By now you have all heard the news that the Ticats have released running back, and 2014 East Division All-Star, Nic Grigsby. Grigsby was brought in near the end of the 2014 season after being released by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and was the team’s starter in last season’s Grey Cup loss to Calgary.
The likely reasons for Grigsby’s release were outlined expertly by 3DownNation editor Drew Edwards yesterday, but just because those are the reasons doesn’t mean they are good ones. Far be it for me to question the football knowledge of the Ticats front office, but releasing Grigsby at this time (please note the emphasis) is rather curious.
For starters, the Ticats running games as been, to put it bluntly, atrocious so far this season. The team’s leading rusher after two games is running back Ray Holley with 40 yards, and his 2.9 yards/rush average is simply not good enough for a starting tailback at any level of football. Also, the team has rushed for just 99 yards in their first two games, by far the worst mark in the CFL. Grigsby’s 93 yards rushing in back-to-back games last season (the Week 20 finale against Montreal and the East Final two weeks later) were the most rushing yards by a Ticats running back all last season — only Dan LeFevour registered more rushing yards in a game than Grigsby last year, surpassing 100 yards twice — and the most since Chevon Walker rushed for 116 yards in the 2013 season finale against Winnipeg. While the running game is not a large part of the Ticats offense, just 12 per cent of their total yards from scrimmage have come via the run so far this season, the team was able to successfully run the football for most of the time Grigsby was in the lineup. Having Grigsby in the backfield adds a legitimate threat and makes the Ticats offense less one dimensional. As great as Zach Collaros has been, the team needs to establish a running attack that will the pressure off Collaros and as a way to salt away victories. If the Ticats had a reliable runner in the backfield, the team may not have opted to pass on second down in the waining seconds of their Week 1 loss to Calgary. Perhaps this team is sitting at 2-0 and not 1-1 if they had any confidence in their rushing attack, confidence that Grigsby brought in his short tenure in Hamilton.
Secondly, the notion that Grigsby is not a much of a threat in the passing game is not entirely true. Grigsby’s 58 catches last year was tops among running backs, while his 473 receiving yards was third-best, behind only Hamilton teammate Mossis Madu and BC’s Andrew Harris. Grigsby may not have been the league’s top pass catching back, and he is certainly not in the same league as injured Ticats running back C.J. Gable, but he is more than adequate in the passing game and provided a reliable outlet for his quarterbacks, both in Winnipeg and Hamilton last season.
Thirdly, the evidence simply does not support Kent Austin’s claims that the team’s current running back situation is satisfactory. While everyone was going gaga over Ray Holley during the preseason and training camp, the output simply has not been there since the games that matter started. His 16 rushing yards against a porous Winnipeg run defense — a defense that gave up 212 rushing yards the previous week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders duo of Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen — should have been his ticket to the bench. Holley was replaced near the end of the game by fellow rookie Michael Ford, who fared much better, picking up 35 yards on just six carries, but that was likely due more to the score at the time than anything else. If Austin thinks that the team’s running back situation is better without Grigsby, I simply do not agree with him.
So, did the Ticats make a bad decision in releasing Grigsby? At this time, the answer must be yes. While C.J. Gable, who was inked to a contract extension in the offseason, will be the team’s undisputed starter once he returns from injury in a week or two, Grigsby would have made a great stopgap between now and then. Holley has underperformed in both his starts this season and was outplayed by Ford in his limited action, so Holley simply cannot be the team’s lead back any longer. If this move was made to give Ford a chance to be the team’s featured back, I am intrigued. But if Holley continues to start until Gable returns, the decision to part ways with Grisgby becomes even more questionable. Grigsby was undoubtedly Hamilton’s best running back and letting him go before Gable was cleared to return looks to be a rare mistake made by the Ticats front office.