Thursday 18 November 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

For the eleventh consecutive year, the Tiger-Cats' season ends without a championship. Not since Danny McManus, Darren Flutie, Joe Montford, et al. hoisted Lord Grey's mug in Vancouver in 1999 has a Tiger-Cat season finished the way we fans had hoped.

With any form of failure comes change. The 2009 Tiger-Cats overachieved in some respects, so last season's 9-9 finish was viewed as a positive. With that, the organization brought almost the exact same roster back. The 2010 Tiger-Cats underachieved by finishing, once again, 9-9. The thinking going into the season was that the Cats were about to stamp their pass as one of the dominant teams in the CFL and finally become that long-awaited challenger to Montreal. Neither of those things happened.

Two years with almost the exact some roster produced the exact same results. Hindsight being what it is, no one should have been surprised by this, yet every Tiger-Cat fan believed that a year of stability and growth would lead to better things in 2010. That didn't happen.

Changes, therefore, are inevitable. This team is going to see some "significant changes," according to Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille. What we do not know, however, is what those changes will entail.

We already know that those changes will not be at the Head Coach or General Manager position. We know that Arland Bruce and Otis Floyd have vowed to return. That, however, is all we know right now.

Bellefeuille also stated that the team has a "core that [they'll] keep together." In perusing the Tiger-Cats roster, I think it is safe to say that the core would be comprised of the following eight players: Kevin Glenn, Arland Bruce, Dave Stala, Marwan Hage, Stevie Baggs, Markeith Knowlton, Jamall Johnson and Otis Floyd. Perhaps there are more, but I would be surprised if any of those players weren't back in 2010.

That, however, leaves everyone else, both players and coaches. So who might see the axe fall on them, and who might be spared?

Let's start with the coaching staff. Both Offensive Coordinator Mike Gibson and Defensive Coordinator Greg Marshall have been under scrutiny from fans at certain points this season, with Gibson, especially, being the target of much vitriol. It is entirely possible that neither one of these coaches will be brought back. Gibson's Offense lacks the hard-to-define "creativity," and Marshall's "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy broke at many points this season.

There is also the question of Offensive Line Coach Steve Buratto. The O-line was phenomenal when pass blocking, but couldn't open a hole for a gnat when run blocking. Who is to blame for that? The problem persisted all season, so perhaps that should fall on the head of the coaching staff.

Now, if Gibson or Marshall or Buratto or a combination of the three is let go, who does the team replace them with? I would like to see the Cats go after a young coach as their new OC, and there is one on their staff already who could be the perfect replacement: Khari Jones. He's already the QB coach, he has a relationship with Kevin Glenn going to back to their days in Winnipeg, and as a player he was known to call his own plays. He could be the perfect candidate to replace Gibson should he be shown the door.

On the defensive side, I think the only person who would be calling plays other than Marshall would be the former Head Coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, Richie Hall. Hall and Bellefeuille have known each other since they were both with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and he would probably be the only candidate that Bellefeuille would be comfortable replacing Marshall with.

Which brings us to the players. Aside from the core group I outlined earlier, I would say that no one is safe. There are three players in particular that could be given a one-way ticket out of town: Sandro DeAngelis, DeAndra' Cobb and Marquay McDaniel.

To say that Sandro DeAngelis had a poor season would be an understatement. He connected on a career-low 76.2% of his field goals. To put that in perspective, Nick Setta was released following the 2009 season because he only connected on 76.0% of his field goals, and Setta was released because he wasn't consistent enough. It's entirely possible that DeAngelis suffers the same fate as Setta did last year. I would suspect that the Cats will keep DeAngelis and bring in someone to compete with him in training camp.

DeAndra' Cobb's 2010 season was one of mystery. There were games where he looked unstoppable, and there were games where he completely disappeared. He still gained over 1,000 yards rushing, but that just masks the fact that Cobb had a sub-par year. He seemed tentative when hitting the line, and he danced around in the backfield way too much. I don't know if Cobb will be invited back, but if he is, the team should bring in a couple of Running Backs to compete with Cobb or perhaps give Marcus Thigpen a chance to unseat Cobb as the team's featured back.

Marquay McDaniel, for all intents and purposes, had a great 2010. He came six yards shy of notching his first 1,000-yard receiving season, and at one point he caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games. However, he had a severe case of butter fingers all season long, and especially late in the season. I think McDaniel is a multipurpose weapon who can make plays both on Offense and Special Teams, but when Marcel Bellefeuille says that "there were some inconsistencies," I think he may have been referring to McDaniel.

I don't expect any of these players to be cut outright, but I do expect them to have to battle for their jobs in 2011. The only way I don't see any of these guys at training camp would be if they were traded, which is entirely possible.

There are other areas of the team that need addressing as well, namely the Secondary. I think out of all the guys, Geoff Tisdale had the best season. It was admittedly up and down, but for the most part Tisdale was solid. It's everyone else that could be replaced. I'm sure the two starting Canadians – Ryan Hinds and Dylan Barker – are relatively safe as well. But Jason Shivers, Jerome Dennis, Will Heyward, Bo Smith, Jykine Bradley, Jonathan Hood, Marc Beswick, Ray Wladichuk, Ellis Lankster and Kyries Hebert could all have new addresses in 2011. The Secondary performed at its best when the five-man group of Barker, Hinds, Tisdale, Bo Smith and Jerome Dennis were on the field during their dominating mid-season run. What that means is anyone's guess. The team might not feel the same, and injuries (namely to Bradley at mid-season and Smith at the end of the season) make it hard to assess what the best five-man group would have been.

There are obviously other areas of concern and other players that are on the bubble, but I figured covering every single one of them would just be tedious. These are the areas I think will get the most attention from the Tiger-Cat front office. All of this is speculation at this point, but the question that I pose in the title – "Where do we go from here?" – will be the question that lingers throughout this long and bitter off-season.

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