posting 20-plus points from each week's four games, I've decided to change up the format and look slighly more in depth at 10 things from the week's game. With a new format comes a new name, so from here on out I will now be sharing the "10 Things I Learned..."

(1) East gets trounced
16, 16, 15, 10 were the points put up by Hamilton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, respectively. The West ran over their Eastern counterparts, with just one game (Toronto-Edmonton) being anywhere near competitive. Hamilton kept it close for a half and Winnipeg tried found a bit of a groove in the second, but each team still has some things to figure out. The biggest surprised was how utterly inept Montreal looked. They had no rhythm on offense and their defense was the same seive it was late last year. One week is too soon to judge anything, but this Montreal team is not the well-oiled machine of years past. But the whole East looked weak in Week 1. Week 1 made dummies who made grandiose proclamations about an East crossover in the playoffs look rather foolish.

(2) Enough about the Ricky Ray trade
I'm with Chris Schultz on having heard enough about the Ricky Ray trade. I am really glad that the Argos and Eskimos played in the first week of the season, because I wouldn't want to have to hear about this deal and any impending return to Edmonton for Ray. The trade happened in December and we've been talking about it since December. Nothing was settled on Sunday -- Ray played a better game, but Jyles' team won -- and there will not be, and may never be, a definitive winner of the trade after one game. I don't about anyone else (except Chris Schultz), but I'm tired of hearing about the Ricky Ray trade.

(3) Geroy's record
Geroy Simon set the all-time record for receiving yards by passing former Blue Bomber Milt Stegall on Friday night against Stegall's old team. Watching Simon play, I don't see why he can't continue to dominate for another three or four years. By the time he is done, it is possible that Simon could put the career mark at close to or over 20,000 yards.

(4) Quit stopping games when a player breaks a record
Staying with Simon for just a second, I do not like stopping in the middle of a game to recognize when a player breaks a record. I don't have a problem with a player getting recognition for breaking a record, I just wish they wouldn't stop the game to do it. Do it after the game.

(5) The Argos have a discipline problem
Yikes! 18 penalties in one game? I didn't even know that was possible. I have never seen a more undisciplined group and I can't remember a game with that many penalties by one team. The Argos might have won the game if not for penalties, as the Boatmen had a touchdown called back thanks to a holding penalty by offensive lineman Wayne Smith. The Argos won't win many games if they keep taking double-digit penalties.

(6) Time for Winnipeg to start Alex Brink
I have already stated that I thought Buck Pierce wouldn't last the season and that Alex Brink would take over as the team's starting quarterback, but I didn't think it would happen so soon. Pierce was injured after being completely ineffective in Winnipeg's season-opening loss to the BC Lions. When Brink took over for Pierce, he looked in command of the offense and actually put together a few decent drives. It wasn't enough to get them back into the game, but I think the Bombers would be a better team with Brink at the hel, instead of Pierce.

(7) Defense is alive and well in Alberta
The two Alberta franchised used stiffling defenses to help them secure wins in Week 1. On Saturday night, it was the Eskimos who were able to neutralize Cory Boyd and make life miserable for Ricky Ray, never allowing the former Edmonton pivot to get comfortable in the pocket. On Sunday night, the Stampeders held the vaunted Alouette offense in check. The Stamps didn't allow the Alouettes to find any rhythm and harrassed Anthony Calvillo, who showed his frustration on the sideline, all night long.

(8) Jon Cornish might be the best running back in the league
While he slowed down a tad after halftime, Jon Cornish looks to be on a mission to become the best running back in tthe CFL. He went up against last year's best back, Montreal's Brandon Whitaker, and blew him out of the water. If Cornish continues to improve, the sky is the limit.

(9) Montreal's defense still looks terrible
A lot was made of the injuries suffered by Montreal's defense at the end of last year, yet after a full off-season to get healthy, and change schemes under new defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold, the Als defense still looks terrible. They couldn't stop Calgary at all and it could end up being what stops Montreal from getting back to the mountain top in 2012.

(10) Weston Dressler is a Tiger-Cat killer
When the Ti-Cats travel to Regina to play the Roughriders at the end of the month, I suggest they watch extra film on Weston Dressler. They guy absolutely killed the Cats, and this wasn't the first time either. It seems as if Weston Dressler saves his best for when he plays the Tiger-Cats. It's like Hamilton somehow wronged the diminutive North Dakota grad and he takes it out on them every time the two teams play. He put up 180 yards on 13 catches and three touchdowns. He'll probably be named the Offensive Player of the Week and he once again single handedly killed the Tiger-Cats.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Happy Canada Day

One of my favourite things about the Tiger-Cats is the giant Canadian flag that gets brought out before every game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. It is truly a site to behold and it is something that everyone (be they Tiger-Cat fan or not) can be be proud of.

So with that said, I would just like to wish everyone out there a Happy Canada Day. Without Canada there would be no Canadian Football League. So enjoy the day and remember that we live in one of the greatest countries in the world with the greatest football league in the world.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!