If the season opened tomorrow, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats could field not only a starting offence, but their starting offence.
With Luke Tasker agreeing to a two-year deal over the weekend, the Ticats now have, under contract, the entire offensive line which anchored the playoff-bereft team to a 6-4 record from Labour Day on, plus the starting quarterback and running back, four starting receivers (three of whom surpassed the 1000-yard threshold), plus Terrence Toliver, a 1,000-yard plus guy in 2016 who was lost for the season in the first offensive possession last year.
“I haven’t seen that in my time here,” said centre Mike Filer, who joined the Ticats as a rookie in 2012. “We haven’t even had the same offensive line from one year to the next.
“We set a very high standard in the second half last year with the way we finished off, and the way our locker room was together. The big thing is we want to pick up where we left off.
“It’s awesome, fantastic, to have Luke back: obviously he’s a big part of our offence, our locker room, and our culture.”
All sentiments echoed by vice-president of football operations Kent Austin, who was Tasker’s head coach for three years at Cornell and four and a half seasons with the Ticats before replacing himself with June Jones late last August.
Tasker signed before CFL free agency opens Tuesday and acknowledged that, “You can’t ever tell what you’re worth unless you hit the market but I can say I’m very happy with the contract that we struck. It’s a pay raise from last year (when he was believed to make $150,000), I can promise you that. I wouldn’t call it a hometown discount: it’s a contract that we’re happy with.”
Last season, Tasker set a franchise record for receptions at 104, three more than Andy Fantuz had recorded the previous year. In the eight games after Jones installed Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback, Tasker tied for the league in targets and receptions.
Overall, he played all 18 games for the first time, set career highs in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Just over 62 per cent of his 1,167 receiving yards came from September onward. He has gone over 1,000 yards in two of the last three seasons and in the other one was headed for a 1,200-yard year before he missed the last six games with injury.
The native of Buffalo, where he lives with wife, Jenna, and their infant son, Steele, would have attracted warm attention on the free agent bloc and, at age 27, said his, and his agent’s, intent was to make the most of this contract.
“But our wish was to stay in Hamilton, always,” he said. “We came to an agreement with the team that we’re both happy with and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be back.”
Like his close friend Filer, Tasker said that with the first five games against the powerful CFL West, it’s important that the historically slow-starting Ticats hit the ground running this season. Jones, who runs the offence, has already implied he will use the spring’s Optional Team Activities period as practice more than personnel-selecting: at least on offence. And he’s told his players that too.
“I think if we get a detailed approach I think we will find ourselves not battling in October and November to scrape up from the bottom of the league but we’re going to find ourselves sitting at the top and defending it,” Tasker said. “ If we can really get a fast start.”
Notes: Kent Austin on pending free agent Andy Fantuz: “The door’s not shut with Andy right now. We’re talking. But he’s like other free agents, we’re trying to piece the whole puzzle together.” . . .Austin said all questions about former Atlanta Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville joining Hamilton’s staff, as reported by 3DownNation on Friday would have to be directed to June Jones.
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