Last week, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats held five free-agent camps in five different U.S. cities, travelling almost 10,000 kilometres in the process.
It’s a departure from their traditional methodology, which featured tryouts in various football hot spots over several weekends throughout the off-season. The Spectator chatted with director of football operations Shawn Burke, who, in addition to evaluating talent, was also responsible for the logistics of the trip.
Here are six things worth knowing:
1. The week featured stops in Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Dallas with Burke, offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell, defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, special teams boss Jeff Reinebold, assistant coach James Stanley and U.S. scout John Zamberlin all making the trip. In previous years, only two or three coaches and scouts would attend each workout. By grouping the sessions together, the team was able to get more staff involved.
Burke: “It’s about finding the best use of our time. Doing it this way means that our coaches aren’t away several different weekends in the off-season.”
2. Workouts begin at 9 a.m. each morning with player registration, an extensive questionnaire as well as the taking of measurements. After a brief warmup, there is a testing segment, including a 40-yard dash, a short shuttle (a drill designed to measure change of direction) as well as a broad jump. From there, players move to an agility circuit, then individual position drills with each coach running a station. Then there are one-on-ones, with Ticat staff often dictating the final matchups. The gruelling process can take close to four hours but the players aren’t done quite yet.
Burke: “We always end with special teams. It’s where guys make their last push. It’s like the fourth quarter. They’re tired and you can see the guys that really want it.”
3. Each player pays a $60 fee to attend the camp. The fee doesn’t come close to covering the team’s costs but it’s designed as a deterrent against those who aren’t serious about the process (many CFL teams charge $100.) About 20 per cent of the players who attend are invited by the Ticats while the rest register on their own.
Over the course of the five workouts, the team saw more than 300 players. It wasn’t focused on any position in particular.
Burke: “You’re looking for football players – whoever stands out. Going in with pre-conceived notions isn’t fair to the kids. It’s about finding the right fit for your team at the right time.”
4. Doing well at a workout doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a player will be signed on the spot – in fact, that rarely happens. If a player does well in the drills, coaches will review his testing numbers and college or pro game film. If the Ticats are concerned about potentially losing a player to another CFL team, they may put him on their 35-man negotiation list to hold his rights until they get him under contract.
Burke: “The workout is just one day, just one piece of the puzzle. I’m not carrying around contracts in my computer bag. The biggest thing is you don’t want to have to take back anything you say to a guy.”
5. A number of current and former Ticats attended workouts, including defensive back Delvin Breaux in New Orleans and quarterback Jacory Harris in Florida. Breaux attended a free-agent workout in 2013, which launched his Ticat career and ultimately led him to the New Orleans Saints of the NFL. Other Ticats who were signed as a result of similar camps include all-star defensive back Emanuel Davis, Ticat-turned-Saint Erik Harris, offensive tackle Brian Simmons and former running back Chevon Walker.
Burke: “We let our players tell the guys working out their stories, how they got to the CFL. Coach Reinebold always tells the players every person has a different football journey and they can determine what happens to them.”
6. Whether the team sticks with this model of bunching the tryout camps together or goes back to spreading them out depends in part on the returns of last week. Of the 300 players the Ticats worked out over the five days, Burke expects to sign eight to 10 to a CFL contract (although he wasn’t giving up any names just yet).
Burke: “If we find one player who makes our roster, then it’s worthwhile.”