So the CFL underlines in red ink what every local fan already knows.
Jeremiah Masoli and Brandon Banks have been the major keys to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ second-half revival. The former backup quarterback and the former spot receiver are now the roaring engines of an offence which has been Lazarus-like in its revival since the arrival of interim—that’s an adjective we suspect will be altered soon—head coach June Jones.
Both were among the top three (Banks first, Masoli third) CFL players of the month for October, announced by the league Tuesday, and both are among the 19 Tiger-Cats scheduled to become free agents in the off-season.
And both represent an organizational self-examination that is not uncommon for a losing team heading into a much longer off-season than anticipated: who do we want to sign, and who can we sign?
Until only recently Masoli wouldn’t have been among the ‘want to’ part. With Zach Collaros’s contract and still-huge potential and Johnny Manziel on the horizon, the Ticats’ quarterbacking situation is a house with many unfinished rooms. And Masoli has shown such consistency of late—four straight, and five of the last six, 300-plus-yard passing games; 14 touchdown passes against four interceptions since Jones took over—that other CFL teams will be interested, if the money is right. Unless the Ticats make him the starter publicly, and for good, he’d be out of his mind not to test the free agency waters.
And Banks would be even farther out of his mind if he didn’t dip a toe. He’s a bidding war waiting to happen.
But Banks might fall into that can-we-sign-him group, assuming the ‘Cats would like him back. While he won’t talk about it, you didn’t need Berlitz to read his body language during the 0-8 start. He resentfully felt he was viewed primarily as a returner and was under-used as a receiver under Kent Austin, and the numbers indicate that he was correct.
After he was targeted six times on opening night, Banks saw a total of just 12 balls thrown toward him in the next seven games. The first game under Jones, with Masoli at the helm, he was targeted 13 times. Last week in Ottawa he caught 13 passes. He was the league’s top player of the month because he inhaled 31 passes for 541 yards. In October alone, then, he caught four times as many passes and chalked up 10 times as many yards as he had over the first eight games.
That right there, folks, has been a serious philosophical change from what Banks so clearly had disliked.
As well as a philosophical change, the players, and Jones himself, have been talking about a cultural change that’s occurred since the end of August.
Nobody defines that cultural shift, so it could be as simple as the difference between a losing attitude that spawns from an 0-8 start and the clean chalkboard of a new guy with a new approach. But, on the flip side, it could also be cause-and-effect: that one culture was a major contributor to 0-8, the other a solution to it. You can debate that one on your own.
Whatever the case Austin, while not coaching, is still at the top of the football chain of command. If there have been real cultural differences other than mirroring the winning and losing, he has been at that top for both diverse segments of this season.
How much does all of this have to do with the ability of the Tiger-Cats to re-sign the pending free agents they would like to keep who are current starters? One would assume that includes linebacker Larry Dean, defensive tackle Ted Laurent, receiver Luke Tasker, and rapidly evolving defensive lineman Justin Capicciotti.
Offensive players were not happy through the first half of this year, and that was obvious. They felt the systems were taking too long to blossom and put undue pressure on the quarterback and offensive linemen because of the lack of a believable running game and deficiencies at tackle. They were predictable and easy to stop, and some players still missed former coordinator Tommy Condell who departed just before the 2016 season. Has there been enough distance, and success, since the quagmire of July and August that free agents on offence can look forward rather than back when they have contract talks with Austin, who no longer dictates the offence? You’d think so but with athletes, you never quite know.
With Friday’s lame-ducker against Montreal to go, we’re about to find out.
NOTES: The Tiger-Cats signed Hamilton native and former Mac Marauder Kevin Malcolm, who spent two years in Ottawa. Incumbent long-snapper Aaron Crawford has missed the last two days with an injury sustained in Ottawa…as well as player of the month, Brandon Banks was No. 3 CFL player of the week…
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