Ticats sign running backs, put veteran C.J. Gable on notice

Lost in the endless chatter surrounding the arrival of a certain former NFL quarterback in Saskatchewan, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats signed a pair of running backs on Thursday, effectively sending veteran C.J. Gable a simple message: there’s competition for your job this spring.

Gable has been a favourite of vice president of football operations and head coach Kent Austin for his entire tenure, signing the former USC star in April of his first year at the helm. Gable was spectacular in 2013 with nearly 1,400 combined yards in 15 games played and a nod as the East Division Most Outstanding Player.

That was, as it’s turned out, his best season to date.

Gable was beset by injuries to his ankle, shoulder and arm in 2014 and 2015 playing in just 12 of a possible 36 games over that span. For most running backs, back-to-back years featuring prolonged absences would be enough to spur most teams to move on but Austin has always expressed an appreciation for Gable’s ability to run, catch the ball and contribute in pass protection. It’s a combination that’s tough to find at any level, never mind the CFL.

Last season was something of a bounce-back year for Gable as he played in 15 games, registering almost 700 yards on the ground (good enough for sixth in the CFL) and making 39 catches for 405 yards. Given Austin’s seemingly pathological aversion to running the football – the Ticats were last in the league in attempts in 2016 – it’s hard to blame Gable for not producing more but his 5.5 per carry average was down a half-yard from his rookie year and came in fifth of the 11 running backs with at least 60 carries.

Gable will turn 30 in October and there’s plenty of research that shows that running backs generally peak at age 26 with declining production until age 32 when it falls off a cliff. Entering the last year of a contract that pays him in the $90,000 range, Gable is entering the risk-reward phase of his career (if he’s not there already.)

Enter the new kids. Among the five players signed on Thursday, two are running backs: Alex Green, who has played in 29 games with the Packers and Jets, and Cierre Wood, who was a star at Notre Dame. Green is 28, Wood just 26 and both will be on entry-level (i.e. cheap) deals.

There’s also 24-year-old Ross Scheuerman, who looked pretty good in a Sept. 16 win over Montreal where he had 16 carries for 79 yards and five receptions for 40 yards while finishing the game with a broken wrist that ultimately cost him the remainder of the season.

Competition is an inherent part of training camp so bringing in more running backs was inevitable. Gable will still have an advantage, given his knowledge of the system and relationship with Austin. But his injury history, declining production, age, and Ticats clear aversion to sticking with players who can’t stay healthy – just ask receiver Chad Owens as well as defensive backs Johnny Sears and Rico Murray – are all indicators that Gable, more than ever, will have to prove he’s still the best man for the job.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
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Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1022 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

35 Comments on Ticats sign running backs, put veteran C.J. Gable on notice

  1. I have always like Gable but it is appearing like it might be time for some fresh blood – $90k is not a huge salary in the CFL – if he can stay healthy and produce, he should be retained.

  2. I totally understand that football is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and that every team is looking to improve where it can because, as Bob O’Billovich was fond of saying, “better is better”.

    I have a soft spot for C.J. Gable. I like his running style, I like his selfless blocking ability, I love his background story and I love his work ethic. I haven’t loved his injury history, but if you look at the injuries that kept him out of the line-up, they were not because he has a soft body (look at the hit that broke his arm in 2015 and try telling me that was because he’s injury-prone).

    His numbers weren’t great after his rookie season, but look how his replacements did over that time when he was out of the line-up. Nic Grigsby, Mossis Madu, Ray Holley, Michael Ford. None of these guys were able to run behind the offensive line we employed during that time, either. We couldn’t run block to save our lives. Look at the run-pass ratio of the during that time as well. The Tiger-Cats were the most pass-heavy team by a fair margin too. No one was going to put up decent running numbers with our play calling.

    Last year, about the time Ross Scheuerman came on the scene, the Tiger-Cats started to figure out run blocking. It also coincided (roughly) for when Brandon Revenberg started featuring regularly in the line-up, and not too long afterwards Xavier Fulton became a Tabbie. In short, the team’s offensive line got dramatically upgraded and became efficient in both aspects of the offense.

    When Gable got back into the line up after Scheuerman’s injury, we saw the Gable of 2013 come back, because he actually had some holes to run through and blocks to spring him. His running style hadn’t changed, he still hit the hole as hard as he ever did, he still (despite all his time on the DL) has his second gear once he exploded into the second level, and he still leaped tacklers at every opportunity. He’s a determined runner who’s hard to bring down, as long as you give him the blocking every RB needs.

    I get that you’re looking for the next big thing at every opportunity, but I look at these signing as insurance behind a player I still consider the best running back in the CFL, rather than his replacement.

  3. stampland // March 11, 2017 at 10:25 am //

    Competition in camp will only make him better,If he’s healthy and beats out his competition I think he’ll have a great year

  4. Sounds like Durants carrier…. where is he now

  5. Scheuerman looked very good last year. But Gable played great in the East semi-final

  6. joe thibodeau // March 11, 2017 at 11:41 am //

    good read but does anyone think because he has a “relationship with Austin” will help him keep his job….I love cfl football but they ALWAYS want to go younger cheaper

    • Anybody you have in your corner is helpful, Joe. It’s not a guarantee by any stretch of the imagination, but any edge you have over someone trying to take your job is an asset.

      Look at Johnny Sears, Jr. He had no real connection to Kent Austin, even though Austin signed him. He couldn’t stay healthy, and boom, he was gone. C.J. Gable has been there since Austin arrived, worked hard at his recovery, performed well when he returned to the line-up and so he has his invite to training camp (so far).

      If having a “relationship with Austin” only gives him a 5% edge over the other players, it is 5% the others don’t have. At least it’s something.

    • Wally always said that Allen Pitts was like a son to him when they were both with the Stamps. Then Wally cut Pitts. So relationships might mean something but not when another player comes younger & cheaper.

  7. Eddy Rayner // March 11, 2017 at 12:01 pm //

    If he was making a boatload of $$$, he probably wouldnt still be here because of the injury history. But I really like how he contributes to the team. There have been a couple of games where he literally put the team on his back and carried them. Intangibles like that are hard to replace.

  8. Brockleigh: Excellent comment. Agree 100%.

  9. The competition last year was an impressive display and Gable was able to get the job done and I suspect he will do the same in 2017.

  10. Brockleigh- thoughtful post. Well said. Gable is one hell of a running back. I loved watching him play at USC. Was disappointed he didn’t make it in the NFL and was really excited to see him play in Canada even though I am not a Hamilton fan. Rushing stats don’t tell the story for Gable. His pass protection is among the best in the league for RBs. He is also a very good pass catcher out of the backfield and can run between the tackles as well as bounce some to the perimeter. Austin simply dies not consistently try to run the ball so his rushing yards are not spectacular. I have a hard time believing any rookie could outperform Gable in the TigerCat offense. Injuries is the only thing I see keeping Gable from earning a roster spot since 90 k is not an exoebisve import RB.

  11. DundasDude // March 12, 2017 at 6:22 am //

    This is a big year for the Cats. After ’13 and ’14, it looked like another championship was just around the corner. 2016’s finish was a disaster. CJ is awesome, but nothing is certain on a team that has underperformed lately. Sounds like a tough way to earn $90 grand of the collapsing Trudeau loonie. Maybe 2017 will be the year, given our expectations coming back to earth…I like the moves in the defensive backfield…our starting QB has had time to heal from a devestating injury…a great receiving corp. Running the ball is key to winning. Hopefully, CJ and the other parts stay healthy. Gritty, gutsy play coming close won’t cut it, we want the Cup.

    • The good news is that instead of simply being cut, he is being given a shot. The alleged improved run blocking should have Gable aiming for a much better year.

      As for the “collapasing Trudeau loonie” – I suspect Gable might care more about the over twice as large a drop under Harper. Either way, I suspect the drop in oil prices mattered more.

      • DundasDude // March 14, 2017 at 11:14 pm //

        Certainly the lower oil prices hurt the loonie, but it is not coincidence that the loonie tanks under the big tax increases of Chrétien and now Trudeau,but reached par under economic policies friendlier to the middle class. CJ is an awesome player.

  12. DundasDude // March 12, 2017 at 6:28 am //

    I meant devastating.

  13. The “certain former NFL quarterback in Saskatchewan” is a non story – washed up, desperado…and goodbye. CJ on the other hand is a story. I still believe he can replicate what he did in 2013. If Austin can get it through his head that you need a balanced offence to succeed then CJ will have his most productive year ever. But then again that would require a step out of the Mesozoic Age, wouldn’t it?

  14. Personally I like Gable but I too worry about his flexibility. Too many injuries but he has been a hard worker and dependable when ever on the field. It may have been just some bad luck but I understand what the coach is doing, insurance. My reason for writing is salary cap, both here and in the States. It has become bothersome for some fans like myself and I am sure players. A guy plays his heart out, gets the crap knocked out of himself and just when he can get more money they let them go. Sounds like any job in Canada these past few years. Gone are the days of ending your career with the team you started with even though you are the best on the field. I understand in the CFL but in the states come on now “Salary Caps” for a multi-billion industry. Sorry I think the fans are being squeezed for more money every year and now almost every second year or in Hamilton’s case every year is a rebuilding year. It is killing the sport slowly but surely. Time for reflection in this sport as Soccer slowly creeps up as the preferred game.

    • Rich Wilson (richinbanff) // March 14, 2017 at 2:50 pm //

      Soccer? Really? Our version of rugby football is growing faster overseas than soccer is here. Simple reason: it’s actually exciting

  15. Lots of good comments about CJ… and I too liked him at first… but he has lost too much for me to want to keep him around…

    The stats say he averaged 5.5 yards per carry… what the stats don’t say is in those 10 carriers per game he mostly nets zero or negative yards killing many drives at second and short… but then busts a single long run of 60+ yards to pad his average…

    That lack of consistency erodes confidence and makes me think it’s time to move on…

    In the past few years as the Ticats sat back many other teams have recruited some very good RBs…

    A few things have become apparent with Austin’s recruitment in the past few seasons… if you drop a game winning interception in the playoffs you’re gone (Gascon-Nadon)… likewise allow a hail Mary pass get by you you’re gone (Stewart)… miss a FG and you’re likely gone (Maher)… spend too much time injured and you too might be gone (Murray, Owens, Dyakowski, et al)…

    Austin is taking a page from Patriots Bill Belichek’s book… find and retain players who perform when the game or season is on the line… statistics is for losers performance is for winners…

    Just saying…

    Cheers… Snake

    • You can also add in there that if you drop a game winning TD (Underwood) you are gone. But if I follow your theory correctly, Mr. Snake, would that imply that the great Collaros may also soon find himself on the outside looking in? I would suggest this is the proverbial fork in the road for him this 2017 season – and 520,000 reasons why it would be prudent for him to make the correct turn.

      • I would argue that Gable dropped a game-winning TD pass in his first game as a Ticat – he dropped in the open field when he had a clear path and plenty of blocking to the end zone and he is still around.

    • While I can follow you POV – trouble is you aren’t doing the recruiting. All we have seen so far IMO has been inconsistent backups as well. At some point, is it not the recruiting as well as the O line?

      Or to put it another way – with the lack of success at finding a better RB plus the emphasis on blocking first, what makes you think another RB that is recruited will do better?

      Grigsby was one of those RBs that was recruited by another team who did okay but didn’t run away with the changes he had with the same O line.

    • Pussycats // March 13, 2017 at 12:10 pm //

      Absolutely agree with your assessment, Snake. Gable’s performance after his initial year with the team has been inconsistent at best and that combined with his age, salary and injury time off doesn’t help his cause for a 2017 return.

      I continue to have doubts about the quality of our O-line anyway with respect to both QB protection and creating holes for the run. Olson’s return may help but we still have essentially the same nucleus that stunk the joint out in 2016. One more Collaros concussion may finish him and then we’re looking at another 0.500 season at best.

      Our running back shouldn’t have to play most of the game as a 6th O-lineman. That in itself says a lot about the quality of the OL we had in 2016 and probably what we still have now.

      • I am confident that coach Kent Austin is on an intense search and find hunt for top offensive linemen to protect Zach Collaros the key Cat asset.

    • Snake. Messam ran for a first down 37 times on 206 carries. 19%. CJ ran for first downs 27 times in 126 carries. 21%. So call it even. I don’t buy your analysis. CJ also caught 39 passes for a 10.4 average vs 9 yard average for Messam. Your drive killer label does not wash unless you want to apply it to Messam too.

  16. Alex Droho // March 12, 2017 at 11:56 am //

    C.J. Gable has proven to be an athletic talented RB in this league. Like all good businesses there is a need for succession planning. I think he has a year or two left. I’d like to see the Cats start him this year and see what happens. I still think C.J. has some quality yards left in him.

  17. I'm new around here // March 12, 2017 at 2:40 pm //

    This is a test comment

  18. I think the 2017 OL will look drastically different and improved from the OL that started 2016…

    Only Filer and Bomben return as starters… that means 3 of the 5 (60%) will be new(ish)…

    Dyakowski and Simmons are gone… Lewis was as mobile as a pilon… Revenberg and Fulton will be back and are huge improvements over the incumbents…

    Maybe Olson returns or maybe another stud National OL is drafted to play guard… allowing Revenberg to play tackle and Ticats can start 5 International receivers…

    No matter how you line them up… the 2017 OL is already looking much improved over last year…

    Cheers… Snake

  19. We all know, in fact the entire cfl knows Austin loves to have his offence throw the football, personally I would like to see a more balanced attack, this only makes sense and would benefit Collaros as well so to me they can bring in whoever they want as long as they can block and catch the ball out of the backfield.

  20. Ticat Mike // March 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm //

    As some have mentioned already, in the words of OB “better is better”. Gable is a solid back when healthy but, indeed, was not a consistent enough performer, and maybe the woeful O line had something to do with that as well as injuries. Age, salary and injury track record may play against him, but whoever is back there hopefully will be a consistently good running back. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a 1000 yard RB. I personally would like to see the team deploy 2 good RBs who can run, block and catch, and have one of them or both used as a receiver some of the time, a decoy, an outlet pass, blocker. More versatile. Let’s get Zach into a rythm where he gets rid of the ball quicker, runs the ball more, I doubt the pass happy coach would concur, but whatever makes this offense potent I will support. Just havent seen anything that gives me confidence with this team going into the fall games where a running game is a must . Now, did we forget to mention that defense wins championships? Fewer injuries to key personnel, and Improvements all around in talent and tactics needed for this team to play better than the .500 we’ve seen during Austin’s reign.

  21. Ticat Mike // March 16, 2017 at 11:48 am //

    As OB said, “better is better”. Gable’s age, and injury history are negative factors, but the guy has great talent, and when healthy and being used,, is effective.
    Whoever they put in the backfield, I hope there is a greater commitment (holding my breath here) to running the ball, a balanced attack, using 2 guys in the backfield who can run, catch, block. A run game, greater use of backs in the short passing, run game, quicker release of football, and better overall protection are a must if Zach is going to stay healthy and be productive. If Austin insists on leaving his QB vulnerable to hits, sacks, running for his life — by not focusing on OL upgrades, blocking assignment upgrades, development of a good run game —then we’ll get more of the same , and increase the risk of QB injuries. Time to play smart, channel your talent more productively. We’ve been hovering around .500 with Austin and had one great year until Zach injured his knee (ironcially, running on our turf with no one hitting him — just like Fantuz- twice). Underlying all this — GREAT DEFENSE – which generally wins championships. NOt the sujbect of this article but a major factor to future success of the team.

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