For Ticats, Argos time to improve is now

Ask about last year’s Labour Day Classic and his eyes widen.

Going into it, we were 0-8, said Jalen Saunders. “Any mindset is like, ‘Jeez, I’m just trying to eat right now.’

“Everybody’s been starving for eight weeks.”

Fast forward 12 months and it’s safe to say that Saunders and his Hamilton Tiger-Cats teammates are a little less ravenous — and that makes sense.

Their 4-5 record heading into Monday’s meeting with the visiting Toronto Argonauts is a dramatic turn from last season’s first-half slide.

But that’s not to say they’re satiated.

“We definitely have a lot of room to be better,” said fellow receiver Brandon Banks.

“We left a lot on the field in the first nine games, so I think we’re still trying to get better and trying to find some chemistry on the offensive side of the ball.”

While it might be disappointing that the Tiger-Cats are still trying to find their groove, it shouldn’t be surprising.

It’s been only a year since June Jones replaced Kent Austin as head coach, installed a new offensive system and appointed Jeremiah Masoli starting quarterback.

Adapting to a change like that takes time.

For the team and its fans, the good news going into this year’s Classic is that the attack is moving in the right direction.

Masoli has the second-most passing yards in the league along with a 65.7 per cent completion rate, and has thrown for more than 300 yards seven times this season.

Finishing has been a problem — he knows that — but overall, Hamilton is boasting some of the best offensive numbers in the CFL.

When asked to reflect on his first year as first string, Masoli admitted the learning curve has sometimes been steep, and adjusting to a new coach and a new system — especially midway through the season — wasn’t easy. It’s getting better, though, even if there’s still work to do.

“I’m all right,” he said. “I feel confident, for sure, but now it’s time to get rolling here.”

Jones, meanwhile, appears to be happy with the 30-year-old’s progress.

If Masoli didn’t clang the ball off the uprights twice in last week’s one-point, come-from-behind win over Edmonton, “he probably would have thrown for 700 yards,” he said — not to mention another touchdown or two.

Masoli went 27-for-44 in that game, with 419 yards and one TD.

“He’s played very well, he’s gotten better, he’s got a lot of poise in the pocket, he’s a leader. He’s a winner,” added Jones, who is 10-9 since taking the reins last September. “He can play.”

Luke Tasker, who reeled in that lone touchdown pass, said the Tiger-Cats, like their quarterback, has developed in “endless ways” since last year’s Classic.

The offence has morphed and changed and solidified its receiver group off the line, and Masoli — who spent four-and-a-half season in the backup role before taking over as starter — deserves credit.

“He’s done a great job taking over and making himself the head of this team,” he said — even if that, too, has taken time.

“It’s always been the way with Jeremiah, and I don’t know why. He’s always been hesitant to make it his team in the chances that he’s gotten,” Tasker said.

“This time, not that way. He’s taken over and it feels good for all of us to have him solidified as our guy.”

Notes: Jeremiah Masoli has a good handle on his Labour Day competition. McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who makes his fourth straight start behind centre for the Argonauts, is a good friend of the Tiger-Cats quarterback. In the off-season, the two San Francisco natives work out together, throw together and do community work together, although Monday’s game will mark the first time they’ve matched up. “It’s kind of crazy that he would be on the rival team,” said Masoli, who first met Bethel-Thompson at a 49ers camp nearly a decade ago. “It’s big, man. It’s going to be a big deal, for sure.”

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