With just three full training camp practices and one pre-season game before the roster is trimmed down to 46 active players and another dozen on the practice roster – plus injury lists – it’s an understatement to say this is an important week for a large number of Hamilton Tiger-Cats, especially the five kicking-job candidates.
There are still 88 players at McMaster this week.
Here are some observations after Monday’s Day 1 of practice leading toward the Ticats’ déjà-vu game in Guelph Friday night against the Toronto Argonauts.
The coaching staff is still getting a read – and won’t reveal much about what they see – on this season’s new rules, particularly the narrowing of the hash marks toward the middle of the field.
“I don’t have a take yet,” Orlondo Steinauer said after Saturday’s win over Montreal, and repeated roughly the same thing Monday. “The larger the sample size the better you’ll be able to assess the effect it may, or many not, be having. Obviously, you can tell from the kicking game that the angles aren’t quite as sharp, and I think that will make a difference. ”
The Als’ opening drive touchdown behind Trevor Harris worked almost exclusively into the extra room on the “boundary” side, or playing off that room with crossing patterns across the linebacking tier. But the Ticats were more interested in evaluating talent rather than play scheming, so the impact likely looked more severe than it would eventually be.
“We knew going in there’s a lot more room on the boundary side,” says Hamilton defensive co-ordinator Mark Washington. “It makes the field more balanced and the things you used to get only from the field side you can get from the boundary now. We have to have tools to be successful against it. You’re going to see more deep crosses now… from both sides. But it’s definitely going to keep evolving as time goes on: in all aspects, even kicking. ”
Ticat punter Joel Whitford says the angles are indeed different for sideline punts and so are the “block” zones: where teams will try to put their hands to try to block a punt. They’ll come from both sides now. Quarterback Dane Evans said in his one quarter of action he saw “only two full zone defences: the rest were all man-to-man or some hybrid.” Receiver Bralon Addison noticed the same thing.
Our prediction is that the narrower hashes will provide a CFL rarity: offences being ahead of defences in the early going, as defenders try to figure out how to counteract the extra short-side space.
One new rule that few noticed. The Alouettes got a holding call on the final play of the third quarter, which normally would have resulted in another play, but accepted penalties at the end of the first and third quarters are now tacked onto the start of the next quarter and it probably saved two or three minutes in real time.
The Ticats cut only four players Sunday: Americans Traveon Beck (DB), Justus Reed (DL) and Ezekiel Barnett (LB), plus Global defensive lineman David Izinyon who played one game last season. One Global must be on the game day roster and two more can be on the practice roster and five currently remain: defensive lineman Valentin Gnahoua and Chris Mulumba, plus kickers / punters Joel Whitford, Blake Hayes and Tadhg Leader. Desmond Lawrence is on the inactive veterans list until Sunday and three Canadians – starting offensive lineman Coulter Woodmansey, and receivers Lemar Durant and Tyler Ternowski of Hamilton – were shifted to the six-game injured list. That doesn’t mean they can’t start when their season does a week from Saturday in Saskatchewan: it just allows the Ticats the opportunity to keep three more players around this week for more scrutiny.
Monday, Chris Van Zeyl got on the field for the first time in training camp and will ramp up toward starting in the season opener. But, the Ticats really need to get a good look at American tackles, so it’s likely six-foot-six newcomer Tyrone Riley will see significant action in Guelph. He took a lot of reps Monday. Returning American Travis Vornkahl so far starts at left tackle and the Ticats need to see more of fellow import tackles Ralph Singleton and De’Ondre Wesley.
Canadian receivers Durant, Kiondre Smith and Tyler Turner, plus Americans Steven Dunbar Jr., who’s a lock, Emmanuel Butler, Anthony Johnson, Donnell Williams and Andrew Boston are all six-foot-two or taller. It could change after Friday’s game but this corner sees Johnson with the inside track, followed closely by Butler and Boston.
“Including myself it was a small receiving corps,” said 2019 league all-star Bralon Addison. “So, it’s nice to have guys like Steven back, and Durant, Johnson, Butler and Boston come over, I think it helps a lot. We’ve got the smaller guys who can get behind the defense and we have the guys who can go up on the defense. I think it’s the most varied group we’ve had since I’ve been here. ”