VANCOUVER – The June Jones honeymoon, such as it was, was short and sweet and now comes the tough part: actually living – and hopefully – winning together.
The new Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach has been on the job almost a month, six weeks if the time he spent as an offensive consultant is added in. The team won their first two games in that emotionally-charged period that typically accompanies something new but lost last week against Saskatchewan and now face an increasingly desperate B.C. team in a place they haven’t won since Marcel Bellefeuille was running things.
Jones has given this squad a much-needed boost of confidence with his preternaturally calm demeanour and multi-page resume. A quarterback switch from the struggling Zach Collaros to Jeremiah Masoli looked like a stroke of genius as Masoli orchestrated both a Labour Day win and a rare road victory.
But now that the initial rush of excitement is starting to wear off, some of the inevitable idiosyncrasies are beginning to emerge. They are little things, perhaps, and maybe this team can live with them… or maybe they’ll blossom into something more serious.
“We’re all used to his style now and I’ve really come to like how he runs the team, his generally positive approach to things. I think players have bought into his approach,” receiver Luke Tasker said. “But I would say that we are still learning: every meeting I feel like I’m one more ladder rung closer to what he understands offence to be. It’s just vastly different from what we were running.”
For all his easy-goingness, Jones has the same-hard-headed streak many coaches do. He has decided, for example, that he wants to stick with the same ratio line up every week to limit the amount of upheaval the inevitable injuries to the seven starting Canadians will have on the roster.
“I’m trying not to move all kinds of people around, just replace that one guy and everything else stays the same,” Jones said this week. “That’s always been my philosophy and that’s what I’m going to do up here, too.”
That’s all fine and dandy – that’s how former general manager Bob O’Billovich did things, too – but it’s not how this version of the Ticats were built. Under the Kent Austin regime, “flexibility” has been the buzzword and the roster constructed to emphasize playing the best seven Canadians in any given week, regardless of position.
But for the second straight week, the Ticats will start a recently-acquired Canadian receiver with limited practice time (Shamawd Chambers) while using a converted rookie running back (Sean Thomas-Erlington) to fill in the gaps. Masoli has thrown a whopping 53 per cent of passes to either Tasker or Jalen Saunders last week and one the factors is likely the inexperience in the rest of the receiving corps.
And yes, the Ticats do have other options. They could start another Canadian in the secondary (Jay Langa) or at linebacker (Nick Shortill, Terrell Davis) or defensive tackle (Justin Vaughn) or on the offensive line (Landon Rice) – all players with more experience than Thomas-Erlington and time with the Ticats than Chambers.
Jones also seems determined to stick with Masoli, too, though he did say this week that he would consider going to back to Collaros, who hasn’t started since Jones took over.
“I’m one of those guys that likes to stick with their quarterback but at some point, the answer is ‘yes, probably,'” Jones said. “But I’m rooting for Jeremiah to never give up the job because that means we are playing pretty good.”
The play-calling situation also remains… unique. In a season where those duties have been passed around like a hot-potato sprinkled with anthrax, the current set up involves Jones picking the play, running it through offensive coordinator Stef Ptasek who translates it into Ticat terminology, then communicating it to the quarterback. Again, not insurmountable but hardly ideal.
The Ticats-Jones romance was a shotgun affair, to put it mildly, a product of winless start that demanded big changes. By that standard, it’s been productive – at least they’ve won some games – but as with all whirlwind courtships, it’s fraught with peril.
“I just wish we’d have the pre-season games and training camp because we’d be right where we are now,” Jones said.
They’ll need some more victories – and soon – to have any hope at all at the happily-ever-after.