Despite loss, Ticats have weathered early-season storm

In the cold, hard light after the storm, let’s take a look at the damage — both short and long-term — wreaked upon the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their 37-11 loss to Winnipeg on Wednesday night.

Clearly, starts are a problem. All week, Ticat coaches and players talked about the importance of coming out of the gate fast — it’s been a big issue all season — and yet they were still hot, wet garbage for the first 30 minutes.

At the pro level, coaches prepare players through game planning and practice and then it’s up to the guys on the field to provide much of the motivation and desire. At this point, if a player needs an “any given Sunday” pre-game speech to get up for a game, he’s in the wrong business.

After Wednesday’s loss layers on both sides of the ball said they weren’t surprised by what the Bombers ran and, generally speaking, have felt good about the game plans all season. This is a veteran, proven coaching staff and preparation has never been a problem.

So that leaves the players. Whether it’s leadership or execution — or a little bit of both, as is likely the case — the 2016 version of the Ticats is still finding its character and identity. Don’t forget, this team lost a ton of veteran talent over the off-season and a number of Hamilton players are either new to the CFL or have found themselves in new roles, on and off the field.

It’s also very possible that certain segments of this team just aren’t good enough. After tinkering with the line up early in the season in each of the last three years, head coach Kent Austin and defensive co-ordinator have largely stood pat through the first six games. That approach may need to be revisited — the secondary, in particularly, looks suspect — before things get real after Labour Day.

At quarterback, Jermiah Masoli took a step backward, returning to his turnover-prone ways and failing to locate the football accurately. He took ownership for his poor play following the loss in a rather monosyllabic interview, then sat in his gear for a good long time while his teammates packed up and left. Don’t forget, this was career start No. 9 for Masoli and games like this are just an inevitable part of the growth process.

Here’s the other thing: Zach Collarosiswalking through that locker-room door soon.

It’s a bit much to expect Collaros to be saviour of all things when he makes his return, which is expected to be next Saturday against the B.C. Lions. But in addition to stellar play, Collaros has a knack for inspiring those around him to play better. He doesn’t just lead by example — this is Masoli’s modus operandi — but his natural intensity has a way of rubbing off on others.

Without casting aspersions on Masoli — who has done an admirable job in Collaros’ absence and has the faith and respect of his teammates as well — Collaros is just a different kind of cat altogether. This isn’t just a potential MOP-calibre player that’s coming back, it’s a whole lot of leadership, too. Those two things may go a long way to helping Hamilton extricate themselves from their early-game doldrums.

The Ticats are 3-3 at the season’s one-third mark and their best player has yet to take a snap. Given the cavalcade of unknowns to start the season — not to mention a tough early schedule — the team’s .500 record at this point would have seemed like a positive result back then. It’s only because the Ticats showed flashes of legitimate brilliance that last night feels like such a letdown.

Big storms — and big losses — tend to expose the weak points, all the little spaces where water can rush in. Sometimes those holes can be patched, sometimes there are underlying issues in the foundation. Both can be fixed, though the second problem is much, much harder to repair than the first.

History says the foundation is fine: especially when one of the biggest pieces is about to slide back into place.