Bo Levi Mitchell teases return to form: five thoughts on the Tiger-Cats’ preseason loss to the Redblacks

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats opened the 2024 preseason on Saturday with a 31-22 loss to the Ottawa Redblacks.

It was a mixed bag for the Tabbies in the first game of the Scott Milanovich era in Hamilton, with positives from a few key players but things to clean up in all three phases. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Bo Levi shows promise

2023 was disastrous for Bo Levi Mitchell. Injuries and inconsistent play plagued the 34-year-old gunslinger throughout his first year in Hamilton, but Mitchell had a very solid showing in Saturday’s exhibition tilt. He went 10-of-16 for 139 yards and a touchdown, making some nice throws into tight windows and showing the touch on the ball he’d previously had in Calgary. He looked to be comfortable and in command of Milanovich’s offence and, maybe most importantly, appeared to have no ill effects from the ankle injury that had him in a walking boot prior to training camp.

It was a showing that should have fans breathing a little easier after all the talk of his health over the opening days of training camp. Mitchell and the Ticats’ offence can now build momentum heading into Week 1 against the Stampeders.

Wrecking crew

Hamilton struggled mightily to put consistent pressure on the quarterback last season, finishing seventh in sacks with 41 above only Edmonton and Saskatchewan. The Ticats revamped their defensive line in the offseason, adding Brandon Barlow and DeWayne Hendrix from Toronto to play alongside returning all-star Casey Sayles. Hendrix didn’t play on Saturday, but I thought there were some positives to take away from that positional group.

Sayles was his usual self as a game wrecker in the middle with two tackles for loss, and the starting unit made life tough on Redblacks’ QB Dru Brown. There was a bit of a drop-off as the game progressed and new faces made their way into the contest, but newly signed Trevon Mason, who joined the team less than a week ago, made an impact registering three tackles and one sack.

Big play receivers

Tim White was in midseason, all-star form against Ottawa, making four receptions for 52 yards while dodging and darting his way through Redblack defenders. White will obviously be a huge part of the Ticats’ offence in 2024 and has proven he can perform with almost anyone at quarterback, but it was nice to see him and Bo Levi Mitchell show the early chemistry that was missing at times last season.

Another receiver who was noticeable was Shemar Bridges. The six-foot-four pass catcher had a bad drop early in the game but quickly recovered for a 35-yard touchdown reception midway through the second quarter, mostly due to a fantastic route that gave him separation from the defender. Bridges has been earning rave reviews in training camp and looks to be making the most of his opportunities.

Rookie Dev Holmes made good on his short audition, catching Hamilton’s final touchdown from Kevin Thomson while in tight coverage near the goalpost. He only had two receptions on the day for 29 yards but he was Hamilton’s third leading receiver after White and Bridges. Scoring a touchdown always helps a young player’s case to make the roster.

Case of the dropsies 

Things weren’t all good for the Ticats’ receivers, as several catchable passes were dropped. Bridges had a drop, as well as Kiondre Smith, both of which could’ve extended drives and flipped the field position battle back into Hamilton’s favour. Rookie Jacob Patten also dropped a sure touchdown later in the game, as well as a two-point convert attempt, which proved costly in a nine-point loss.

It is only preseason and mistakes are going to happen, but having that many noticeable drops is something the offence needs to clean up if they want to be productive in 2024.

Not-so-special teams

New special teams coordinator Paul Boudreau has his work cut out for him if Saturday was an indication of what’s to come this season. Hamilton’s special teams unit struggled for the majority of the afternoon, allowing DeVonte Dedmon to return a punt for a 91-yard touchdown and taking a costly penalty that led to another Ottawa major. Preventing explosion plays on specials won’t guarantee you a win, but allowing them to occur is a quick way to ensure you’ll be on the wrong end of the result.

I will cut the special teamers a bit of slack as they were rotating new players in consistently, but essentially giving up 14 points due to avoidable errors will not make Boudreau or the fanbase happy. Hamilton has had one of the league’s premier special teams units for the last decade under Jeff Reinebold’s tutelage and it seems as if the Ticats have some work to do if they want to continue that trend.

Up next

The Ticats will resume training camp on Monday in preparation for their final preseason game next Friday against the Toronto Argonauts in Guelph.

Toronto swept the season series in 2023, winning all four contests in pretty convincing fashion. While it’s only preseason and the results of the game don’t matter in the standings, Hamilton will want to get off on the right foot against their provincial rival to ensure that this season swings in their favour.

Troy Durrell is a University of Calgary and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology graduate. He covers the CFL and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.