Friday 25 January 2013

Ti-Cats Add Patrick

One of the biggest areas of concern for the Ti-Cats entering the off-season was the secondary. It is a unit that hasn't live up to expectations over the last few seasons, so new players were going to be brought in. And that's exactly what the Ti-Cats did today by signing former all-star James Patrick.

Patrick had a down year last season, failing to intercept any passes despite starting 17 games. But in the two seasons prior to last, Patrick intercepted 14 passes, including a league-leading nine in 2010 when he was a league all-star and Saskatchewan's nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player. It is the Patrick of 2010 and 2011 that the Cats are hoping they acquired.

I wasn't as down on the secondary as many because I think the players in the unit have potential. I still like Ryan Hinds, I'm a huge fan of Dee Webb, I've grown to really like Bo Smith, I liked what I saw out of Ricardo Colclough, and I think Matt Bucknor can become a very solid player. Add in incoming rookie Courtney Stephen and I think the Ti-Cats could have a pretty decent secondary without adding anyone else. I think the biggest thing the Cats need to do in the secondary is find a lineup and stick with it. There has been a lot of player shuffling the last couple of seasons and I think that has been a major part of the unit's inconsistent play.

But adding Patrick is a nice move. If he can recapture his form from a couple years ago, this will turn out to be a great addition.

Monday 21 January 2013

Als Sign Parker, Bruce and Porter

Not having a head coach hasn't stopped the Monteal Alouettes from making moves, announcing the signings of defensive back Byron Parker, receiver Arland Bruce and quarterback Quinton Porter earlier today.

Seeing Parker sign with the Als is disappointing. I was really hoping he would end up in Hamilton and I thought there was a really good chance he'd sign with the Ti-Cats. He's close with defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer and spent the majority of his career with the Argos, so he was familiar with the area, but the Als took no time scooping him up. Now instead of playing with Parker, the Cats will have to play against him. Not at all what I was hoping for when Parker was released by BC.

When it comes to Quinton Porter, let's get one thing out of the way right now: he's not the next Anthony Calvillo. Him leaving Hamilton to sign with Montreal is about the only thing that the two have in common. I don't say this as a slight to Porter, who I like and always wanted to see become "the guy" in Hamilton, but he's not going to end up becoming the next great CFL quarterback. He might become a good QB, but he spent five years in Hamilton, was given three legitimate chances to take the starter's job – 2009 when he was named the starter prior to the season, 2010 in a training camp battle with Kevin Glenn, and 2011 when the team employed a make-shift two-quarterback system – and he failed take the a stranglehold on the job each time. A change of scenery might be what he needs, but I'm not holding my breath worrying if the team just got rid of another Hall of Fame player.

What we really should be discussing is what the Porter signing means for Adrian McPherson. In short, McPherson's stay in Montreal looks to be over. I don't see the Als bringing McPherson back now that they have signed Porter to likely be Calvillo's backup (I doubt Porter signed with Montreal to be a third stringer). That means McPherson will be elsewhere, and both Winnipeg and Edmonton obvious suitors because they are both in need of a starting quarterback. But could Hamilton be in the mix? We all know McPherson wants to be a starter, so signing in Hamilton makes little sense, but I don't know if anyone is going to hand him a starter's job. I don't see McPherson landing in Hamilton, but I won't discount it either.

Bruce joins what is shaping up to be one of the most lethal receiving corps in all of football. With S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson and Brandon London already in town, the addition of Bruce just makes the passing attack that much more potent. Teams are going to have a hard time covering all four guys.

But will all four guys be there when the season starts? As much as I like Bruce, he is 35 and might not make the team. Also, there was talk at the end of last season that Richardson might be headed elsewhere, so it is possible that fearsome foursome becomes a terrifying trio before the season starts.

It all adds up to a very good day for the Alouettes, and one that might put them back into the driver's seat in the East Division.

Cortez Lands in Saskatchewan

It didn't take long for George Cortez to find work. A little over a month after being fired by the Ti-Cats, Cortez has been named the offensive coordinator in Saskatchewan.

You can say a lot of bad things about Cortez's time with the Tiger-Cats, but one thing that cannot be denied is that the offense was spectacular. The Tiger-Cats were the highest-scoring team in the CFL last season and Cortez's schemes and philosophies were a main reason for it. The Ti-Cats could destroy people offensively, and had the team had a statistically average defense as opposed to an absolutely horrendous one, Cortez is likely still employed by the Tiger-Cats.

And it should come as no surprise that Cortez found work as quickly as he did. The guy is an offensive mastermind and the Roughriders will reap the benefits of his brilliance. I expect the Riders to field one of the best offense in the CFL in 2013, and look for Darian Durant to have his best season. Cortez has worked wonders with quarterbacks – in 2011, Henry Burris was washed up and benched in Calgary, but in Hamilton he put up some of the best numbers of his career – and Durant will be the next beneficiary of Cortez's offensive mind.

Friday 18 January 2013

Sticky Extended, BC Releases Bruce and Parker

January is usually the slowest time of the year for CFL news, but yet here we are in the middle of the month and we have news galore, from Hamilton and abroad, but both of interest to Tiger-Cat fans.

We'll start with the news that Dave Stala has signed a contract extension. The man known as "Sticky" will be catching passes for the Ti-Cats through the 2014 season.

This is great news. I am a huge Dave Stala fan and I think he is one of the best second down receivers in the game. Stala was severely underused last year; he recorded Tiger-Cat lows in catches and yards, and was never integrated into the offense. He was rarely used by former head coach George Cortez and only seemed to be a part of the game plan when he had to be. I think if Cortez was retained, Stala would be elsewhere. He clearly wasn't in Cortez's plans going forward. Kent Austin feels differently and that is a good thing. Stala will never dominate a game, but he is a key part of the offense and I hope his re-signing means he'll be used more this upcoming season.

The second bit of news comes from BC, where the Lions have released receiver Arland Bruce and defensive back Byron Parker.

These moves come one day after BC quarterback Travis Lulay was given a huge two-year, $900,000 contract extension from the Lions. I have to think that part of the reason two high-priced veterans were let go is for salary cap reasons. Both Bruce and Parker can still play, and any team would be lucky to have them, so they couldn't have been released due to performance. I expect both to be sought after.

I maintain that the trade that sent Bruce to BC was a horrible one. I hated it then and I still hate it now, so I would welcome Bruce back with open arms. Having said that, I doubt the team will bring him back. The Ti-Cats have a plethora of offensive weapons and they don't need Bruce. It would be great to see him back in Hamilton, but I think the chances of him returning fall somewhere between "slim" and "none" (with it being a lot closer to "none").

Parker, on the other hand, seems like a no brainer. The Ti-Cats need DBs and Parker plays DB. Add in that he is buddies with new Tiger-Cat defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer and this is a marriage that makes a lot of sense. Parker would instantly upgrade one of Hamilton's weakest areas if he was signed. Picking up Parker makes too much sense not to happen.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Dyakowski Re-Ups, Trestman to Chicago

A couple of big news items from Wednesday, so let's get to it.

The Ti-Cats followed up Tuesday's re-signing of Marwan Hage with the re-signing of Peter Dyakowski on Wednesday. When I said on Tuesday the team needed to get working on inking Dyakowski to a contract extension, I didn't expect them to do it so quickly.

I am obviously fully in favour of the re-signing. I am a very big Peter Dyakowski fan and I think he has become of the top interior linemen in the entire CFL. He was the team's top offensive lineman in 2011 and was a division all-star in 2012. It's very possible he could end up getting a Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award in the next couple of seasons to put next to his Canada's Smartest Person trophy.

With Hage and Dyakowski back, the Ticats have re-signed probably their two most important potential free agents. But there are still a number of potential free agents that remain unsigned, with Brian Simmons headlining that group. Simmons remains unsigned as he tries out for NFL teams.

The other big news item from Wednesday is that Marc Trestman has left the Montreal Alouettes to become the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Trestman spent the last five seasons with Montreal, guiding them to three Grey Cup appearances and two Grey Cup wins (2009, 2010).

Trestman's departure has many wondering if this is the end of Montreal's dynasty. While I think Trestman is an excellent coach and one of the best we've seen in the CFL, I'm not too sure we should start writing an obit for the Als. For starters, they were a darn good team before Trestman got there in 2008. They went to five Grey Cups in eight seasons before Trestman arrived, and although the won only one of them (2002), they were very much a championship-calibre team before Trestman arrived and they will remain one even though he is gone.

The main reason for that is that the architect of the Montreal juggernaut isn't going anywhere. After interviewing for GM positions with a number of NFL teams, Jim Popp is staying with the Als. Popp has been with the organization since the beginning and his return is a bigger deal than Trestman's departure. Don't get me wrong, the next Als coach probably won't be as good as Trestman, but Popp is the constant in Montreal. The Als can find a new coach, but losing Popp would have dealt the Als a huge blow. Losing both Popp and Trestman might have been catastrophic. But Popp isn't going anywhere just yet, and as long as he is still running the show in Montreal, the Als will be just fine.

And let's not forget, they still have Anthony Calvillo. Talk of Montreal's demise is something we're heard before, but I'll wait until they finally have a 6-12, non-playoff season before I started predicting their downfall.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Hage Stays, Porter Goes

The Ti-Cats made two moves on Tuesday, re-signing Marwan Hage and releasing Quinton Porter.

Re-signing Hage was a smart move from my perspective. There are going to be a lot of youngsters coming to camp this year (Carson Rockhill, Jason Mederios, Moe Petrus, as well as holdovers Pascal Baillargeon, Cody Husband and possibly player selected in the upcoming draft) and having Hage around to show them the ropes is definitely a good thing. Also, I think he is fully capable of returning to an elite level. The last two season-ending injuries do create a bit of worry, but I think he can bounce back and return to an all-star level. I'm glad Hage is returning, but now the team needs to get on inking Peter Dyakowski to a new deal.

The release of Porter isn't too surprising. He was set to become a free agent next month and wasn't going to be re-signed, so this gives him a chance to hit the market early and find a new home. I always had high hopes for Porter, but he never quite lived up to expectations. He just didn't develop the way many thought he would. The fact that fans point to his breakout game against the Alouettes from 2008 just proves that he didn't progress like we all hoped. Maybe he can still be a viable starter in the CFL, but the clock is ticking (he's 30). I'll be interested to see where he lands.

But Porter's release leaves a hole behind Henry Burris. The only other quarterback on the roster besides Burris is completely untested second-year man Dan LeFevour. I liked what I saw out of LeFevour during the preseason, and I was a fan of his from back in his collegiate days at Central Michigan, so I have high hopes he can be the guy to take over from Burris. But the team will obviously be bringing in some quarterbacks to compete for the backup spot in training camp. Hamilton does not have the best record of developing quarterbacks, so Kent Austin has a very big decision on his hands when it comes to figuring out who the next guy will be.

Friday 11 January 2013

Cats Clean House

The Ti-Cats trimmed six players from the roster today, releasing linebackers Byron Bullock and Ike Brown, defensive backs Geoff Tisdale and Carlos Thomas, running back Terry Grant and defensive lineman Eddie Steele.

Thomas is a player I thought had a bright future with the Ti-Cats. I know the defense, especially the secondary, took a lot of flak last year, but I always liked the hard-hitting presence that Thomas brough to the defense. I also think a switch to linebacker was in his future. He played there briefly in 2012, and I thought if given a chance to play there fulltime he could become the next Markeith Knowlton.

Grant will become the greatest "what if" should his career not continue. He showed flashes of brilliance during his brief time on the field in 2011 and the horrific injury he suffered a year and a half ago in Montreal ended his career before it even started.

Steele saw his role decrease in 2012 following the training camp retirement of Maurice Forbes. Without a capable backup on the roster, Steele was forced into a secondary role. He, like Grant, suffered a gruesome leg injury that may end the Manitoba products career.

Brown was a special teams ace and looked to be the heir apparent to Otis Floyd and Rey Williams, but injuries derailed him. As good as he was, he just couldn't stay healthy and that's a shame.

Tisdale was healthy most of the year, but he was scratched in a few games in the middle of the season. Tisdale just never seemed to recapture the magic that made him such a sought-after free agent following the 2010 season. Tisdale just never looked comfortable with the Cats after being reacquired from Calgary last summer.

The final player released was Bullock, but it's hard to comment on him because he never played a down for the Ti-Cats. He was hurt in training camp and missed the entire 2012 season.

It looks like injuries played a role in most of the releases (only Tisdale didn't spend time on IR in 2012), but that's not the only reason they were let go. When a new regime comes in, it is not surprising to see players released. I also wouldn't be surprised if these are just the first of many changes to the roster prior to the start of free agency next month.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Gingerbread IWS and Ticats vs. Ti-Cats

Not a lot of news since the team announced the signing of Orlondo Steinauer as the new defensive coordinator, but there are still some Tiger-Cat related stuff to talk about. One is a cool picture I saw, while the other is a question I have been wondering about for some time.

First, the picture. A couple of days ago I came across this tweet by Kate McKenna, who many will remember from her stint as the host of Ti-Cats TV back in 2010, that featured the picture below.

That's a gingerbread replica of Ivor Wynne Stadium!

I don't know where Ms. McKenna came across this photo, but it's really cool and quite detailed. That looks like it took a lot of time to construct and kudos to whoever made it. Also, if it needs to be demoed to make room for a new gingerbread stadium on the same location, I'll be more than happy to bulldoze it and take the rubble home with me (and I don't even like gingerbread all that much).

But that's not all today. The current downtime we are experiencing has also given me a chance to think and that led me to something I've been wondering about for quite some time, but just never got around to asking:

Why is it that the team writes it Ticats and not Ti-Cats?

As you have probably figured out, I always write it as Ti-Cats. I do that because they are the Tiger-Cats, not the Tigercats. I feel like the hyphen should stay when the team named is shortened. Yet, officially, the name is written as Ticats when shortened. But why?

I have never been told the reason and I would love it if someone could fill me in on why the hyphen is ditched when the name is shortened. That is, if there is a reason. So I'm putting this out there and maybe someone who knows will fill me in on why it is written as Ticats and not Ti-Cats.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Ticats Bring Steinauer Back to the Jungle

The Ti-Cats are starting the new year off right by getting a major hiring out the way. Today, the team introduced Orlondo Steinauer as the new defensive coordinator. Steinauer is the fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. Greg Marshall left following the 2010 season to become head coach in Saskatchewan, Corey Chamblin left the following year to take the head coaching job in Saskatchewan and Casey Creehan went back to Winnipeg to be the defensive coordinator back in November.

When it became known that Creehan would be going back to Winnipeg, I placed Steinauer on my personal shortlist of candidates to take over for him. Steinauer wasn't my top choice, but I did like the idea of bringing him in. While he has limited experience in the role (a 12-game stint as Toronto's defensive coordinator in 2011), he's had success as a defensive backs coach the last three years with the Argos.

And if player reaction on Twitter is any indication, Steinauer's hiring is being met with lots of excitement. Both Dee Webb and Kevin Eiben tweeted out that they thought this was an excellent move. Both Webb and Eiben are familiar with Steinauer from their days in Toronto (Webb was coached by Steinauer when he was in Toronto; Eiben and Steinauer were teammates) and they both seem very excited that Steinauer has been brought in to fix the defense in Hamilton. And Webb was ahead of the curve on this one, saying the team should bring Steinauer in back when Creehan went to Winnipeg (and it is also where the title of this post came from).

After seeing his scrum with the press in a video posted on the Ti-Cats' website, I too am excited about his hiring. I was extremely impressed with everything Steinauer said. Everything. Of all the things the Ti-Cats needed to fix for 2013, the defense was the biggest. If Steinauer can get the defense to just the league average, the Ti-Cats will be a playoff team.

I think he can, and will, do just that.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

The Neg List and Bowl Games

We know Clemson's Tajh Boyd is on Hamilton's neg list, but some think we should know every player on every team's neg list.
For as long as I can remember, New Year's Day has always been one of my favourite days. Not because it's a day off from work or anything like that, but because I get to sit my butt on the couch and enjoy 12 hours of college football. New Year's Day is easily one of my top five favourite days on the sporting calendar (maybe even my No. 1 favourite).

This year had a little more interest for me, as a Tiger-Cat fan, because Hamilton's 2012 draft pick Courtney Stephen was playing for Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. It was kind of neat to know that a future Tiger-Cat was playing on one of the biggest stages in US college football, even if he didn't see the field a lot (I saw him a couple of times on special teams).

I know I'm not alone in my love of college football and Canadian football. There are others out there who love both games as well, and if Twitter is any indication, they wish they could experience what Tiger-Cat fans experienced with Stephen.
While I don't disagree with this, I also don't agree with it either. It would be great to sit down and watch the Outback Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Bowl or Rose Bowl knowing which players might be headed to the CFL. But as we learned with the whole Tim Tebow stuff last month, knowing who's on a neg list isn't always a good thing.

The secrecy of certain aspects of the CFL, like player salaries, is something that has been debated endlessly. Keeping neg lists private has been talked about in the past, but hasn't reached the level of discussion that the secrecy of player salaries.

I used to be among those that thought the league should just make neg lists public, but now I don't think it's necessary. And it was the Tebow stuff that made me realize it. Tebow was once on the Ti-Cats' neg list and that led to people like me talking about Tebow coming to the CFL. Then we found out Tebow was taken off Hamilton's list and put on Montreal's, and that, along with his play in New York with the Jets, led to another round of Tebow-to-the-CFL stuff (I won't link to it all, but just Google "Tim Tebow CFL" and you'll get plenty of results). A lot of time was spent discussing Tebow's CFL future and it was all a waste, especially after it was revealed that Tebow would never consider playing up here anyway.

And I suspect the same thing would happen if all neg lists were made public. We'd end up spending an inordinate amount of time talking about players that may never come to the CFL. Hamilton has already place Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel on their neg list and he's not eligible to leave Texas A&M until 2014 at the earliest. And he might be on their now, but could easily be taken off it tomorrow.

I understand fans wanting to know (fans want to know everything) and I understand members of the media wanting to know (they also want to know everything, but it's so they have stuff to talk/write about), but I don't think not knowing is a bad thing and it may even be a good thing. Not knowing might save us all the time of talking about some sophomore player at Temple who may never set foot in the CFL and hasn't even given a first thought, let alone a second one, to playing in Canada.

Those that want to see neg lists released usually say that they haven't seen any compelling evidence to not release them, but I counter by saying I haven't seen any compelling evidence to release them. I doubt either opinion will change; those entrenched on either side will stay right where they are. It doesn't look like the league will be changing their stance any time soon, so this probably won't be the last time this topic will be discussed.