Milton: Ticats have a quarterbacking decision to make

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All the city’s football eyes will be focused on the opening moments of Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ team drills Tuesday to see who will take the first snaps from centre Mike Filer.




Will it be Jacory Harris, who played the final 32 seconds of Sunday’s dull grey 12-6 loss to the Redblacks, completing four of five passes after starter Jeff Mathews was roughed by Ottawa linebacker David Hinds?

Or will it be Mathews, who did not play well for the second straight week?

And don’t bother us with the smokescreen that the rookie completed two thirds of his passes. His 20 completions went for 160 total yards and none was longer than 18 yards, he missed open targets in the end zone, couldn’t handle the winds (especially at his back) that bedevil the new stadium, was picked off twice and could have avoided at least a couple of the six sacks in this field-position-dependent ball game by throwing the ball into the Prince of Wales schoolyard.

Whereas the previous week in Vancouver could be framed as a sideways step in a development arc that was never going to be without detours and had gone relatively well to then, it was clear that the Ottawa game was a regression for Mathews. There were some positives in B.C., but very few on Sunday, as the Ticats lost for the third time in their past four home games.

And Kent Austin confirmed that analysis when he said something we didn’t think we’d hear once he’d turned the rest of the season over to his former Cornell pupil after Zach Collaros’ magical season was ACL-ed: he will decide this week whether there will be a change at quarterback.

Naysayers will angrily remind us that they’d suggested going out and getting Kevin Glenn, or some other CFL vet, to put the Ticats into first place instead of sticking with Mathews. But we’ll pooh-pooh that one forever. There was no one else, really, but Glenn and based on exactly what hard evidence from his past would Glenn have led this team home?

And who would start early next year, when it’s entirely possible Collaros isn’t ready to return? Mathews, whom you’d have to develop then rather than now?

So, it’ll be either Mathews or Harris and you have to wonder how a quarterback with even less game experience than Mathews can be coached up in three days of practice to win a game for first place … on the road. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but odds are brutally high against it.

Mathews didn’t look fitted to this game all afternoon and, frankly, neither did the play calling. The Ottawa D was going to be coming, and coming hard, especially with Hamilton without Ryan Bomben on the offensive line, yet running back C.J. Gable was called upon for a mere seven carries and just one pass. Screen plays, one antidote to a hard rush, didn’t come up much either.

There is a notion that a Sunday like Mathews endured is a necessary part of career growth, but development has to take a back seat to the rest of the season. From here on, it’s about winning games and nothing else. So the only consideration becomes does Harris give the team a better chance at that? Or does Mathews, assuming he wasn’t hurt by the late hit?

The answer will be coloured by the understanding that this isn’t a Messiah assignment. Whoever takes the snaps must do this first: Don’t give the ball away and ruin what defence, and hopefully special teams, create. Mathews has given the ball away. Harris hasn’t, but he also hasn’t played.

That makes for a difficult choice.

The fallout from Simoni Lawrence’s low hit on Henry Burris continued Monday with the skilled Ticat linebacker doing the right thing, in about the only area he now has any chance to control.

He apologized, via his 10-K-follower Twitter account, for what he said after Sunday’s game against the Ottawa Redblacks, which was a too-personal attack on Burris and a misogynistic choice of descriptives for Burris’ strong reaction to the hit.

It’s a bit like slamming the barn door after the horse has escaped, but Lawrence, a genuinely good guy, was at least able to step back and see that he had gone way too far while his post-game stove was still set on boil.

“My comments after the game were not acceptable,” Lawrence said in one of his Monday tweets. “Not being the face of a great organization it’s not about me in heated moments it’s always US.”

In another dispatch he made it clear that he wasn’t apologizing for the hit, but for his inappropriate comments. In yet another he said, he “was not trying to hurt Hank just trying to make a play against a good QB that has a hell of a stiff arm in the open field.”

The hit was legal within the terms of the rule book, that much is clear. The only in-game issue was whether it violated the unwritten code to which most pro players subscribe.

Initially, starting with the TSN panel of ex-players, sentiment ran against Lawrence: he should not have gone low. But then other players, and insiders beyond the Ticat locker-room, began chiming in that Lawrence, who generally tackles low, had to make a living, too, that pro football’s recent emphasis has been against high hits, and that at that speed and in that space, you’re not doing a mental spread sheet on the details of the unwritten code.

However you feel about the hit, it’s unlikely that any argument will change your mind, but its echo will make an already-interesting, already-intense, week heading into the showdown on the Rideau more interesting and more intense.

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