Departures, inexperience contributing to Ticats penalty troubles

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats committed 14 penalties for 125 yards in their 30-24 loss to Calgary on Sunday and Bakari Grant and Taylor Reed now play for the Stampeders. Those things are (kinda) related.

Both Reed and Grant were allowed to leave as free agents in the off-season. Both were offered contracts by the Ticats but for dollars they felt did not reflect their value to the club. While the money they received from the Stampeders wasn’t significantly different, sometimes it’s easier to take a similar deal from a new team because loyalty isn’t part of the equation: Grant had been with the Ticats five seasons, Reed two.

Which isn’t to say that Hamilton didn’t have their reasons for letting them walk. With a hard salary cap and a premium on quarterback play and Canadian talent, the Ticats have invested heavily in a core group of players that includes quarterback Zach Collaros, linebacker Simoni Lawrence, defensive tackle Ted Laurent as well as offensive linemen Ryan Bomben and Mike Filer. They’re also paying decent–but-not-outrageous money to some key Americans such as receiver Luke Tasker and return man Brandon Banks.

In order to make the math work, the Ticats need to surround that core with some more affordable players and that’s meant allowing guys like Grant and Reed – veterans who won’t play for the minimum – to go elsewhere.

Hamilton also lost some experience when Canadian defensive lineman Arnaud Gascon-Nadon left for Ottawa (and a better shot at a starting job), Justin Hickman joined the Argos, Erik Harris signed with the New Orleans Saints and defensive backs Ed Gainey and Brandon Stweart left for B.C and Saskatchewan respectively.

The relative value of each of these of players could be debated ad nauseaum but there are a couple of constants among them: they were all veterans and they all contributed on special teams. And now that they’re gone, the Ticats are struggling with penalties, particularly in the kicking game.

The Ticats have been flagged for 91 penalties this season and 27 of them, or 29.6 per cent, have been committed by players in their first or second year in the CFL. On special teams, it’s even worse: of the team’s 31 infractions, 15 (or 48.3 per cent) have been committed by that same group of inexperienced players.

Canadian running back Anthony Woodson is a veteran CFL special teamer and while he was reluctant to pin the Ticats troubles on the younger guys, he did offer up an explanation.

“Penalties always come down to fundamentals. Special teams is all about effort so it can be difficult to avoid them sometimes but you have stick to your techniques,” he said. “When you get away from those things, that’s when you get caught in a vulnerable position and take a penalty.”

Head coach Kent Austin is willing to accept that youth is playing a role in the team’s penalty issues – but only up to a point.

“At the end of the day, players have to take responsibility for their play,” Austin said “We’re holding them accountable, we’re trying to coach as hard as we can, we’re watching them during practice, we’re policing things. But we’re carrying too many of them into the game on teams.

“There is [a learning curve.] But we’ve had enough games under our belt that the education is finished and it needs to change.”

It’s also worth noting that not every inexperienced team struggles with penalties. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are in the process of a massive roster overhaul and yet were just the fifth most penalized team in the CFL coming into last week and were tied with the Argos for the fewest special teams infractions. Of course, they’re also 1-8.

Meanwhile, the Stamps have added Grant and Reed to a veteran club and are the second-least penalized team in the CFL: they were flagged exactly zero times on special teams in Sunday’s win. That’s something the Ticats, with their crew of neophytes, will have to grow into. Until they do, it’s likely to continue costing them wins.

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