Kent Austin is not by nature a patient man but he seems determined to do everything he can to stick by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The reasons are straightforward: Masoli gives the Ticats the best chance to win now. And they’re probably going to need him later.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach has endured some uneven play from his starter in the first three games of the regular season. The 27-year-old Masoli was sensational in a win over the Argos in Week One but could only manufacture three points eight days later against the B.C. Lions. Then last Friday, 367 passing yards offset by four costly turnovers in a second straight loss, this time to Winnipeg.
In previous seasons, coughing up the football has been a cardinal sin in the Book the Austin — it cost Masoli the starter’s job in 2014 after just one game — and it’s been the shortest route to a quick hook for any quarterback not named Zach Collaros. But Austin isn’t treating Masoli like some interloper while Collaros recovers from a torn ACL, but is instead giving him the same latitude most bona fide starting quarterbacks get: the ability to make mistakes and continue playing.
In some respects, Austin has little choice. Getting two quarterbacks ready during the week is almost impossible given the limited practice time, and throwing backup Jeff Mathews into a game after he’s taken precious few reps with the first team offence isn’t likely to produce instant results. And Masoli has shown the ability to rally from a slow start and rip off a hot streak like the one that produced 15 straight completions against Toronto in the season opener.
But Masoli has also earned the coach’s trust in any number of ways: how he handled a demotion to the practice roster last season and kept working; his play in the 2015 post-season; his decision to re-sign with the club for another two years this off-season.
There’s also plenty of evidence that Masoli is indeed getting better. He’s currently third in the Canadian Football League with 933 passing yards but he’s also completing over 71 per cent of his passes and making good decisions with the football in the context of the Austin offence: remember, interceptions and fumbles aren’t always the quarterback’s fault.
Pulling Masoli also has some psychological impact on both player and the team, since it can hurt the quarterback’s confidence while also destabilizing things in the locker-room. Masoli’s teammates genuinely like and respect the guy and — and this has always been the case — believe they can win games with him. For a guy with just six career starts, that’s not insignificant.
Collaros resumed practising this week which means his return, if not imminent, is likely on the horizon (hint: that Aug. 3 match up in Winnipeg might be circled on Ticat calendar.) But it’s unlikely Zach will be, well, Zach right away and Masoli’s services could still prove essential even after No. 4’s return. Collaros hasn’t been a picture of health the last few years and that hardly makes him unique among CFL starters, and good teams have two guys who can get it done.
Austin, who played 10 years at the position, knows all of this as well as anybody could. And he knows Masoli, too — he’s the only quarterback who’s been here for Austin’s entire tenure in Hamilton. After all this time, Austin still has faith.
That makes patience just a little easier.