Where the Ticats go from here

The 2017 Ticats season will ultimately go down as their worst season in nearly 10 years.

And yet, despite the fact that Hamilton’s championship drought is guaranteed to extend into another season, hope is in the air amongst many of the Ticats faithful when it comes to the team’s prospects for next season.

The major areas of concern for the Ticats heading into the season seem to have finally been addressed. The team’s secondary, led by a number of young players, including rookie-of-the-year candidate Richard Leonard, looks to finally have all the pieces in place to go back to being a dominant unit like they were under Orlondo Steinauer from 2013-16. Leonard leads the way, but the team has seen some great play out of Don Unamba and Cariel Brooks, and Abdul Kanneh has fit in like a glove at SAM linebacker. The secondary looks solid, and most, if not all, of these parts will be back next season.

The offensive line finally looks to have found all the pieces as well. The acquisition to Tony Washington following his release by the Edmonton Eskimos and the insertion of rookie Ryker Mathews has solidified the offensive line in a big way. Washington is scheduled to become a free agent in February and needs to be brought back. No one ever had a doubt that the interior of Hamilton’s line, with Mike Filer at centre, and Ryan Bomben and Brandon Revenberg at guard, was strong, but the additions of Washington and Mathews has turned this into one the league’s best units in the second half of the season. If this unit stays together, watch out.

This team has found a number of solid talents during this playoff-less season. From Jalen Saunders at receiver to Alex Green at running back to Davon Coleman at defensive tackle to the aforementioned youngsters in the secondary, the Ticats have some major building blocks on cheap deals to help a team that has a number of veterans set to test the open market.

The team will also get an all-star calibre receiver in Terrence Toliver back next season after he missed almost all of 2017 with a knee injury. Adding Toliver to an already impressive receiving corps that has flourished under June Jones, Hamilton’s offense could be explosive in 2018.

Hamilton has an offensive system that emphasizes a balanced attack, a defensive system that is fundamentally sound, and a special teams unit that makes plays and has gotten reliable place kicking from both Sergio Castillo and Kenny Allen. The Ticats looks like a team built to compete next season and that is worth getting excited about even though this team will not play after November 3.

But it is not just next year that matters, as the team still has a chance to make some moves before this year is over to get fans really hyped for the 2018 season.

First and foremost, sign June Jones to a contract. I know the team has said they will wait until after the season concludes before they make any decisions on Jones and the front office, but I think he has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can coach, and coach well, in the CFL. The Ticats are 5-3 under his stewardship and have been in every game they have played since Jones took over during the team’s second bye week prior to the Labour Day Classic. Jones has transformed a team that at one time lost 60-1 and nearly got them into the playoffs. He has made mistakes — his clock management leaves something to be desired — but he has found a way to make the Ticats competitive against some of the league’s best teams. June Jones should be the head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, no questions asked.

Secondly, sign Brandon Banks to a contract extension now! No one player has exemplified this team’s turnaround more than Speedy B. After Jones took over, Banks was inserted into the offense and he has flourished in his new role as the team’s boundary receiver. In eight games, Banks has 39 catches for 690 yards and five touchdowns. I am not going to project that over a full season — doing so has gotten me in trouble before — but it is impossible not to be impressed with the numbers Banks has put up since Jones took over. With two games left, he even has an outside shot of notching a 1,000-yard season (he currently has 742 yards), which would be something no one would have expected of him at the beginning of the season. Regardless of the numbers Banks finishes with, he has proven that he can be a starting receiver in this league and the Ticats need to lock him up now and not wait until the offseason.

Thirdly, the Ticats need to see what they have in Zach Collaros. I know June Jones has said Jeremiah Masoli will start the remainder of the games because he has earned that right, and I get that, but we also need to see just what Zach Collaros can do in this system before this season is through. We all know the contract situations of this team’s quarterbacks — Masoli is a free agent at season’s end, while Collaros is signed for another year at over a half million dollars — but we need to know if No. 4 can regain the form her had prior to tearing his knee up in 2015. I cannot see both of these quarterbacks being back next year, so it would behoove the Ticats to see what they have from the guy who still remains their property in 2018.

As odd as this may sound, I find myself much more optimistic about the Ticats prospects following this non-playoff season than I did following their first-round-exit season of a year ago. Things feel like they are going in the right direction. Maybe we all fooled ourselves last year when the team stumbled to a 7-11 record and first-round playoff exit, but this doesn’t feel like that. Hope is a dangerous thing, and hope has hung around Hamilton since 1999, but this feels different.

The team can’t carry momentum from one season to the next, and there are still things to be accomplished in 2017, but the building blocks look to be in place for this team to make some noise in 2018.

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