There’s still a chance

De­spite soap opera sea­son, Ti­cats can still turn sea­son around

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

The soap opera that is the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats keeps get­ting more in­ter­est­ing.

As if an 0-6 record, in­clud­ing a 60-1 loss to Cal­gary, and a fight be­tween frus­trated play­ers in prac­tice wasn’t enough, the team made moves this week that added tur­moil to its coach­ing ranks and de­fen­sive back­field.

De­spite all the noise, the Ti­cats be­lieve they can turn their sea­son around with a win Satur­day over the vis­it­ing Win­nipeg Blue Bombers (4-2). And they’re not wrong.

Thanks to medi­ocrity of the CFL East, Hamil­ton will en­ter Satur­day’s game no more than six points out of a play­off spot, as­sum­ing a cross-over team from the West takes third spot in the East. A con­fi­dence­build­ing win over the Bombers could set up the Ti­cats for a nice run, as their next four games are against beat­able East op­po­nents (Ot­tawa twice and Toronto) and Saskatchewan, cur­rently in the West Di­vi­sion base­ment.

“One of the things I re­mem­ber from my time in Toronto and my time in Ot­tawa is that you can be in the po­si­tion this team is and still win the Grey Cup,’’ new Ti­cats as­sis­tant head coach June Jones told re­porters this week, not­ing that the Ot­tawa Red­blacks won the CFL cham­pi­onship last sea­son af­ter post­ing an 8-10 reg­u­lar-sea­son record. “You can’t say that in the NFL, and you can’t say that in col­lege.’’

But the Ti­cats are in a state of flux en­ter­ing Satur­day’s game, with mul­ti­ple changes to the coach­ing staff to con­tend with as well as the sur­prise re­lease of de­fen­sive back Will Hill.

Af­ter adding Jones, a 34-year coach­ing vet­eran at the NFL, CFL and NCAA lev­els, as his as­sis­tant last week, Hamil­ton head coach and vice-pres­i­dent of foot­ball op­er­a­tions Kent Austin re­placed Jeff Reinebold as de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor with Phillip Lol­ley, formerly the line­backer coach.

“Ob­vi­ously we want to be bet­ter de­fen­sively,’’ Austin told re­porters. ”I’ve got a great deal of re­spect for Jeff ... and I think he’s an out­stand­ing coach. But we needed to get bet­ter and make some changes.’’

Hamil­ton had al­lowed the most points in the league (234) as of Fri­day, and was next-to­last in sacks (10) and forced fum­bles (four). They will look to im­prove those num­bers with­out Hill, a steady pres­ence in the back­field with a his­tory of dis­ci­pline prob­lems.

Hill started five games for Hamil­ton and reg­is­tered 25 de­fen­sive tack­les, sec­ond on the team, and a sack. But was sus­pended for a game ear­lier this sea­son af­ter mak­ing con­tact with an of­fi­cial.

“We did it be­cause we felt it was best for the foot­ball team,’’ Austin said Wed­nes­day of Hill’s re­lease. “We want guys that un­der­stand what it means to be a team­mate, and to play in a team sport. That’s all I’ll say.’’

Hill, a for­mer de­fen­sive back in the NFL with the New York Giants and Bal­ti­more, has run into trou­ble be­fore, in­clud­ing a six-game ban in 2014 for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s sub­stance abuse pol­icy.

The Blue Bombers come into Satur­day’s game in much bet­ter shape than their op­po­nents with back-to-back wins over Montreal and Ot­tawa, but they sit fourth in the com­pet­i­tive West Di­vi­sion be­hind Ed­mon­ton, Cal­gary and B.C.

The Bombers are still com­fort­ably in a play­off spot right now be­cause of the cross-over, which al­lows the fourth-place team in one di­vi­sion to take the third play­off seed in the other di­vi­sion if it has a bet­ter record than that di­vi­sion’s third-place team. But a win in Hamil­ton would al­low them to move into a tie on points with third-place B.C. in the West, and so they are not tak­ing the Ti­cats lightly.

“They’ve got some very tal­ented play­ers,’’ Win­nipeg coach Mike O’Shea told re­porters in Win­nipeg, sin­gling out mo­bile Hamil­ton quar­ter­back Zach Col­laros as “very tough to play against.’’

O’Shea said the Blue Bombers de­fence will be tasked with keep­ing Col­laros in the pocket.

“Bet­ter than let­ting him run wild,’’ he said. “

As we’ve seen over his ca­reer, he’s cer­tainly able to cre­ate some magic. Even when you’re right around him, he seems to es­cape pretty well.’’

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/JA­SON FRANSON

Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats’ C.J. Gable (32) is tack­led by Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos Christophe Mu­lumba-Tshi­manga (10) and D’An­thony Batiste (64) dur­ing first half CFL ac­tion in Ed­mon­ton on Fri­day, Aug. 4, 2017. The soap opera that is the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats keeps get­ting more in­ter­est­ing. As if an 0-6 record, in­clud­ing a 60-1 loss to Cal­gary, and a fight be­tween frus­trated play­ers in prac­tice wasn’t enough, the team made moves this week that added tur­moil to its coach­ing ranks and de­fen­sive back­field.

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