The Ticats held their first day of mini-camp at Tim Hortons on Tuesday and here are eight things we learned.
1. There are a lot of players here
The Ticats have 60 names on their mini-camp roster, a list that’s compromised of both veterans and rookies. By comparison, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brought 46 players to their mini-camp, the Ottawa Redblacks 40 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders 30.
Approaches vary across the CFL, but many clubs bring their quarterbacks and predominantly first-year players in order to get an extended look at them before training camp.
The Ticats decision to fly the majority of the roster into town, house them for three days and pay veterans a $115 a day per diem – one of the reasons some teams avoid vets – clearly adds to the expense. The reason: head coach June Jones says he’s changing the offensive system to utilize his terminology while defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville is also new.
The team has traditionally held their mini-camp in the city but Jones, who spends much of the off-season in Hawaii, might prefer a different location.
“Some of the guys have mentioned that other teams are in Vegas and in Florida so who knows what will happen next year,” he said, chuckling.
2. There are some notable names missing
Not every player was able to attend the three-day session, which is voluntarily, and some were by design. Specialists like kickers and long-snappers aren’t here, nor are some Canadians who play predominantly on special teams.
Receiver Terrence Toliver, who is still recovering from knee surgery, isn’t here this week and running back Alex Green, who finished last season as the starter, couldn’t make it.
“We talked to everybody and Alex had some stuff in Portland with his job that he needed to be at,” Jones said. “I know what he can do so I don’t think it was as important.”
Defensive tackle Davon Coleman is dealing with an injury and is in Hamilton just not taking part in on-field drills.
Other players not at camp: Canadian receiver Giovani Aprile, national linebackers Nick Shortill, Terrell Davis, Geoff Hughes, Curtis Newton and Akeen Whonder, American defensive backs Dante Blackmon, Keon Lyn and Justin Rogers, American offensive lineman Will Freeman, Canadian defensive end Connor McGough, American defensive end Ryan Mueller and national running back Mercer Timmis.
3. There are a number of number changes
A few Ticats have changed their numbers going into 2018: receiver Jalen Saunders has gone from 89 to 13, defensive back Richard Leonard has taken No. 4 in lieu of 37 and DB Don Unamba has changed his number from 39 to 1. Quarterback Dane Evans has gone from No. 3 to No. 9 while Mariel Cooper is now No. 20 (instead of 28.)
4. Cooper gets first crack at SAM
It’s super early to be pumping out depth charts but the first unit defence spent much of the afternoon together and included Mariel Cooper at the strong-side linebacker position. That’s one of the question marks going into this season after the team cycled through a number of players in the hard-to-fill role: Abdul Kanneh finished the season there but he was back at his old spot at the boundary half. The rest of the secondary included Demond Washington at boundary corner, Courtney Stephen at safety, Richard Leonard at field half – the spot where he was most successful last year – and Don Unamba at field corner.
Cooper played in three games at halfback at the end of last season, registering eight tackles, three knockdowns and a sack. He’s 5-foot-11, 192 pounds so he has the frame to play the hybrid spot that requires both coverage skills and run-stuffing ability.
5. Nikita Whitlock took some reps at running back
Listed at 5-foot-11, 250 pounds, Whitlock played 11 games at defensive tackle for the Ticats last season but played both fullback and defensive line while with the New York Giants in 2015. Jones had him taking reps at running back on Tuesday and said he’ll spend the first two days there before playing defence on day three.
He’s certainly a different body type than the other Ticat running backs and having another guy who can help out in case of injury – teams rarely carry two American running backs on their 44-man game day roster – is useful.
6. Angelo Mosca was at practice on Tuesday
He may be 81 and battling some health issues but Ang is still a welcome sight at Ticats practice. Offensive line coach Dennis McKnight brought his entire group over to shake Mosca’s hand and spent a few minutes chatting with them.
7. McKnight in a new role
Speaking of McKnight, he moves from special teams coordinator (the role he had last season) to offensive line coach in 2018. McKnight has experience with Jones’ system and that seems to be the impetus for the move.
“I’m very comfortable because he’s coached the offensive line for me at two different universities for six or seven years. He knows what I want and how I want to get it done,” Jones said.
Centre Mike Filer said having McKnight, a strong personality who played 10 seasons on the line in the NFL, will be useful as the unit looks to pick up the protections in Jones’ scheme.
“He has a really good understanding of fundamentals and techniques and all that stuff,” Filer said. “A lot of guys are bouncing things off him. When coach McKnight is talking, nobody else is talking.”
8. There is a lot of continuity
With Jones back and much of the core that finished last season still in place, Filer said it was all very familiar on the first day of mini-camp.
“I walked into the locker room at 7:30 a.m. this morning and it was deja vu, it felt like we didn’t even have a break,” he said. “Same in the meeting rooms, everybody sat in the same spot and it’s a lot different in that everybody is just comfortable.”