The kickers are struggling & 7 other things we’ve learned at Ticats camp

After four days of Hamilton Tiger-Cat training camp, some storylines are starting to emerge. Here are eight things we’ve learned so far:

1. All three kickers are struggling

The team ran out the field goal unit the last two days and the results were not encouraging with Sergio Castillo (six-for-11), Craig Peterson (five-for-11) and Andrew Hawkins (five-for-10) all having issues with accuracy, particularly on anything beyond 40 yards where they were just eight-for-20 collectively. There are some mitigating factors, however. There’s been a healthy crosswind the last two days — though nothing out of the ordinary by Tim Hortons Field standards — and limited opportunities to work with the snappers and holders (more on that in a bit.) Keep in mind it’s a small sample size and there’s plenty of time before a decision has to be made. But it’s, at least, a little worrisome.

2. Craig Butler is coming along — slowly

The former all-star safety missed all of last season after knee surgery and is clearly not 100 per cent yet. He’s running with a slight limp and does not appear to have all of his quickness back. He’s been taking limited reps at safety on defence, mostly with the third unit behind Courtney Stephen and Jay Langa. Head coach Kent Austin says there’s no rush. “We’re just going to ease him back in, we don’t need to overdo it early,” Austin said. “His role hasn’t been defined yet and we’ll see how he progresses.”

3. The injuries are piling up

There hasn’t been anything catastrophic yet, but a number of players missed time on Thursday including offensive tackle Xavier Fulton, defensive backs Emanuel Davis, Abdul Kanneh and Demond Washington, Canadian linebacker Nick Shortill as well as receiver Junior Collins. Fellow pass catcher Jalen Saunders had been taking reps with the first team offence the past couple of days before suffering what looked like hamstring issue on Thursday.

4. The ratio issue is clearing up

One of the questions coming into camp was where the Ticats would get their seventh Canadian starter and, based on the first four days at least, the answer appears to be defensive tackle. The defence has lined up with both Ted Laurent and fellow national Mike Atkinson on the first team with Evan Gill coming on in rotation. With draft pick Justin Vaughn having a good camp, this seems like an area of both talent and depth.

5. Will Hill has looked really good

The former NFL defensive back — he has 50 games with the Giants and Ravens, including 32 starts — has lined up at both safety and strong-side linebacker so far in camp and at six-foot-two, 205 pounds, has the size and speed to play multiple positions. The secondary is still in a state of flux as new co-ordinator Jeff Reinebold tries multiple combinations — something that’s likely to continue throughout the pre-season — but expect Hill to find a role when the dust settles.

6. Defensive back Cleshawn Page is gone (again)

The Ticats released Page on Thursday after he was injured in training camp. The 24-year-old Page has played parts of the last two seasons with the Ticats and was the team’s starting boundary in the East Semi-Final loss to the Edmonton Eskimos last November. He has played five games in his career, making two starts, and has the skills to play in the CFL but has had trouble staying healthy. To replace him, the team repatriated Travis Lee who started six season games at cornerback last season but was released two weeks ago.

7. Holders and (back up) snappers are being auditioned

Another possible factor contributing to the so-so kicking numbers is the challenge in working with new holders and snappers. Receiver Luke Tasker did the holding job for much of the past two seasons with the now-injured Andy Fantuz also filling the role at times. Tasker is taking reps again this year along with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli while teaching Canadian receiver Felix Flaubert-Lussier the ropes. Aaron Crawford will be the primary long snapper but with the unexpected retirement of Mathieu Girard, the Ticats will need a back up. Canadian linebacker Mitch Barnett has been getting some reps but has yet to find consistency in his delivery. As long as Crawford stays healthy, it’s not an issue. But if he gets hurt …

8. Angelo Mosca was at camp on Thursday

The 80-year-old Hall-of-Famer watched the later half of practice, then chatted with a number of veteran players, including quarterback Zach Collaros as well as offensive lineman Mike Filer and Ryan Bomben. “It was good to see him here. The guys that have been here are aware of the tradition that the Tiger-Cats have and part of our job is letting the new players know what it’s all about,” Collaros said. “Having a legend around helps.”

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