In a reflection of their whole season, rather than their second-half reversal, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats failed to place a player on the CFL all-star team which was announced Tuesday.
That says a couple of things, including the obvious: this team wasn’t good enough or, rather, didn’t play well enough. Yes, and rain is wet.
But the East was also snubbed overall—just four of the 27 selects were from this side of Winnipeg – as it should have been, with no .500-plus teams. The Ticats also changed personnel in certain areas, had some key players injured and, frankly, didn’t catch any breaks from voters, who were the league’s coaches and members of the Football Reporters of Canada. Ryan Bomben at guard and Richard Leonard at defensive back had all-star type seasons but given the team’s, and division’s, weakness if it was close it wasn’t going their way.
The last time the Ticats threw a complete shutout at all-star time was in 2013. And yes, they did go to the Grey Cup that year.
Here’s a couple of other interesting (or, disturbing, if you like your air and food all in black and gold) all-star metrics from the 21st century: in the 2000s, Hamilton has had five different seasons with exactly zero CFL all-stars and four others, including last year (John Chick) when it had just one; and the last Tiger-Cats to make the national all-star team on offence were eight seasons ago (centre Marwan Hage, receiver Arland Bruce 2010).
Considering the above, it was encouraging to hear June Jones say in his interim-no-more conference call Monday that he wants to use April’s OTA’s (Optional Team Activities) to institute systems, particularly on offence, and not solely as another opportunity to evaluate fresh talent.
Jones ran a limited playbook after he took over for Labour Day, and that playbook had to mould his favourite concepts around systems which were already in place under Kent Austin.
Most teams in the CFL, including Hamilton a few times, have used OTAs to start sorting out their lineup rather than as a quality control initiative that can help the league present a better product in the season’s early weeks.
Hamilton has to hit the ground running, pun intended, when the season opens. There’ve been too many weak starts for too many years, putting too much pressure on the back end of the schedule.
Jones told Spectator beat writer Drew Edwards that he has complete freedom to hire his coaching staff so we’ll be watching that one carefully over the next few weeks. Could be some changes from the group that finished the season, most of whom started it under Austin.
By the end of the season, the original 2017 Ticat coaching staff was without defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold, who was let go in August with linebackers coach Phillip Lolley moving up to replace him, and Austin, who gave up his head coaching job to Jones and moved into the front office for good. In the second half of the season, the Ticats added Dan Morrison as an assistant offensive coach and quarterbacks coach and promoted Craig Butler to a general coaching assignment after he retired as a player. Morrison has been with Jones for lengthy stints at both Hawaii and SMU, and is a key communicator of the ‘run and shoot’, so expect him back.
Jones will need to be careful to keep, or get, some CFL experience on his staff, and not just fleeting experience. CFL timing nuances, for example, gave the Ticats some problems during the final three months.
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