Ticats reinforce the trenches (and six other draft thoughts)

Photo courtesy: CFL

While we don’t know when the 2020 CFL season will start, we do know a little more about what the 2020 version of the Ticats will look like thanks to the CFL draft.

The Ticats had nine selection in Thursday’s draft, including two first-round picks, and used them to select a variety of players, many of whom will hopefully contribute to the 2020 squad.

Hamilton has spent a significant amount of resources fortifying the trenches, bringing back all four starters on the defensive line and four of five offensive line starters from last year’s Grey Cup.

They doubled down on that by using their first two picks on a lineman for each side of the ball, with University of Guelph guard Coulter Woodmansey being the team’s first pick at fifth overall, and University of North Dakota defensive end Mason Bennett being the team’s second pick, eighth overall.

With the 17th, 36th and 54th picks, they likely added some special teams help in the forms of Acadia University linebacker Bailey Feltmate, and a pair of University of British Columbia defensive backs, Stavros Katsantonis and Jean Ventose.

The Ticats addressed their need for some help at Canadian receiver by taking University of Waterloo star, and Hamilton native, Tyler Ternowski with the 27th pick; added some competition at kicker by taking UCLA’s J.J. Molson with the 63rd pick; added more offensive or defensive line depth by selecting McMaster’s Joseph Bencze with the 45th pick; and finished the draft by taking UBC long snapper Tom Schnitzler with the 72nd pick.

Hamilton has spent the last few years creating roster fluidity when it comes to its Canadian content, eschewing the old ways of collecting Canadians at certain positions. Their work in the 2020 draft continued that philosophy.

All-Canadian offensive line?

The Ticats have very few questions about their starting roster for 2020, but one still lingers: who replaces Ryker Mathews at left tackle?

The team allowed Mathews to leave for the B.C. Lions in free agency, leaving a very large opening on the left side of their line.

By selecting yet another offensive lineman in the first round, might the Ticats be flirting with the possibility of going all-Canadian along the offensive line? It’s not as crazy as you might think on first glance, and there are a couple of ways the team could achieve this.

The first is to slide two-time CFL all-star Brandon Revenberg out from guard to left tackle. One of the reasons Revenberg was so highly thought of by Ticats brass in the lead up to the 2016 draft was his versatility. At six-foo-four, 300 pounds, he certainly has the size to play tackle.

If Revenberg moves out, that gives 2019 first-round pick Jesse Gibbon a chance to become a starter in his second season. That would allow Woodmansey to fill Gibbon’s 2019 role, while still developing others behind him. It’s not ideal, given that Revenberg is the reigning two-time CFL all-star guard, but it might be the best way to maximize the talent on the line and give last year’s second-overall pick in Gibbon a chance to show he can be an every day starter.

The other option is to leave Revenberg at guard and give Kay Okafor a chance to earn the left tackle job. Okafor has played sparingly during his time with the Ticats, but they have invested a lot of time into his development and he has been given chances to play tackle in late-season games and due to injury.

Regardless of what the Ticats decide to do to replace Mathews, the idea of an all-Canadian offensive line cannot be dismissed entirely.

Exit McGough, enter Bennett

While it seems unfair to label Connor McGough as a bust, the fact that the 2017 fourth-overall pick never materialized into an every-down player during his three years with the Ticats does allow us to label the selection of him as a disappointment.

When you pick a player that high you hope he eventually turns into a starter, and McGough saw limited time on defence and mostly spent his Ticats career on special teams. A valuable role, to be sure, but not the ceiling you want for a player picked in the top half of the first round.

McGough departed for his home-province Stampeders in free agency, so the Ticats looked to the draft to find his replacement in North Dakota standout Mason Bennett. Bennett holds the North Dakota Division-I record for sacks in a season and was named a third-team All-American in 2019.

With Hamilton’s defensive line being so veteran laden, it is highly likely that Bennett will have to make his name on special teams. Hopefully his tenure there leads to him being able to find a role on defence, something his predecessor never could do.

Let the kicking competition commence

With Lirim Hajrullahu taking his talents to sunny Los Angeles, the Ticats are once again in the search for a new placekicker/punter/kick-off man. The team inked Monmouth’s Matthew White back in March, and now have drafted UCLA kicker J.J. Molson. White probably has the leg up (no pun intended) on the competition because he performed all three duties in college, whereas Molson was strictly a place kicker.

But Molson wouldn’t be the first UCLA kicker to come to the CFL and be asked to try his hand (or foot) at punting. Former Ticat and current Blue Bomber Justin Medlock came to CFL as just a kicker and has turned into a fairly decent punter. Molson might be able to do the same.

In any event, with the exception of the two Hajrullahu years, the Ticats have had a revolving door at kicker. After a couple seasons of stability, it looks like we are back to holding our collective breaths during field goals, punts and kick-offs once more.

Thunder-thunder-thunder-Cats… HOOOOO!

With the selection of three former UBC Thunderbirds, I now declare that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats become known as the Hamilton Thunder-Cats.

Simoni Lawrence is Lion-O, Jeremiah Masoli is Panthro, Brandon Banks is Cheetara, with the Argos fulfilling the role of Mumm-Ra and the Ottawa Redblacks being Snarf.

But in all seriousness, it is very rare to see a team select that many players from one school (unless your GM has a very specific tie to that school *cough*Danny Maciocia*cough*), but the Ticats clearly saw something they liked from what Blake Nill has done at UBC.

And I am going to plant my flag here: like Nikola Kalinic a year ago, Ticats fans are going to fall in love with Stavros Katsontonis. Don’t ask me why, but I just get the feeling he is going to become a fan favourite very quickly.

Thumbs down, TSN

A week after the NFL showed everyone how a pro sports draft should be done in these bizarre times, the CFL took that formula, turned it upside down and spilled it all over the floor.

I don’t know if it was budgetary, though it probably was, but TSN’s coverage of the draft just felt so… dull. It was wash, rinse, repeat with the selections. A player would get picked, the guys would talk about it for a minute or so, they would cut to some YouTube clips and call it a day.

It was so sterile. There was no excitement, no energy and very little in the way of information. Duane Forde is still among the GOATs when it comes to draft knowledge, but TSN’s coverage of the draft left a lot to be desired.

A couple rapid fire questions, that maybe will get answered (but probably won’t):

Why was Farhan Lalji, not Randy Ambrosie, announcing the picks?

Why did no one tell Dave Naylor to maybe remove the NFL helmet from his football shrine and replace it with a CFL one?

Why was just one interview done with any of the players selected?

And a sub question to the previous one: with everyone having a camera in their pocket, how did TSN not find a way to get any reactions from the players selected on their broadcast?

And lastly, with their being absolutely nothing else on, sports-wise, on Thursday, why did TSN not show the entire draft? I harp on this every year, but this year more than most it makes absolutely no sense for the league not to broadcast the entire thing. What else were they clamouring to throw to? Highlights of nothing? This was the perfect time for the CFL to see if the draft in its entirety was a viable commodity and they chose not to. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Thumbs up, and thank you, 3DownNation

While this may come off as butt kissing or patting ourselves on the back, I thought the work that Justin Dunk, J.C. Abbott and John Hodge did on 3DownNation during the draft was the best you will see. Hodge broke down every pick as they happened, with snap analysis you will not get anywhere else, while J.C. and Justin did a livestream on Twitter talking about all the picks. As TSN’s coverage was coming to an end — I watched it so I could comment on it here — I was glued to my phone listening to Dunk and Abbott break everything down.

I can only imagine this will get better as the years go on, but if you want draft coverage that informs, entertains and makes you more knowledgable about the players entering the CFL, you will find no better place for that than right here on 3DownNation.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.