To say the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had an up-and-down season in 2018 would be an understatement. The team went from looking like an also-ran to looking like a juggernaut on an almost weekly basis. It was tough to get a read on those Tiger-Cats, and it may be even tougher to get a read on this year’s incarnation.
As the team gets set to start training camp we are going to take a look at the Ticats’ roster, position by position. We will start with the offence, with a piece on the defence and special teams coming later.
The quarterback position in Hamilton is just as set this year as it was last year (despite what Johnny Manziel fanboys wanted you to think). The Ticats enter the season with last year’s division all-star and MOP, Jeremiah Masoli, back under centre. Masoli had, by all measures, a tremendous season last year. Second in the league in passing yards, third in the league in TD passes, fourth in passer rating and third in completion percentage. Any way you cut it, Masoli is one of the best in the league and should he continue his upward trajectory will be in line for a very large pay raise come the winter.
Backing Masoli up will be Dane Evans, who in one start last year played better than expected. Evans inked an extension with the team in the off-season that will see him remain a Ticat until at least 2021, meaning the team is invested in his development. The Ticats have just one other QB on the roster, Hayden Moore, who was signed just over a week ago. The team released DeVante Kincade on Tuesday, so I expect they will bring another arm into camp to vie for the No. 3 spot.
In the backfield we will see a much different set of runners than last year. Gone are Alex Green, John White and Mercer Timmis. Enter former Bomber and Rider Cameron Marshall, who will likely get first crack at the starting gig. But it is also possible the Ticats could go Canadian at tailback. Sean Thomas-Erlington had a breakout 2018 season and could be in line for a more featured role in 2019, while the team drafted Ohio standout Maleek Irons with their third-round pick earlier this month. Another name to remember is Ray Lawry, who the team signed this off-season. Old Dominion’s all-time leading rusher could be the next diamond in the rough found by Hamilton scouts.
At receiver, the Ticats are L-O-A-D-E-D, loaded. All-stars Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker return, as does a pair of talented Canadian pass catchers in Shamawd Chambers, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, and Mike Jones, who had his coming-out party in 2018, finishing as the league’s second-leading receiver amongst Canadians. Also returning is Bralon Addison, who stepped up huge late last year in the absence of the recently released Jalen Saunders and Banks, who missed the team’s final few games after injuring his shoulder in a late-season contest against Ottawa. The Ticats currently have almost 20 receivers on their roster, so there are a lot of players looking to secure just a few spots. With four-fifths of the starting lineup seemingly set, it will be interesting to see who separates themselves from the pack to snag that fifth spot. One player who likely has a leg up is Rashad Lawrence, who played in 10 games a year ago, catching 17 passes for 131 yards.
It was about to be same old, same old for the Ticats regarding their offensive line — who was going to play the two tackle spots — but one spot was filled late Saturday night when the Ticats inked former Argo Chris Van Zeyl to a two-year deal. Van Zeyl will now hold down the fort on one side, which leaves one tackle spot open. Both Avery Jordan and Kelvin Palmer started there last year, and both are back with the team, so expect one of them to open camp in that spot. But the Ticats have five other American tackle prospects on the roster, so nothing is guaranteed.
The interior of Hamilton’s line is all set with the team’s top rookie from a year ago, Darius Ciraco, the East’s top lineman, Brandon Revenberg, and the team’s long-time centre, Mike Filer, all returning. Hamilton also has some players in the pipeline, most notably 2019 second-overall pick Jesse Gibbon. Hamilton had very good Canadians all over the roster, and had good-to-great Canadians along the offensive line, but the addition of Van Zeyl puts them over the top. Hamilton’s Canadian talent could easily be the best in the entire CFL, and with the ability to now start four Canucks along the offensive line gives the Ticats the type of ratio flexibility teams dream about.
The biggest change on the offensive side of the ball might be the man calling plays. June Jones stepped down as the team’s offensive coordinator on Monday, and was replaced by Tommy Condell, who held that position with the Argos last year and with the Ticats from 2013-2015. Condell’s offensive philosophy isn’t the same as Jones’, but Condell is familiar with many of the team’s stars, such as Jeremiah Masoli, Luke Tasker and Brandon Banks, as all were here when Condell was previously running the Ticats’ offence. Hamilton had one of the league’s best offensive attacks a year ago, and the Condell-led attack was a juggernaut in 2015 until injuries derailed everything. With a new batch of players, it will be interesting to see what Condell can do in his second go around with the Tabbies.