June Jones is doing things a little bit differently. Again.
During his brief stint as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last season, Jones installed a new offensive system, changed the culture of the locker room and actually won some football games – all notable departures from life under Kent Austin. With the on-field portion of the 2018 campaign about to get underway with this week’s mini-camp, Jones will once again forge his own path.
Over the last four seasons under Austin, mini-camp has largely been a showcase for first-year players trying to earn an invite to training camp the following month. While there were often a few veterans around – most notably the quarterbacks – the roster featured a lot of unknown names sporting unusual numbers.
This year, however, mini-camp will feature a veritable who’s who of the Ticats roster as Jones looks to further extend his influence over the offensive system while also introducing his new and very noteworthy defensive coordinator, Jerry Glanville.
As Jones explains it, last year’s post-Labour Day offensive system was something of a hybrid featuring his concepts but utilizing most the existing terminology left over from the Austin offence. It was an unorthodox and inefficient way of doing things – it’s pretty remarkable they were as successful as they were – and something that Jones will use mini-camp to change.
“For example, something we called ‘China’ last year will be called something different this year. The players will be familiar with it but they have to get comfortable with how I call it,” Jones said. “I want the vets to use these three days to get them one step ahead before we get to camp.”
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli arrives as the undisputed No. 1 starter for the first time in his CFL career but Jones says he expects reps in mini-camp to spread equally among all four quarterbacks. While Vernon Adams, acquired in an off-season trade with Saskatchewan, arrives as the presumptive backup, Jones says there will be a competition that includes newcomer Bryant Moniz and holdover Dane Evans.
“Vernon will take the second reps but there’ll be a competition because I really like all three guys,” Jones said.
And what about Johnny Manziel, still on the Ticats’ neg list and still without an NFL contract after his up-and-down performance in The Spring League. Jones says depth charts that involve Manziel don’t make sense at this point.
“I don’t worry about Manziel, I coach the guys that are here,” he said.
There will be changes on the defensive side of things as well. Phillip Lolley, who finished last season in charge of a much-improved defence, is gone, replaced by the Glanville. Jones has a long history with the 76-year-old – the two coached together in the NFL – and says that while the system will be similar, Jerry has his own way of doing things.
“Jerry is one of the most street-smart guys I’ve ever coached with,” Jones said. “He brings it differently than everybody else, how he teaches it, his emphasis – it’s a different intensity.”
Mini-camp will also provide a first glimpse at the role assistant head coach and former defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer will play. The coaching staff has been together for more than two weeks, working out of the football operations offices at Tim Hortons Field and Jones says Steinauer has been influential on both sides of the ball.
“He’s mostly been working with me but when we take a break, I see him down the hall talking with the defensive guys,” Jones said. “He’s been helpful in a lot of areas.”
For all the changes, Jones feels confident that the 2018 Ticats will pick up where last year’s squad left off: winners of six of their last ten with a couple of agonizingly close losses that decided their playoff fate.
“We didn’t win some close games last year and that was the difference – we need to find a way to win those this year,” Jones said. “The veterans know what I expect and what it takes to win. They did a good job of buying into that and I think it will continue.”
Notes: The Ticats have announced Robert Lyles as the team’s new linebackers coach. The 57-year-old spent eight seasons in the NFL with Houston and Atlanta from 1984 to 1991 playing under current Tiger-Cats defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville. Lyles has more than 20 years of coaching experience, most recently with the University of the Incarnate Word the last three seasons.