What to make of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ final 2022 cuts

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats made their final roster moves on this weekend, releasing 23 players and moving 12 to the practice roster as the team prepares to start the 2022 regular season.

While there were no Jordan Williams-Lambert or Quan Bray-type surprises, there were a few interesting developments including Canadian running back Maleek Irons being placed on the practice squad and recent draft picks Jaxon Cirallo-Brown, Khadeem Pierre, and Nicolas Guay get released.

Even without any headline-grabbing moves, there is still much that can be gleaned from looking at who the Ticats kept, who they let go and who they chose to let sit around on the practice roster.

Preseason and training camp standout receiver Anthony Johnson made the roster. The Ticats placed two Canadian receivers on the six-game injury list last week, which means they likely need to adjust their plan to start two homegrown in the receiving corps.

Enter Johnson.

The University at Buffalo product had an excellent camp and showed well enough in the Ticats’ two preseason games that he should get the call in Week 1. What the Ticats decide to do once Canadian receivers Lemar Durant and Tyler Ternowski are healthy remains to be seen, but Johnson has a great chance to secure the job while the two Canadian pass-catchers heal up.

Another rookie American who cracked the roster was defensive back and return specialist Lawrence Woods. Woods produced the highlight of the game for the Ticats in their 18-17 loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night with an electric 99-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter.

The St. Louis, Missouri native had previously shown his ability to contribute on defence and on special teams coverage units, but his touchdown return likely sealed his spot on the roster.

We also have clarity as to who the third-string quarterback will be and it is former Wake Forest University star Jamie Newman. Newman looked like the more polished prospect in Friday night’s contest going a perfect eight-for-eight and throwing the Ticats’ only touchdown pass of the preseason. Even with fewer opportunities, Newman outperformed his competition in Prairie View A&M product Jalen Morton.

The Ticats did add Morton to the team’s practice roster, but after Friday night picking Newman over Morton felt like the only route Hamilton could take.

Prior to the start of training camp, I outlined five questions I had about the team ahead of the season. With training camp and the preseason in the rear-view mirror, it now feels like a good time to look back on those questions and see if we got any answers.

Who are their seven Canadian starters?

This one seems like it could fluctuate a little as the season progresses, but based on the makeup of the roster currently, it seems likely the Ticats’ seven Canadian starters are going to be defensive back Tunde Adeleke, defensive lineman Mason Bennett, receiver David Ungerer III and offensive linemen Brandon Revenberg, Alex Fontana, Jesse Gibbon and Chris Van Zeyl.

This leaves a couple of notable Canadian players out of the starting lineup, namely veteran defensive lineman Ted Laurent and draft-week trade acquisition offensive lineman Kyle Saxelid.

Laurent returning to the Ticats took me by surprise after the team signed Micah Johnson in free agency and retained the services of Dylan Wynn.

While the Tabbies could utilize some five-man fronts with all three seeing the field at once, I believe that 34-year-old Laurent is now entering the rotational player part of his career. Star players rarely agree to take a backseat but with the moves Hamilton made in the offseason it feels like Big Teddy won’t be on the field as much as he was in previous seasons.

This might even be a blessing for Laurent, who has dealt with nagging injuries for almost his entire tenure with the Ticats. He even missed last year’s Grey Cup, but that was because of an emergency appendectomy and not due to a football-related injury.

Saxelid’s situation is a little more complex. There’s still a chance he could find his way into the starting lineup — I don’t think 2019 second-overall pick Jesse Gibbon has the right guard spot locked down — Saxelid’s value comes in his versatility and that could be why the team hasn’t made him a starter.

The UNLV product is also likely to be insurance behind Chris Van Zeyl after the future Canadian Football Hall of Famer played in just seven of the team’s 14 games a year ago. Van Zeyl began camp on the injured list and did not return until the start of last week. The man who filled in for him during his absence? You guessed it — Saxelid.

I doubt we see the changing of the guard happen during the season unless Van Zeyl goes down again, but it would not surprise me if this is Van Zeyl’s final season and the Ticats made sure they had his Canadian replacement already in house.

Who starts at left tackle?

This one seemed to get answered pretty early on with American Travis Vornkahl taking all of the first-team reps from day one of training camp and never relinquishing the position.

The Ticats released two of the men competing with Vornkahl for the spot in Americans De’Ondre Wesley and Ralph Singleton, while adding American Tyrone Riley to the team’s practice roster. Barring something unforeseen Vornkahl will start the season as Hamilton’s left tackle.

Who replaces Ja’Gared Davis?

The simple answer is Canadian Mason Bennet will be the starter, but this does feel like a situation that will be more replacement-by-committee. The team really likes American Malik Carney and I think he will get a lot of opportunities to make an impact while in rotation with Bennett. The Ticats also kept rookie American Tre’ Crawford, who had a very good camp and could be in line for some playing time as well.

Outside of finding someone in free agency, the Ticats were never going to fully replace Davis’ production. Instead, the team will rely on the entire defensive line to pick up the slack left by the former all-star’s departure to the Argos.

Will they finally find a decent kicker?

Decent might not be the best word to describe it, but the Ticats have decided on a kicker and that man is Canadian Michael Domagala.

Domagala was unimpressive in limited appearances in 2021 but he has looked to have improved over the offseason, being far and away the best kicker the team had in camp.

The Tabbies released Dante Brown in late May after a horrendous start to camp for the Fort Hays State product and quickly replaced him with former Texas A&M kicker Seth Small. But the team released Small along with Global fan favourite Tadhg Leader, leaving Domagala as the only kicker on the Tiger-Cats’ roster.

I was actually surprised to see the team release Small, thinking they might keep him around on the practice roster as insurance in case Domagala struggled to start the season. The fact the Ticats decided not to do that can only be seen as a sign of confidence the team has in the former Carleton Raven to handle the kicking duties himself.

The punting job became a major worry as the preseason progressed with returning Global Joel Whitford ultimately winning the job over fellow Australian Blake Hayes, who the team opted to keep around on the practice roster.

Hayes sticking around tells me that Whitford’s hold on the job is tenuous and that the leash will be short for the Australian.

Who is the odd-man-out in the secondary?

The answer is no one — but with a small caveat.

Veteran defensive back Cariel Brooks has been dealing with an injury and that has likely pushed the Ticats’ decision down the road. If Brooks is one or six-gamed, that means Jumal Rolle, Alden Darby, Richard Leonard, Ciante Evans and Tunde Adeleke are the five starters in the secondary with Kam Kelly remaining as the team’s strong-side linebacker.

The Ticats currently have 51 players on their roster, meaning at least six players will need to find their way to one of the injured lists. Brooks is definitely a solid candidate for the one-game list as is all-star receiver Bralon Addison.

The 2019 breakout star missed practice from about midway through Tuesday’s session through the rest of the week last week and did not dress for Friday’s preseason finale against the Argonauts. The hope for the Ticats is that Addison won’t have to miss any time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the six players who’s moved to injured reserve.

We will have a much better idea of who is in and who is out when the Ticats start preparations later this week for their regular-season opener at Mosaic Stadium against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

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.