Ticats loading up for Grey Cup run – with or without Collaros

There was a dizzying amount of Hamilton Tiger-Cats news on Thanksgiving Monday, but here’s what it comes down to: despite their 6-8 record, the Ticats are loading up for another run at the Grey Cup.

But at least for this week, they’ll do it without their franchise quarterback.

Hamilton swung a big trade on Monday, acquiring Canadian defensive lineman Justin Capicciotti and American offensive lineman Xavier Fulton from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in exchange for national defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh, international receiver Tommy Streeter and fourth and seventh round selections in the 2017 CFL Draft.

They also signed seven players to the practice roster, including veteran linebacker Keon Raymond and running back Kendial Lawrence. They also added defensive backs Derrius Brooks and Cleshawn Page, linebacker Matt Wells, defensive end Denzell Perine and offensive lineman Jace Daniels.

“We’re playing for first place. It doesn’t matter what’s happened up to this point, it doesn’t matter what you’re record is, if you win first place you get a bye and you get to host a playoff game,” said general manager and head coach Kent Austin. “The most important thing is that we try and put the best product on and give ourselves a chance to do that.”

Capicciotti, who was a significant free agent signing last winter after registering 23 sacks over the last two seasons, provides the Ticats with some key Canadian depth as well as support on special teams.

Fulton has 74 starts at left tackle over the past five seasons and provides the team with a veteran upgrade at what’s been a problem spot this season. He’s 30 and in the final year of his deal, so he may be a rental.

Raymond played eight seasons for the Calgary Stampeders and won two Grey Cups before leaving for the Argonauts as a free agent. He was released by the Argos on Aug. 25 in what was clearly a cap saving move — he had started all eight games up to that point — and provides Hamilton with some experience at a spot where they’ve struggled after injuries to Johnny Sears and Rico Murray.

Lawrence played in 11 contests for Saskatchewan this season and has 46 games of CFL experience. He’s a versatile player who can play multiple positions on offence as well as return kicks. He’s excellent insurance for Brandon Banks, particularly if Speedy needs to play a larger role on offence.

As for what they gave up, Gaydosh was the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, but has played sparingly for the Ticats, appearing in just 10 games over the past three seasons. He was on the six-game injured list and was not in the team’s plans this season. Streeter was signed by the Ticats in August and has yet to make his CFL debut.

So the Ticats dealt away a couple of spare parts and a couple of draft picks, while potentially adding four starters (not to mention former Argonaut receiver, Kevin Elliott.)

With losses by every other team in the East Division this weekend — and the news that Redblack speedster Chris Williams is done for the year with a torn ACL — the Ticats are prime position to win the division with a couple of key victories down the stretch.

All the roster maneuverings threatened to overshadow the other big news of the day. Quarterback Zach Collaros will miss Friday’s key divisional matchup against the Ottawa Redblacks. Monday was Hamilton’s first practice since the Oct. 1 loss to Calgary that saw Collaros miss the second half after getting driven to the turf by Stampeders defensive end Charleston Hughes.

“Zach will be out this week. He’s in concussion protocol. He’s doing well, but he’ll be out this week,” said Austin. “Preliminary reports aren’t serious, but things can change. Everybody responds differently.”

Backup quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will get the start and has experience filling in for Collaros. He led the team to the East Final last season after Collaros went down with a knee injury, and had a 3-3 record in six starts this season as Collaros finished his recovery. Masoli has just over 2,000 yards passing with a 68.7 per cent completion percentage, with nine touchdowns against eight interceptions.

Austin said that receiver Luke Tasker will also miss the game due to injury.

In other words, it isn’t going to be easy. The East Division might be a train wreck — no team has a winning record — but Hamilton has to integrate some key pieces in a hurry and likely win a game or two without Collaros. There’s no question, however, that they are pulling out all the stops to give it a go.