Replacing Toliver no easy task for Ticats

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin did not use the early bye week for rest and relaxation, choosing instead to put his mind to solving his team’s many challenges. Chief among them: how do his Ticats replace a veteran six-foot-five receiver coming off his first career 1,000-yard season?

The team confirmed Monday that Terrence Toliver will miss an extended period after suffering a knee injury on the Ticats’ first possession in the season-opening loss to the Toronto Argonauts on June 25. He’s been placed on the six-game injured list and is expected to miss the remainder of the year, though Austin said there was an “outside chance” of a late-season return.

“First and foremost, we hate it for Terrence. He really worked hard, came in in great shape and had a really great training camp,” Austin said after his team’s first practice in more than a week. “It’s just really unfortunate, so quick.”

The injury had an immediate impact on the team’s performance against Toronto, says fellow receiver Luke Tasker.

“You’d like to expect yourself to just roll with something like that without any hiccups, but honestly, something that big, so early in the season and so early in the game, takes you by surprise,” Tasker said. “You know as the season goes on that you’re going to have to compensate for big injuries but that’s not where my mind was: ‘how are we going to do this without TT?’

“I wouldn’t stand up and tell you that we handled that just right.”

If replacing Toliver in the short-term proved challenging — the team used return man Brandon Banks, who is 10 inches shorter, to get through the game against the Argonauts — Toliver’s size and experience make finding a permanent solution just as daunting. Options include newcomers Damarr Aultman and Jalen Saunders — both of whom had excellent training camps cut short by injury — as well as veteran Junior Collins.

Toliver played primarily at the boundary wide receiver spot where he was able to use his height advantage over smaller defenders. It’s a high-volume position that lends itself to bigger, more physical players, so sophomore Brian Tyms, who’s listed at 6-foot-3, could be an option.

“We move our receivers around quite a bit so we can move an existing receiver out there,” said Austin.

“You can have a guy that’s not six-foot-five that’s highly skilled that fits our offence that can still play that spot.”

The Ticats have issues on the other side of the football, too. After giving up 506 passing yards to Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray — a career high — Hamilton will likely need to rejig the secondary that is still without injured halfbacks Abdul Kanneh, who was on the field on Monday but is unlikely to play this week, and Emanuel Davis who is already on the six-game injured list. The team added Ethan Davis from the suspended list and could make more moves in the coming days.

“We had some guys that had a lot of mental errors, and it starts there. We’re looking forward to seeing improvement going into the second game,” Austin said. “We’re going to tinker early and figure out the most competitive team,” Austin said.

Hamilton travels to Regina to take on the Roughriders on Saturday, a team coming off back-to-back losses to start the season, including the inaugural game in their new $278-million stadium. It’s still early days in the long CFL schedule, but both of these teams are trying to overcome obstacles before they become insurmountable.

“They’re going to see this as their chance to get back to where they want to be; they’re going to be ready,” Tasker said. “That being said, they made a lot of mistakes in their first two games and it’s up to us to take advantage of those.”

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