Seven players who stood out at Ticats mini-camp

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats just finished their three-day mini-camp at Tim Hortons Field and while it’s still a bit early to be making grand proclamations of CFL stardom, here are seven players that stood out for one reason or another.

1. Mariel Cooper, SAM linebacker

The Ticats used five different players at the strong-side linebacker position last season, with varying degrees of success. Abdul Kanneh finished the year with the job but he’s better suited to the halfback spot where he’s been a two-time all-star – and that’s where he lined up at mini-camp.

New defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville kept a “first unit” together for much of the week and it was Cooper, who played in three games in the secondary at the end of last season, who was in the SAM spot. At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Cooper has the athleticism to run with receivers and the size to play in the box against the run. He’s got some sandpaper to his game and that helps at a hybrid position where physicality is a must.

2. Felix Faubert-Lussier, Canadian receiver

Like Glanville, head coach and offensive coordinator June Jones ran a “first unit” and while there was more rotation on that side of the ball, Faubert-Lussier spent plenty of time in the receiving corps lined up with Brandon Banks, Luke Tasker, Jalen Saunders and fellow national Shamawd Chambers.

Jones said the team hasn’t decided where it will play its seven Canadian starters to begin the season but it would appear that using two nationals at receiver is among the options – something that would give them more flexibility on defence. Faubert-Lussier, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016, saw his stock rise after Jones’ arrival last season and though he made just three catches in 14 games, he could play a much bigger role this year.

3. Simoni Lawrence, linebacker

Lawrence had a down year in 2017, at least by his standards, registering his lowest tackle total in his four seasons as a full-time starter and failing to earn an all-star nod for the first time since 2013. Now 29, there were questions about whether injuries were an issue or if his off-the-charts athleticism was starting to wane.

Nope. Lawrence had a tremendous mini-camp and looks to be back to his old self (assuming that self went anywhere) and seems ideally suited to Glanville’s blitz-happy schemes and swagger-heavy mentality.

4. Bobby Richardson, defensive end

Depending on how the Ticats ultimately configure the ratio, there could be room for another American defensive end opposite veteran Adrian Tracy – at the very least, they’ll be looking for some depth.

That could open up a spot for Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 286 pounder who plays much quicker than those numbers would suggest. With 15 games of NFL experience, including 11 starts, Robinson can play both defensive end and tackle – the type of versatility that can come in handy on a CFL roster.

5. Jumal Rolle, defensive back

The secondary has been a weak spot for the Ticats the past few seasons, with a cavalcade of players coming on and off the roster. Jones and Glanville seem more inclined to find a core group and stick with it – Jones certainly did last season – but they’ll still be plenty of competition for those starting roles.

Enter Rolle, one of several new defensive backs the team brought to mini-camp. Another player with NFL experience (19 games with Houston and Baltimore) Rolle has good size at 6-feet and could be a candidate for the key boundary corner spot.

6. Storm Johnson, running back

Alex Green, who finished the season as the starting running back, wasn’t able to attend mini-camp so Nikita Whitlock – a defensive lineman with the Ticats last season who played fullback in the NFL – more or less split the reps with Johnson.

Again, Johnson has a more established NFL pedigree than the typical CFL players. He was drafted by Jacksonville in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft and played in six games for the Jaguars, starting one. Still just 25, he runs well for a guy listed at 228 pounds and showed some quickness at mini-camp.

7. Lirim Hajrullahu, kicker

Hajrullahu wasn’t officially invited to mini-camp but showed up on Wednesday to watch the on-field session. The Ticats only prominent free agent signing this off-season, Hajrullahu has been working out at Tim Hortons for the past few weeks as he tries to learn the wind patterns at the notoriously breezy stadium. One key observation: construction of a new recreation centre across the street at Scott Park could have a calming effect on the wind.