Deploying the Three-Headed Monster

grey-cup14Over the course of the next few weeks, as the Ticats open training camp and start the preseason, we will analyze how each positional group looks heading into the upcoming season. Today, we look at one of the team’s most-loaded positions: running back.

A popular saying is that running backs are a dime a dozen. But sometimes those dimes end up being diamonds and the Ticats have more than their fair share of gems at the running back position.

Scouring the eight other CFL rosters, you would be hard pressed to find a trio of running backs more skilled or accomplished than Hamilton’s C.J. Gable, Nic Grigsby and Mossis Madu. Sure, Calgary has the best single running back in the game in Jon Cornish, but no team possess the type of talent, top to bottom, that Hamilton does at tailback.

Gable was a 2013 division all-star and the East nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie. Grigsby was a 2014 division all-star and may have been the West’s nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie had he not been released by Winnipeg near the end of the season. Madu does not have the accolades that Gable or Grigsby have, but he was a more than adequate fill-in for Gable when the latter was hurt last season.

It will be interesting to see how the team plans to use their three-headed monster at tailback this season. Gable looks to be entering the season as the starter, but he will need to rid himself of the injury bug that bit him all too often in 2014. Grigsby started the season off hot with the Blue Bombers, but made his impact with Hamilton — after arriving from Winnipeg in October — when it mattered most, in a must-win game against Montreal in the final week of the season and once again in the East Division Final. While Madu showed flashes of brilliance while filling in for the injured Gable during the former’s rookie campaign last season.

Each back comes with their own unique set of skills that makes all three valuable to the club. Gable is the more all-round back. He can catch as well as he runs and it would not be a surprise to see him put up nearly identical rushing and receiving numbers in 2015. The former USC Trojan is also one of the best blocking backs in the CFL, and his adeptness at picking up the blitz is what ultimately led to Gable supplanting Chevon Walker — who, to be fair, is far from a great pass blocker — as the Ticats’ starting running back in 2013. Grigsby is the mauler, a guy who will punish opposing defenders, fight for the tough yards and has a nose for the end zone, finishing his rookie season with 11 rushing touchdowns, tops among all running backs. Madu is a good runner and an excellent receiver. The former Oklahoma Sooner caught 44 passes for 512 yards last season as a tailback, with 347 of those yards coming after the catch. While a move to slotback could be in the cards as a way to ensure Madu is on the field, his skills at running back cannot be discounted or ignored.

And while those three deserve the attention, the team has free-agent signee Anthony Woodson to use as well. Woodson can do it all and might be the Ticats’ version of Andre Durie, a player who can run, catch and play special teams. His versatility will be welcomed by a staff that loves having players than can contribute in a number of ways. While the International triad will see the lion’s share of the carries and receptions, Woodson will find a way to make an impact.

With Gable, Grigsby and Madu all proving in previous seasons that they can be a No. 1 runner, how can the team deploy them to maximize their skills? Putting two International running backs on the game-day roster has been hard in the past, so finding a way to put three, especially when none of them really plays special teams, might be impossible. Kent Austin and the rest of the Hamilton braintrust will have some difficult decisions to make with regards to their three talented tailbacks. Having an overabundance of talented players is the type of problem every team would love to have, but it is a problem all the same.

But should Austin and Co. find a way to get them all on the field every week, the CFL’s version of Cerberus — the mythical three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the underworld — could unleash hell on opposing defenses in 2015.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.