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 a group that Tiger-Cats fans always love: the linebackers.
The linebacking until has always been a source of pride for Ticats fans. Whether it was Ben Zambiasi, Calvin Tiggle, Markeith Knowlton or any of the many other players who patrolled the middle of the defense, linebackers have always been fan favourites in Tiger Town. And while many talented players have called the linebacking unit home, the team’s current crop is well on their way to etching their names in Tiger-Cat lore.
The leader of the linebacker unit is Simoni Lawrence. Lawrence is the team’s vocal leader; before, during and after games, you can often hear the voice of the man known as Simmy Hov even when the stadium is packed with 20,000+ people. He is not afraid to get into a war of words, but that is not to say the former Minnesota Golden Gopher is all bark and no bite. Over the last two years, Lawrence has developed into one of the league’s premier linebackers, and was the team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2014. Lawrence’s bite definitely matches his bark and another big year in 2015 is all but assured.
Manning the middle is second-year man Taylor Reed. Reed returns after signing a contract extension this offseason, and will hope to pick up where he left off in 2014. The team’s Most Outstanding Rookie a year ago, Reed put up impressive numbers in his rookie campaign — 62 tackles, eight sacks — which look all the more impressive when you consider he was not inserted into the lineup until the third week of the season. Reed brings a nastiness to the group that a guy playing middle linebacker needs to have. Except further growth from the former SMU Mustang this season.
Rounding out the team’s starters is Erik Harris. Harris’ numbers do not match those of his linebacking mates, but he has a knack for making the big play and provides the type of versatility that Kent Austin loves. Harris is able to play both linebacker and defensive back, though he has settled nicely into his role at linebacker. It seems when the team needs a big play on defense, whether it be a fumble recovery or a timely interception, Harris is there to provide it.
Hamilton also has an envious amount of depth in the linebacking corps, helped by the fact that the team used four of their six selections in last month’s draft on linebackers. Of all the incoming rookies, Byron Archambault is the name worth remembering. He put up impressive numbers at the CFL combine in March and has all the tools to one day be a ratio-busting starting linebacker. He will likely cut his teeth on special teams in 2015, but do not be surprised if he is in the mix for a starting job in 2016.
It is the new special teams rules that makes having a large stable of linebackers all the more important. Players like Frédéric Plesius and Beau Landry have excelled on special teams since being drafted by the Ticats, and have all but assured themselves a roster spot because of it. Recent signees like Johnny Sears, Jr. and Dan Molls, as well as returning players like David Caldwell, will have to show they can strengthen an already strong special teams unit if they hope to make the squad.
The fact that former starters, such as Plesius and Sears, have to make their hay on special teams shows the type of talent that this group possesses. It is another position group that boasts incredible talent and incredible depth. It is a unit that is to be feared, and one that should put more than their fair share of opposing players in body bags this season.