The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be hosting their 2017 mini-camp next week but for the sake of accuracy it should probably be referred to as an “extended football evaluation session.”
Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it?
Nonetheless, that’s exactly what the team will look to accomplish by bringing more than 60 players to Hamilton for three days of meetings and on-field sessions. Beyond the team’s quarterbacks, however, there won’t be many recognizable names in attendance as the roster will be compromised of players entering their first CFL season, negotiation list guys and a few free agents.
After bringing in a mix of veterans and rookies his first three years at the helm, vice-president of football operations Kent Austin went to the current format last season. As the team has developed into more of a veteran squad, the Ticats have used the three-day window to more thoroughly evaluate up-and-coming talent and identify contenders for jobs they expect to be open come training camp in May.
One of those vacant positions is undoubtedly kicker and the Ticats are expected to have at least six players at mini-camp hoping to impress Austin and new special teams coordinator Dennis McKnight. Jordan Gay, who served as a kickoff specialist for 33 games over three seasons with Buffalo Bills before being released last December, will be among them. So will Sergio Castillo, who was originally signed by the Ticats before seeing limited time with Winnipeg and Ottawa the last two seasons.
Beyond the kicker, the Ticats will likely be looking for qualified candidates at a couple of other key spots. The departure of American starting defensive tackle Drake Nevis via free agency has created an opening along the defensive line and the secondary will feature fierce competition for at least two and potentially three vacancies: the team currently has a whopping 22 defensive backs under contract and as many as a dozen of them could be in attendance next week.
On offence, quarterback Zach Collaros will get the benefit of a full off-season training regimen after missing mini-camp last year as he rehabbed from a knee injury. Beyond veterans Luke Tasker and Terrence Tolliver there’s expected to be competition in the receiving corp and the team will need depth at offensive tackle if they plan on starting two Americans again this season.
And while the mini-camp roster will be packed largely with unknowns there will be a few quasi-familiar faces in attendance, mostly players who still qualify as rookies because they have not yet appeared in eight CFL games. That list likely includes defensive backs Cleshawn Page and Elroy Douglas as well receiver Brian Tyms, who played well in limited action late last season.
Finally, there’s the issue of culture. One of the main benefits of a Hamilton-based, three-day mini-camp is that it allows coaches to see players over an extended stretch incorporating both on-field and meeting room sessions: how fast a guy learns the nuances of the CFL game can go some way to determining his future. Even amongst rookies, leaders emerge.
This will also be the inaugural on-field test for the Ticats’ new coaching staff, one that won’t include defensive coordinator Orlando Steinauer for the first time in Austin’s tenure. The dynamic of this group, which includes a mixture of new and and old faces, will be another thing worth watching – and evaluating – at mini-camp next week.