During the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ final on-field preparation session for Saturday’s home opener, there were some smiles and maybe a few laughs. But it was more or less an all-business affair.
A couple of hours later, the B.C. Lions were dancing up a storm.
That’s the difference between a 2-1 team like the Lions, one coming off two straight wins against East Division opponents, and a 0-2 squad like the Ticats, who are starting to show the first signs of the inevitable strain that losing brings.
Here’s what Ticat return man Brandon Banks had to say about the mood surrounding his team right now.
“I wouldn’t say it’s tough but it’s challenging. If we were winning, you’d see people laughing and joking but this is a What-have-you-done-for-me-lately? business and lately we’re losing,” he said.
“Jobs are on the on the line, families are on the line.”
Meanwhile, the Lions are encouraging players with varying degrees of ability — the worse the better, frankly — to show off their moves.
“We just brought that back. You always got to make things fun, build that team camaraderie, improve the chemistry,” said veteran linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
“It might not seem like much, but the more we can get guys bonding with positive vibes and energy, the better it is. I believe it helps win games.”
It’s been another challenging week in Hamilton following last Saturday’s 37-20 road loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Linebacker Will Hill was suspended one game for grabbing an official — newcomer Keon Lyn will take his spot — while head coach Kent Austin declined to specify who, exactly, would be calling the offensive plays going forward.
Those duties had been handed to co-ordinator Stefan Ptaszek to start the season but Austin, who called the plays last season, took over against the Roughriders.
“Play-calling is overrated. There are no perfect calls and a lot of the calls that are made, if they are executed properly, will be successful. It’s more an issue of the execution than it is the play-calling,” Austin said.
“The reason I’ve been a little circumspect — I was going to say ‘snarky’ — is that it’s putting the focus on the wrong thing. The focus needs to be on execution.”
In B.C., the play-calling is handled by offensive co-ordinator Khari Jones, the former CFL quarterback who got his coaching start with the Ticats in 2009, a fact head coach Wally Buono was more than willing to share.
“I call nothing. That’s why I don’t wear a headset. Khari calls all the plays — at least I hope he does,” Buono joked.
“What’s my job, to micromanage two co-ordinators or to manage and coach the team? I don’t think you can do both.”
Despite their tough start, the Ticats are taking at least some solace from the fact they’ve started slowly in a number of Austin’s five seasons, including a 1-6 opening to the 2014 campaign that resulted in the second of two straight Grey Cup appearances.
“I’ve been through this before and at the end of the day something has to happen for us — we’re at the bottom of the bottom and it can’t get any worse,” Banks said.
“I think I can do a little bit more to give this team a spark but I have to put in a successful situation to do that.”
There is still a sense throughout the league that the Ticats are a better team than their record and their generally uninspired performances have shown.
Elimimian said Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros alone is enough to keep the Lions concerned.
“Having an 0-2 start, that’s a dangerous mindset for a team,” Elimimian said. “They are thinking ‘win at all costs.'”
Indeed, come Saturday night the Ticats are hoping they’ll be ones doing the dancing.