While the scores in a pre-season game do not mean all that much — and Hamilton losing both their pre-season games is really no reason to panic — you can still learn quite a bit from what happens in these games. Here are a few things we learned in Hamilton’s two pre-season games.
1. The QB pecking order is Collaros, Masoli, question mark: We all knew that Zach Collaros and Jeremiah Masoli were formally entrenched as the Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks regardless of what happened in the two pre-season games, but figuring out who the No. 3 became quite the quagmire. Two players, Everett Golson and Matt Johnson, sustained injuries in the first pre-season game that kept them out of the second one (with Johnson no longer being on the team after being cut following his injury). Golson was the presumed No. 3 and likely would have been had he not been hurt. So now the Ticats are left with two potential third-string pivots who were not with the team a month ago in Cody Keith and Logan Kilgore.
Keith looked impressive in the first pre-season game against Ottawa, but saw significantly less playing time against Toronto, while Kilgore looked like a guy who has only been with the team a few days. Neither one really did all that much against the Argos, so you have to think that Kilgore, being a four-year CFL vet, has the leg up on Keith. Keith will probably still earn a practice roster invite, but Hamilton’s depth behind their top two is questionable right now.
2. Starters look like starters, but…: The biggest questions, non-kicker division, circling around the Ticats all off-season were about the makeup of the offensive line and the revamped secondary. While we didn’t see much from either group against Ottawa, most of the starters played against the Argos and each unit more than earned a passing grade.
The presumed starting offensive line of Xavier Fulton, Ryan Bomben, Mike Filer, Brandon Revenberg and Jordan Swindle had some rough patches early, but really settled in. Zach Collaros was rushed a couple of times, but for the most part he had a clean pocket and time to make his reads.
The secondary, and in fact the defense as a whole, was stealer when the starters were on the field against the Argos. They allowed zero first downs, let alone points, and got pressure, including a sack by Adrian Tracy and a near sack by John Chick. Chick’s pressure was caused almost entirely because of coverage. And here is the thing: two of Hamilton’s best defensive backs, Emanuel Davis and Abdul Kanneh, did not play in either pre-season game. The secondary, at least against the Argos, looks to be as improved as advertised.
But if you go back to the Ottawa game, cracks will show and the depth behind the starters is worrisome. The offensive line allowed a lot of pressure against the Redblacks and the backups in the secondary were carved up by Ottawa’s starting offense. Some of these guys will probably be asked to contribute during the season, so while it was great to see them play well against Toronto, it as equalling as disheartening to see them play poorly against Ottawa.
3. No closer to a kicker answer: So the question at kicker still remains. No one really separated themselves in either game, though with two games of evaluation, Sergio Castillo is probably still the front runner. Castillo did not attempt a field goal in either game, but was three-for-four on converts, missing one against the Redblacks. Newcomer Anthony Fera, who was signed after the team released Ryan Hawkins last week, did not get the chance to kick a field goal or an extra point, so judging him on that aspect of the job would be unfair.
Punting wise, Castillo outshone Fera, though he was also given more opportunities (seven punts to Fera’s three against the Argos), but Castillo’s average was still much higher (47 to 29.7). I don’t think anyone won the kicking job during the pre-season, but Castillo did nothing to lose it, making me think he will be the team’s kicker come Week 1 of the regular season.
4. The kids are alright: A number of younger players really shone in the pre-season, but perhaps none more brightly than defensive lineman Davon Coleman. Coleman was a beast in both games, recording a sack in each contest and just generally being a disruptive force whenever he was on the field. Hamilton might be going with two Canadians in the interior defensive line, but it is going to be hard to keep Coleman off the field.
A trio of Canadian players really brought their A-game during the pre-season, but maybe none more so than the Ticats first-round pick Connor McGough. McGough was probably the best player for the Ticats in their second pre-season contest both on defense and special teams. The high motor that everyone raves about was on full display on a pair of special teams tackles and on his two sacks against the Argos. He might not see a ton of time on defense, but after Friday night’s game I think everyone understands why the Ticats were so high on the former Calgary Dino.
Lastly, but certainly not least, a pair of Quebec prospects that really impressed over the course of the pre-season were rookie Sean Thomas-Erlington and Felix Faubert-Lussier. Both made their highlight plays on offense versus Ottawa and chipped in on special teams, where they will be used most during the regular season, against the Argos. Hamilton’s young corp of Canadians, who we have to remember will have their ups and downs during the season, looks pretty solid.
5. The fearsome foursome: There has been some fan chatter about the Ticats having one of the worst receiving corps in the CFL, but the pre-season games made those comments look like nonsense. We know what Luke Tasker and Terrence Toliver can do, and they weren’t asked to do much while only playing in one pre-season game each — they combined for four catches for 65 yards against the Argos — but seeing Brian Tyms and Kevin Elliott step up has to make fans happy.
It is clear from both games that Tyms has picked up where he left off at the tail end of last season. He was targeted 10 times in the two pre-season games, picking up five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. No matter who the QB was, they looked Tyms’ way. As teams focus more on Tasker and Toliver, expect Tyms to see a lot of single coverage and for him to make teams pay for it. I can see Tyms having a huge year in 2017.
Elliott was easily the team’s best player in the first pre-season game, but he was only targeted twice against the Argos (he had one catch for 20 yards). That said, his seven catches and 114 yards led the team in the pre-season and he, like Tyms, has continued his stellar play since landing in Hamilton. With Tasker, Toliver, Tyms and Elliott, the Ticats may not have the upper echelon players other teams do, but this foursome should be fearsome come the regular season.
6. All quiet on the injury front: Maybe the biggest thing that came out of the pre-season was a lack of significant injuries. While Matt Johnson was lost for the year (and subsequently released), and we have yet to see either Emanuel Davis or Abdul Kanneh take a snap, Hamilton escaped the pre-season pretty much injury free. Considering the amount of guys this team has lost in past off-seasons and pre-seasons, this has to be taken as a huge positive.
7. Flags are not Hamilton fans’ friend: I don’t know about you, but I sure am Notlimah Duorp.