Eight things I learned at the Ticats’ open practice

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

I never thought I would be excited to attend practice, but when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced last week that the team was opening Sunday’s training camp session to the public, I quickly signed up for seats (in order to limit capacity, the team made fans request tickets).

It had been 616 days since I was able to sit in a stadium and watch football, but that long stretch ended on Sunday when I sat in section 116 of Tim Hortons Field and watched the Hamilton Tiger-Cats go through a training camp session.

It felt good.

With limited media access during training camp this year it has been hard to know what the Ticats have planned for their roster. They had a few questions to answer heading into camp, and answers to those questions have been hard to come by so far. By being able to see at least one camp day with my own eyes I feel I have a better idea of what the answers to the questions posed earlier this month might be.

The QB race is as close as the team says

Orlondo Steinauer has spent nearly every day since camp opened answering questions about who the starting quarterback will be. He has been firm in his stance that this is still an ongoing evaluation and that both Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans are in a neck-and-neck race. While most (including myself) believe Jeremiah Masoli will eventually be named the starter, I can say without hesitation that Steinauer is not lying about how tight this race is.

Both guys took pretty much equal reps on Sunday, and both took equal reps with what can be classified as the A and B groups. They both made some nice throws — Evans threw a couple of darts, one a gorgeous touchdown pass to rookie Tyler Ternowski (that caused the team and fans to erupt), and Masoli threw a laser into tight coverage that was put in the exact right place — and both threw some passes they surely would want back.

Neither outshone the other, but both looked exactly like what you would expect and the Ticats are in good hands regardless of who gets the call.

Learn the name Trevon Tate

Saying anything is locked after seeing one two-and-a-half-hour practice is silly, but I think it is fair to say that newcomer Trevon Tate will be the opening day starter at left tackle.

The Ticats’ offensive line had Kay Okafor at right tackle (in for an injured Chris Van Zeyl, who had a cast on his hand), Jesse Gibbon at right guard, Darius Ciraco at centre, Brandon Revenberg at left guard and Tate at left tackle. It’s a lot of change for what was arguably the best offensive line in the CFL in 2019, but once Van Zeyl is back, I think the Ticats will be just fine.

Erli-bird gets the gig

The Ticats are going to use a multi-back approach, but I think Sean Thomas Erlington is going to be given every chance in the world to earn the bulk of the carries. Free agent signee Don Jackson should get his fair share of work as well, but it was Erlington who spent most of the time with the starters.

The Ticats likely won’t have their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010 this year, but they could easily have all their backs, which includes Maleek Irons and Jackson Bennett, combine for close to 1,500 rushing yards this season.

Canadian receiver by committee

One surprise from Sunday was how often I saw the Ticats use four-receiver sets, with either Nikola Kalinic or Jake Burt (and sometimes both) on the field with the starting offence at tight end.

When the Ticats did go five-wide, Canadian David Ungerer III got the bulk of the first-team reps. But Tyler Ternowski made a couple nice plays and could force his way onto the field, too. The Ticats have a lot of options for who their Canadian receiver will be, and I expect they will use multiple looks and combinations to gain a schematic advantage over opposing defences.

Posey out, Marshall in

DeVier Posey wasn’t in pads and with Tuesday’s news that Orlondo Steinauer thinks Posey is a long shot to play Week 1.

Don’t be surprised if Jalin Marshall gets the call in Posey’s place. Marshall was on the field with the starters, joined on Sunday in the receiving corps by Brandon Banks, Bralon Addison, and Jaelon Acklin.

Marshall was with the Tabbies in 2019, but saw limited action. With Posey’s health a concern, it looks like Marshall is being given the first chance to take the former Grey Cup MVP’s place.

It is a three-horse face for SAM

Simoni Lawrence and Jovan Santos-Knox are two-thirds of the Ticats’ linebacking trio, but the third spot is still up in the air. The team is seemingly looking at three players — Brad Stewart Jr., Desmond Lawrence, and Kameron Kelly — to fill the always-hard-to-find strong-side linebacking role.

Stewart began the session with the starters, but Lawrence and Kelly both got plenty of time in the role as well. Lawrence made a great read on a throw and picked it off. It was the biggest play either of the three made while on the field. I don’t think we will know exactly who will get the nod until the season starts, but if it isn’t one of those three players I will be surprised.

Rolle Island has replaced the Breaux-muda Triangle

Maybe the most obvious answer to those pre-camp question was Jumal Rolle taking over for Delvin Breaux because that is exactly what has happened. Rolle was with the starters during the entire practice at the boundary corner spot, and unless an injury befalls him — knock on wood — he will be the starter at Breaux’s old spot.

Global punter, American kicker… probably?

I went into Sunday’s practice thinking the Ticats were likely going to go with a Canadian kicker following the release of Matthew White. But Taylor Bertolet got all the snaps whenever the team was placekicking, and Joel Whitford was the only punter who kicked a punt the entire morning as well.

Gabriel Ferraro was recently released and the team signed American kicker Jimmy Camacho, so I think the Cats are considering going with an American-Global duo at the two kicking positions.

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.