The Hamilton Tiger-Cats finished last year strong winning six of their last 10 games after Junes Jones replaced Kent Austin as head coach.
The team’s 0-8 start to 2017 meant Zach Collaros lost his starting QB job, with Austin moving upstairs to concentrate on his front office duties. Now Austin is just a consultant and Collaros is in the opposing conference. Otherwise, most of the 2017 team is back in 2018. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is back but his backup, Johnny Manziel, is the highest-profile person in the league.
For the first time in his six-year career, Masoli comes into the season as the starting quarterback, but Manziel mania has taken over the league and, thus far, Manziel has looked comfortable playing the CFL game. As Manziel continues to say all the right things off the field and make the right throws on the field, it will be interesting to see how long the Tiger-Cats resist the temptation to feature him.
Head coach Jones has had a full off-season and training camp to implement his system and culture and hire his preferred staff, like new defensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville.
General Manager: Eric Tillman
Head Coach: June Jones
2017 Result: 6-12, Missed playoffs
Starting QB: Jeremiah Masoli
Key Departures: Zach Collaros, Ryan Bomben, Emanuel Davis, Andy Fantuz, Dominique Ellis, Geoff, Mitch Barnett, Evan Gill and Abdul Kanneh
Key Additions: Johnny Manziel, Lirim Hajrullahu, Julian Howsare, Justin Vaughn and Connor McGough
Expected team strengths:
No matter who is at QB, Hamilton will air the ball out. Jones and QB coach Dan Morrison have had offensive success wherever they have been, and their brief stint in the CFL has been no different. The Ti-Cats had three players with over 1,000 yards receiving last season. Brandon Banks, Luke Tasker and Jalen Saunders are all back and healthy to start the season.
Their fourth American WR, Terrence Toliver, is still working his way back from tearing his ACL during the second play of the first game last year. If he returns to the form that made him a 1,000-yard receiver in 2016, the Ti-Cats will boast arguably the best receivers in the league. That’s not even accounting for Mark Chapman, the first-overall pick in the draft, who is holding out due to a contract dispute.
Expected team weakness:
Hamilton was second to last in the league last year with 136 QB pressures allowed. Their offensive line was their biggest issue. A year later, they brought back the same group, except for Evan Gill, who signed with rival Toronto, and their best Canadian lineman, Ryan Bomben, who was traded right before the start of the season. They have some young internal Canadian prospects but that’s not going to help keep their QBs upright right now.
2018 Schedule Quirk:
The Ti-Cats have a tough start to the season. They begin on the road in the West against Calgary and Edmonton. Stuck early with tough Western opponents, they don’t play a game against the East until July 28 — Ottawa in Week 7. Last season Hamilton was just 2-8 versus West opponents and didn’t beat Edmonton or Calgary in four meetings with the Alberta squads. The Ti-Cats end the year with four games against the East, but if they get off to a bad start it might be too little, too late.
What a successful season would look like:
Masoli could validate the starter’s money he made in the off-season if his performance matches what he did after being named a starter on Labour Day, finishing the year with 15 touchdowns against five interceptions and a 64-per cent completion percentage. Ultimately, if they are hosting a playoff game considered a Grey Cup contender, and getting elite-level QB play, all will be right again in the Hammer.
Off the field, securing a future Grey Cup for Hamilton for the first time at Tim Hortons Field would be a win, and is likely now that the legislation between the team and city around construction issues relating to building the stadium are over.
What a disappointing season would look like:
Missing the playoffs, the Manziel experiment going wrong, Collaros lighting up the league with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. After the PR nightmare of the Art Briles fiasco and an 0-8 start, it’s hard to imagine this season isn’t going to be an improvement over the last campaign. But missing the playoffs again, in the weaker of the league’s two divisions, would be tough for this regime to rebound from.
Pre-season Grey Cup odds (via OddsShark):
Notable findings/quotes from CFL Media Poll:
• Of the 73 voters, 70 per cent (51 votes) believe the Ti-Cats will finish with the most wins of any of last season’s non-playoff teams
• Orlondo Steinauer is back in Hamilton as an assistant head coach but the media doesn’t believe he will be there long, as 46 per cent of the voters (32 votes) tabbed him as the up-and-coming coach (current coordinator or positional coach) they would hire as a first-time head coach