In his book “Blink,” author Malcolm Gladwell puts forward the idea that mental processes work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information: first instincts are often the best ones.
So here’s one theory that’s been formulated with precious little information: Jeremiah Masoli is the quarterback who gives the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the best chance to win next Sunday’s Eastern semifinal.
Admittedly, the empirical evidence is thin. Masoli has started one regular season game in his three years with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, though he’s played a significant role in a few others, including last Saturday’s loss to Ottawa. Still, the statistical sample size is meagre: 305 yards on 22 of 47 passing, two touchdowns against three interceptions and another 118 rushing yards on 24 attempts.
And yet, there is something undeniably magnetic about the way he plays the game of football, an indefinable swagger and confidence. His teammates feel it and so do the fans: It practically oozes through the TV into their living rooms.
Unfortunately, it would appear that Hamilton head coach Kent Austin is not as enamoured by Masoli’s swashbuckling ways. He declined to name a starter after Saturday’s loss — a game which Jacory Harris started and Masoli finished — and said the team would likely get two quarterbacks ready for the win-or-go-home tilt against the Argos. That means Masoli and Harris would split first team reps in practice, as they did last week.
Austin’s three golden tenets for quarterbacking are decision-making, accuracy and toughness — he’s mentioned this several times — and Masoli has only shown a proficiency in the third item on that list. His CFL completion percentage is 46.8 (Collaros’ was around 70) and he routinely eschews the safe and easy play for the more ambitious one.
Austin loves the system he’s crafted with offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell, something they’ve been honing since their days at Cornell.
Henry Burris’ inability (or unwillingness) to fully embrace it is one of the reasons he got run out of town and, sure enough, Zach Collaros proved the ideal quarterback to run it — he’s as smart and accurate as they come. Jeff Mathews’ familiarity and ability to adhere to its teachings earned him the backup job coming out of training camp.
Masoli, try as he might, he will never be a system guy. Masoli is at his best and happiest when he is running amok, creating something out of nothing, trying to make the impossible throw into the improbable window. Organized chaos made Masoli a star at Oregon, where he had his greatest success, and he returns to it at every opportunity.
Austin, like many coaches, prefers his charges stay within the confines of the system and his frustration has led to a couple of colourful sideline interactions during Masoli’s stints at the helm.
It’s also the reason that the 27-year-old has tumbled from No. 1 on the depth chart — he became the starter when Collaros went down early last season — to the practice roster to start 2015. That’s not a fall from grace, that’s getting pushed off a cliff.
But with Collaros out for the year with a knee injury and Mathews suffering from the after effects of a concussion, Masoli represents the Ticats’ best hope of beating the Argos — if he’s given the chance to prepare as the starter. That means giving him the job and the reps, not continuing the daily equivocation that doomed both Harris and Masoli to failure against Ottawa.
Two quarterback systems simply don’t work and there are precious few examples to show they ever did. In addition to limiting practice reps for both guys — which are even more valuable to the current stable of Hamilton quarterbacks given their inexperience — they create uncertainty in the locker-room. Players will say that they believe in both guys but they want to believe in just one.
In Outliers, Gladwell’s third book, he forwarded the theory that success isn’t based on luck or natural talent but intelligence, ambition and hard work. Put the time in — around 10,000 hours — and achievement will follow. It’s not a bad way to build a quarterback, either.
But the Ticats don’t have the luxury of time. Instead, they must put their faith in the instincts of a player who — if nothing else — will believe in his gut that he can get the job done.