Thoughts & observations on the Ticats pre-season win

Lots to discuss after last night’s pre-season by the Ticats so let’s get to it.

• while much of the talk after last night’s game was about the performance of rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews (nine for 15, 188 yards, two touchdowns), sophomore Jacory Harris had a decent second half as well, going five for nine for 73 yards and an interception while adding another 28 yards on three carries (most of it coming on a 26 yard scamper in the third.) Harris played almost entirely with the second unit offence line (Brian Simmons, Landon Rice, Mathieu Girard, Tim O’Neill, Jeremy Lewis) and receivers (guys like Tim Smith and Deon Anthony.) He made a nice throw to Underwood to set up his own one-yard touchdown plunge in the third quarter.

• I think Mathews has the inside track on the No. 2 job right now – not based on what he did last night but because that performance is an extension of what he’s doing been doing in training camp. Of the three back ups, Mathews has been the most accurate and has made good decisions with the football, in large part because of his time with Kent Austin and Tommy Condell at Cornell. It will be very interesting to see how the Ticats use their quarterbacks in pre-season game No. 2 against Winnipeg in 10 days time. I’d expect Zach Collaros to start and play at least a half but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Ticats to split the rest of the playing time between the No. 2 and the No. 3 quarterbacks. If Mathews plays a bunch in Winnipeg…

• the running back Nic Grigsby had a couple of drops last night and it again illustrates what makes C.J. Gable so valuable in the Austin/Condell offence: his versatility. Grigsby is a solid runner but isn’t the pass catching threat Gable is and I have questions about his pass protection as well. I’d like to see some more of Ray Holley, who had just 18 yards on six carries (again behind the second unit offensive line) and two catches for 14 yards.

• the Hamilton offensive line gave up just one sack on the night when Ottawa linebacker Antoine Pruneau blitzed off the edge. It’s hard to know whether that was Mathews’ fault for not reading the defence and making an adjustment or whether the running back (Grigsby) made the wrong decision is pass protection. Or both. Or neither. But overall, I thought the first unit offensive line played well in their 30 minutes together, providing a decent pocket for Mathews, getting the run game going and converting in short yardage situations (an issue last year.) Mathieu Girard, who has had three days of OTAs and seven days of training camp to make the conversion from defensive lineman to centre, didn’t look out of place during his stint in the second half, which is kind of remarkable.

• Austin said after the game that there was good news on Terence Tolliver, who suffered on arm injury in the first half, as x-rays came back negative. Bakari Grant had himself a game with four catches for 73 yards, including some tough ones. Underwood had just the one catch but it was a beauty on a 39-yard throw from Harris. Barring injury, I think those three guys will be in the starting line up week one, along with Andy Fantuz and Luke Tasker with Brandon Banks playing about 50 per cent of the snaps.

• defensive end Adrian Tracy had three sacks and five tackles in his bid to make the roster. I think Eric Norwood and Justin Hickman are virtual locks to be the starters at end but the competition for the back up spots behind them is wide open. Middle linebacker Dan Molls had five tackles and two special teams tackles looked solid as did weak side guy David Caldwell. Defensive back Cleshawn Page had four tackles and an interception that was wiped out by a penalty. Mike Daly looked great filling for Craig Butler with a couple of solid hits and a pick. Overall, I thought the defence played with a ton of energy.

• that said, I still have no idea what the secondary will look like at Wednesday’s practice, never mind at the start of the season (beyond Craig Butler and Courtney Stephen, of course.)

• Austin joked about it after the game but I don’t think the Ticats want kicker Justin Medlock making tackles, especially given that he’s only kicker on the roster right now. The team apparently offered Canadian Brett Lauther, who was a 2013 draft pick and was with the club the last two seasons, an opportunity to return but he wanted to test the market – hardly surprising given the fact  he isn’t going to be the man as long as Medlock is healthy. The team decided not to bring in another kicker and use the roster spot to look at another player instead (again, perfectly sensible.) Medlock looked great last night – his 46.7 yard punting average is a good sign after his struggles last year – but watching him try and make tackles in a meaningless pre-season game…

• I’m sure the Redblacks will use the “it’s just the pre-season” justification to explain last night’s loss for a team coming off a disastrous 2-16 season in 2014, the result has to be something of a concern. They dropped passes, had trouble with special teams coverage and took some bad penalties – all things that were issues last season. They did not appear to be as ready to play as the Ticats.

• the stadium was only half full last night but it would appear that Levy Restaurants has ironed out the issues that plagued the concessions during the women’s World Cup friendly earlier this month. I don’t see an inordinate amount of complaining on social media, anyway.

• the Twitterati weren’t nearly as kind to the poor girl who sang the anthem last night (whose name I don’t know will make no attempt to determine.) Her rendition took some time – two minutes and 25 seconds by my clock – and wasn’t as acoustically pleasing as perhaps it could have been. It’s a tough gig but… you know what, the less said about this, the better.

• it wasn’t announced until late yesterday but the Ticats live streamed the game via Ticats.ca using their in-stadium cameras, the Ticats TV hosts and the TSN 1150 play-by-play crew of Rod Black and Chris Schultz. There were a few minor production hiccups but the overall quality was excellent and the broadcast is getting rave reviews from the online crowd (which, as we just mentioned, can be a tough one.) The Ticats have been a league leader with it comes to online initiatives and this broadcast further enhances that reputation. The only issue: fans across the league are going to expect the same thing from their clubs.

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