Over 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 Hamilton’s deepest positions: receiver.
Receiver may not look like an area of strength for the Ticats seeing as they lack a singular superstar the likes of S.J. Green or Adarius Bowman, but they more than make up for that lack of star power with a group of solid contributors.
The Ticats possess a multitude of players capable of being the team’s No. 1 receiver. Just last season seven different players — Sam Giguère, Cary Koch, Andy Fantuz, Luke Tasker, Bakari Grant, Greg Ellingson and Brandon Banks — led the team in receiving in at least one game. Hamilton’s offense is predicated around spreading the ball around, so these numbers should not come as a surprise.
Tasker and Fantuz are likely to be the closest the team will have to go-to receivers in 2015. Both players are sure-handed and do not hesitate to go across the middle. Ticats quarterback Zach Collaros developed a nice rapport with Tasker after the former returned to the lineup on Labour Day. Tasker led the team in catches and receiving yards, and tied for the team lead with Brandon Banks for receiving touchdowns. Expect Collaros to one again lean heavily on the third-year man out of Cornell
Fantuz once again dealt with injury problems in 2014, playing in just 13 games last season, but he still finished second on the team in receptions and receiving yards. Fantuz has never played a full season since signing a lucrative contract with the Ticats in 2012, and he enters the final year of that deal hoping to secure what will likely be the last big contract of his career. If Fantuz can play 16-18 games, he could come close to eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for second time in his career and reestablish himself as the league’s premier Canadian pass catcher.
Banks is a bit of a wild card, because the team does not want to over work the diminutive speedster, who is a game breaker in the kick- and punt-return games. Banks has all the tools to be an explosive, big-play receiver, but depending on how the team chooses to use him, his numbers might not be as high as many would expect. But regardless of how often he is used, expect at least a dozen or so big plays on offense from the man they call Speedy B.
While it took longer than many fans hoped, Grant re-signing with the Ticats is a boon to the receiving corps. Grant is not the flashiest player, and he does not put up monster stats, but he is unselfish and is willing to do the tiny things that go a long way in deciding wins and losses. Grant is one of the best blocking receivers in the league and it is one of the most underrated aspects of his game. Having a guy who plays like No. 84 on your team is always a good thing.
The team also returns solid depth players in Giovanni Aprile, Matt Coates, Quincy McDuffie, and Terrell Sinkfield. Sinkfield is likely to see plenty of playing time in a rotation with Banks, while McDuffie will be hard pressed to see the field so long as Banks and Sinkfield stay healthy. But should one or both of the team’s lightning-quick players go down, the team will not miss a beat inserting McDuffie into the lineup (as was seen last year when he took a punt to the house in his lone regular season appearance).
Aprile and Coates will be used on special teams and as depth behind Fantuz, though look for newcomer S.J. Haidara, who came over in a trade with the BC Lions, to be given first crack at filling in for Fantuz should the oft-injured Western product once again succumb to injury.
The team returns most of their starting receivers from last year, with Sam Giguère being the lone Grey Cup starter who will not be wearing black and gold this upcoming season (the team also released Cary Koch and allowed Greg Ellingson to leave in free agency to Ottawa). The expected replacement for Giguère, Spencer Watt, was lost to a season-ending injury just a few months after the team signed him away from the division rival Toronto Argonauts. With Watt out and Giguère gone, the team will need someone to step up, and with the addition of Ryan Bomben, that player need not be a Canadian. Tiquan Underwood and Terrence Toliver are two such players who could fill the void and should be be part of any training camp battle for that fifth starting receiver spot.
Underwood comes to the CFL after spending a year out of football, but prior to that spent time in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Toliver bounced around a couple NFL practice rosters before signing with the Ticats in April. Reports from the team’s mini-camp last month said both Toliver and Underwood performed well, so a good camp and preseason could put them in the mix to start Week 1 against Calgary.
While other CFL teams may have a Hercules in their receiving midst, the Ticats are more like the Hydra, the many-headed beast of Greek Mythology. Cut off one head and two more take its place. Hamilton has so many options in their passing game, that taking one player out will only lead to more opportunities for others, and should a newcomer or two step up to fill the hole left by the departure of Giguère and the injury to Watt, the Ticats may just accomplish the Herculean task of once again getting back to the Grey Cup.