A position-by-position look at the Ticats

With Hamilton Tiger-Cats opening the 2016 CFL season against the Toronto Argonauts on Thursday, here’s a position-by-position look at this year’s Ticat squad.

Quarterback




With Zach Collaros still recovering from a knee injury suffered last September, Jeremiah Masoli will begin the season as the No. 1 pivot. After tumbling down the depth chart last season — he spent time on practice roster — Masoli ultimately led the Ticats to a pair of playoff wins and that, combined with solid pre-season, has earned him the top job over sophomore Jeff Mathews and rookie Jake Waters.

But with third-year man Jacory Harris going down with a shoulder injury in training camp, the Ticats may need to find some veteran help in a hurry if Masoli can’t get the job done (or stay healthy.) There’s no official timeline on Collaros’ return, though an Aug. 3 date at Winnipeg could be a potential target.

Running back

Veteran C.J. Gable, who has played in just 12 games over the last two seasons due to injury, is healthy again and will begin the season as the feature back. That good news for an offence that requires his versatile skill set.

Rookie Ross Scheuerman had a solid pre-season and will be the backup behind Gable, though the team may use two American running backs early in the season because of injuries to their Canadian contingent. Both Anthony Woodson and 2016 draft pick (and Burlington native) Mercer Timmis are banged up to start the season.

At fullback, the seemingly indestructible C.O. Prime — who hasn’t missed a game in two seasons — provides toughness and physicality as well as special teams ability.

Receiver

The Ticats have a wealth of talent at this position with all-star Luke Tasker, Canadian standout Andy Fantuz and veteran Chad Owens, who joined Hamilton as a free agent after seven seasons in Toronto, leading the way.

The team will feature two of their seven national starters at the position, with Spencer Watt lining up alongside Fantuz. Sophomore Terrence Toliver may be poised for a breakout year — he had 48 catches and 679 yards in an injury-shortened rookie season — while speedster Brandon Banks will see spot duty on offence.

There’s depth, too. Tiquan Underwood had a solid training camp before suffering a head injury in the final pre-season game while Jasper Collins and Kealoha Pilares will wait for an opportunity. On the Canadian side, Giovanni Aprile and Matt Coates provide key insurance behind the starters.

Offensive line

The starting five — American tackles Brian Simmons and Jeremy Lewis, Canadian guards Ryan Bomben and Peter Dyakowski, centre Mike Filer — are veteran group with 194 starts between them. They’ve spent the most of training camp working together with the first unit offence (though Filer missed some time with a thumb injury) and the chemistry should be good.

Draft pick Brandon Revenberg has been as advertised and he’ll like join Mathieu Girard — who also serves as a long snapper on field goals — as the backups on the game day roster. Canadian Landon Rice and newcomer Xavier Proctor will provide insurance and American tackle Jake Olson hopes to return around Labour Day.

Defensive line

With the departure of several veterans to Toronto, this unit will have an entirely different look this season. Veteran John Chick — the 2009 Most Outstanding Defensive Player was scooped up quickly after his release from Saskatchewan and will start at defensive end opposite sophomore Adrian Tracy. American Drake Nevis takes over one defensive tackle spot and will line up next to Canadian standout Ted Laurent, who missed much of training camp due to injury and is questionable for week one.

Laurent, an all-star in both his seasons with Hamilton, will be backed up by Mike Atkinson and Linden Gaydosh, both promising young Canadians who have struggled with injuries.

Linebackers

Simoni Lawrence, the 2015 East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player, anchors this unit from the weak side and he’ll be joined in the middle by Ticat newcomer Larry Dean. Versatile veteran Johnny Sears takes over the SAM spot and will look to avoid the injury troubles that have plagued him for much of his careers.

In addition to Dean, who has 61 games of NFL experience, look for rookie Will Smith and free agent signing Alex Hoffman-Ellis to make a contribution on special teams and as back ups. The Ticats also have a solid group of Canadians, including Frederic Plesius — who could likely start, if necessary — Beau Landry and 2016 draft pick Terrell Davis.

Secondary

The injury to Canadian all-star Craig Butler, who will miss most if not all of 2016, as well as several free agent departures means this unit gets a makeover this season.

Canadian Courtney Stephen moves from field corner to Butler’s safety spot with Mike Daly and Jay Langa as solid insurance. Veteran Rico Murray starts at one halfback spot with 2015 all-star Emanuel Davis at the other.

At the corners, Geoff Tisdale will start at the boundary week one despite being signed to a contract just four days ago while rookie Quinton Pointer survived training camp — four others playing in the secondary went down with injury and will begin the season on the field side.

Special teams

Brett Maher won a kicking contest that began the moment Justin Medlock left for Winnipeg as a free agent and his all-around game looked solid during the pre-season: like Medlock, he’ll handle all three jobs.

Mathieu Girard and Aaron Crawford split the snapping duties, with Girard handling field goals and Crawford the punts. Both have proven to be reliable, as has primary holder Luke Tasker.

Return man Brandon Banks, winner of the 2015 CFL Most Outstanding Player Award, will be expected to provide big things in the return game but the addition of Owens should provide him with some relief and the team with some insurance.

The coverage units were hit by some key free agent departures from both sides of the border and some of the team’s young and inexperienced talent will need to step up — the learning curve could be costly in terms of yardage and points.

Coaching staff

Head coach Kent Austin takes over play calling duties this season following the departure of Tommy Condell (new addition Stefan Ptaszek has a steep learning curve as he makes the jump from Mac and into Austin’s complex offence.) Defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, considered by many to one of the league’s best, gets an assistant head coaching title while special teams boss Jeff Reinebold has developed a reputation for innovation and trickery.

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