Ticats look for signs of light ahead of showdown with Esks

A Ticat fan in Calgary delivered a typewritten letter to defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold after a practice session this week. It read, in part:

“Your family will also hold you accountable, ask the hard questions and give you brutally honest feedback. Don’t take these as negatives. Take them as evidence,” he wrote. “Evidence that your family is so committed to you, so supportive of you, so loyal to you, so passionate about you that we want to see you exceed even your own greatest expectations.”

Reinebold tweeted out a photo of the letter on Thursday, a day before the winless Ticats were set to play the undefeated Edmonton Eskimos. While the tone was relentlessly positive, there were also words like “disappointed” and “embarrassed” and “mad as hell,” in reference to the team’s 60-1 loss to the Stampeders last Saturday.

Receiver Luke Tasker understands the sentiment. And while he acknowledges the Ticats have been forced to work at staying positive as the losses pile up, he says the player perspective is unique.

“I’ve always said it’s tough to be a fan because everything is outside of your control where as we can go back and work on things every day,” Tasker said. “The frustration is just different.”

Despite being away from home, Hamilton had an eventful week. After the shocking loss to Calgary, there was plenty of speculation about head coach’s Kent Austin’s job security – ultimately dismissed by team CEO Scott Mitchell – a decent-sized brawl between offensive and defensive players in practice, then the hiring of a new assistant head coach in June Jones.

The team has also made another slew of roster changes, with Will Hill moving to safety, Dominque Ellis taking over at strong side linebacker, Justin Capicciotti starting at defensive end and receiver Damarr Aultman making his first career start. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence is back, too.

Somehow, the Eskimos have it even worse. Edmonton has suffered through a run of bad luck that has put 18 players on the six-game injured list, including a half-dozen starters from last week, their kicker and all-star linebacker J.C. Sheritt. Yet, they have been finding ways to win.

“I think it’s a badge of honour… guys are prideful that they are able to step in and do the job,” said Edmonton head coach and former Ticat quarterback Jason Maas. “If this continues to happen to us and we’re fortunate to be there at the end, hell yeah it’s a great story.”

The Ticats have had some recent success against Edmonton, however. Hamilton staged the largest comeback in team history, wiping out a 25-point deficit to win 37-31 last July. They also won here in 2015.

The last team to rally successfully from 0-5 was the 2011 B.C. Lions, who – after acquiring receiver Arland Bruce in a trade from Hamilton – rallied to win the Grey Cup that season. Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly was a member of that squad and says it was a trip to Commonwealth Stadium with the team at 1-6 that was the turning point in the season.

“Nobody expected us to win, all the talk in the media was that if we didn’t get that win we were going to have wholesale changes,” Reilly said. “That was what was going on outside the locker room but inside the locker room we knew that we had to play a cleaner game and we’d be just fine. That’s what we did.”

That first part certainly sounds familiar: a few letter-writing die-hards not withstanding, pundits and fans have more or less left the Cats for dead and will be watching closely to see how the team rebounds after the humiliation in Calgary.

Again, Tasker has a different perspective.

“I know how frustrating it must seem from the outside but it’s not as bleak to us because we have a list of things we can control, that we can do better,” Tasker said. “We’re still fighting, we’re still working. There’s not a feeling of hopelessness, there’s a feeling that we’re going to work hard and get our first one.”

He should write that down.

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