Op­tions lim­ited, Tiger-Cats stick with Ma­soli

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS

Kent Austin is not by na­ture a pa­tient man but he seems de­ter­mined to do ev­ery­thing he can to stick by quar­ter­back Jeremiah Ma­soli. The rea­sons are straight­for­ward: Ma­soli gives the Ti­cats the best chance to win now. And they’re prob­a­bly go­ing to need him later.

The Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats head coach has en­dured some un­even play from his starter in the first three games of the reg­u­lar sea­son. The 27-year-old Ma­soli was sen­sa­tional in a win over the Ar­gos in Week One but could only man­u­fac­ture three points eight days later against the B.C. Lions. Then last Fri­day, 367 pass­ing yards off­set by four costly turnovers in a sec­ond straight loss, this time to Win­nipeg.

In pre­vi­ous sea­sons, cough­ing up the foot­ball has been a car­di­nal sin in the Book the Austin — it cost Ma­soli the starter’s job in 2014 af­ter just one game — and it’s been the short­est route to a quick hook for any quar­ter­back not named Zach Col­laros. But Austin isn’t treat­ing Ma­soli like some in­ter­loper while Col­laros re­cov­ers from a torn ACL, but is in­stead giv­ing him the same lat­i­tude most bona fide start­ing quar­ter­backs get: the abil­ity to make mis­takes and con­tinue play­ing.

In some re­spects, Austin has lit­tle choice. Get­ting two quar­ter­backs ready dur­ing the week is al­most im­pos­si­ble given the lim­ited prac­tice time, and throw­ing backup Jeff Mathews into a game af­ter he’s taken pre­cious few reps with the first team of­fence

isn’t likely to pro­duce in­stant re­sults. And Ma­soli has shown the abil­ity to rally from a slow start and rip off a hot streak like the one that pro­duced 15 straight com­ple­tions against Toronto in the sea­son opener.

But Ma­soli has also earned the coach’s trust in any num­ber of ways: how he han­dled a de­mo­tion to the prac­tice ros­ter last sea­son and kept work­ing; his play in the 2015 post-sea­son; his decision to re-sign with the club for an­other two years this off-sea­son.

There’s also plenty of ev­i­dence that Ma­soli is in­deed get­ting bet­ter. He’s cur­rently third in the Cana­dian Foot­ball League with 933 pass­ing yards but he’s also com­plet­ing over 71 per cent of his passes and mak­ing good de­ci­sions with the foot­ball in the con­text of the Austin of­fence: re­mem­ber, in­ter­cep­tions and fum­bles aren’t al­ways the quar­ter­back’s fault.

Pulling Ma­soli also has some psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on both player and team, since it can hurt the quar­ter­back’s con­fi­dence while also desta­bi­liz­ing things in the locker-room. Ma­soli’s team­mates gen­uinely like and re­spect the guy and — and this has al­ways been the case — be­lieve they can win games with him. For a guy with just six ca­reer starts, that’s not in­signif­i­cant.

Col­laros re­sumed prac­tis­ing this week which means his return, if not im­mi­nent, is likely on the hori­zon (hint: that Aug. 3 match up in Win­nipeg might be cir­cled on Ti­cat cal­en­dar.) But it’s un­likely Zach will be, well, Zach right away and Ma­soli’s ser­vices could still prove es­sen­tial even af­ter No. 4’s return. Col­laros hasn’t been a pic­ture of health the last few years and that hardly makes him unique among CFL starters, and good teams have two guys who can get it done.

Austin, who played 10 years at the po­si­tion, knows all of this as well as any­body could. And he knows Ma­soli, too — he’s the only quar­ter­back who’s been here for Austin’s en­tire ten­ure in Hamil­ton. Af­ter all this time, Austin still has faith.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Tiger-Cat quar­ter­back Jeremiah Ma­soli is 1-2 as a starter in 2016.

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