The final score reads 30-23 for the Argos, but we learned a lot more about the 2019 version of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the loss than we did in last week’s win in Ottawa.
All three phases performed rather well, especially when the starters were in the game. It obviously wasn’t the best game on the whole considering the Ticats lost, but there was enough good stuff that you still need to be pretty optimistic about the team heading into the regular season.
Here are some takeaways from Thursday’s pre-season finale:
1) Anyone worried about how Jeremiah Masoli would be without June Jones had those fears put to rest on Thursday. Masoli led two touchdown drives in the first half, finishing the game with 154 yards on 17-of-26 passing with one touchdown, one interception and a rushing score. Masoli looked like he has not missed a step, and was in sync with his receivers during his lone half of football. Until he leads the team to a championship, and maybe even after that, he will have his detractors, but Masoli looked as good on Thursday as he did all of last season, which can only be a good thing for the Tiger-Cats.
2) Part of the reason Masoli looked so good was the protection he got from the offensive line. Chris Van Zeyl, Brandon Revenberg, Mike Filer, Darius Ciraco and Kelvin Palmer (not Ryker Mathews) started the game and dominated the Argos front four. The team did not give up a sack in the game, and all the quarterbacks had a ton of time to make reads. It was especially noticeable in the first half with the starters in the game. If this type of protection is the norm this season, the Ticats offence is going to be even more dangerous than it was a year ago.
3) The Ticats started eight Canadians on Thursday, and that didn’t include Jamaal Westerman or Mike Daly, both starters from a season ago. The Ticats could go to as many as 10 Canadian starters if they wanted to, but even if they just go with the required seven, look at the type of Canadian talent this team will have as bench or role players. You win in the CFL with high-level QB play and having the best Canadians. The Ticats have both right now.
4) One standout from the game was Adrian Tracy. Tracy has been a very good player, sometimes even a great player, before, but over the last couple of years his play diminished due to injuries. But fully healthy, Tracy looked like a monster playing opposite Ja’Gared Davis. With Davis, rightfully, getting the majority of attention from the opposition, it could allow Tracy to have a big year if he stays healthy.
5) Yes, he booted a punt out of bounds, but it was a fairly solid outing from Lirim Hajrullahu. A beautiful punt that landed inside the 10 was negated by a flag, and the ensuing on-side punt was unsuccessful, but I thought Hajrullahu kicked the ball well and had much better control than a year ago. The backspin on the kickoff that the Ticats recovered was tremendous, and whether that was on purpose or not, it certainly worked. With Jeff Reinebold back, I expect Hajrullahu to have one of his best seasons, and despite one hiccup on Thursday, it looks like he will.
6) Speaking of special teams, all areas of that unit were tremendous against the Argos. Both returners, newcomer Janarion Grant and returnee Frankie Williams, had some nice returns. Grant, especially, looked explosive and decisive on both kickoff and punt returns. The cover units were stellar, hemming in both Chris Rainey and Kevin Fogg, and not allowing a return longer than 20 yards on punts or kickoffs. The Jeff Reinebold effect is in full force in Tigertown once again.
7) If there is one area of concern, it might be the secondary. It wasn’t bad, per se, but there were some missteps that allowed the Argos to make some big plays. The two biggest are, of course, the pair of long touchdowns to Derel Walker and Cole Watson, respectively, that sparked the Argos’ victory. Walker had another big catch early when James Allen missed an open-field tackle. Walker is going to burn you from time to time, but the Ticats can’t give up these types of big plays too often and hope to win. Yes, there were interceptions by Richard Leonard and Cariel Brooks, but the secondary, which is supposed to be a strength of the team, might have been the team’s biggest weakness on Thursday.