Sign­ing’s done, time to sing

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS

In the days lead­ing up to the Labour Day Clas­sic, for­mer Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats of­fen­sive line­man Peter Dyakowski used to lead his team­mates in a colour­ful song filled with un­print­able in­sults about their up­com­ing op­po­nent and arch ri­val the Toronto Arg­onauts.

Dyakowski will be sing­ing a dif­fer­ent tune this sea­son but the an­i­mus that ex­ists be­tween the two or­ga­ni­za­tions should be very much in­tact — par­tic­u­larly after a free agency pe­riod that al­ready has seen sev­eral play­ers head down the QEW at the urg­ing of a cou­ple of for­mer Ti­cat staffers — as­sis­tant gen­eral man­ager Spencer Zim­mer­man and ad­viser Tommy Con­dell — now run­ning things on an in­terim ba­sis for the Arg­onauts.

Both teams have had an in­ter­est­ing start to the open­ing of free agency. The Ar­gos missed out on a cou­ple of big name tar­gets early on — in­clud­ing de­fen­sive backs Ab­dul Kan­neh and Emanuel Davis who came to Hamil­ton — but have since added Dyakowski, quar­ter­back Jeff Mathews and de­fen­sive back Johnny Sears, all for­mer Ti­cats.

They’ve also signed re­ceiver Jeff Fuller, line­backer Win­ston Ven­able and a num­ber of Cana­di­ans.

It’s a solid, if un­spec­tac­u­lar haul, even after the in­aus­pi­cious start.

The Ti­cats, mean­while, fol­lowed the blue­print laid out by Austin. They landed Kan­neh, one of their high-pro­file tar­gets, while re-sign­ing the all-star Davis and once again re­ward­ing tal­ent they’ve de­vel­oped from within.

Ex­tend­ing re­ceiver Brian Tyms, a late-sea­son pickup who showed tremen­dous prom­ise in lim­ited ac­tion, cou­pled with the ex­ten­sion for Ter­rence To­liver, shores up a re­ceiv­ing corps that will be with­out Chad Owens (signed in Saskatchewan) and Andy Fan­tuz (who is a free agent and will miss ex­tended time with a knee in­jury no mat­ter who he plays for.)

And there may be more help com­ing. Re­ceiver Ter­rell Sink­field has re­port­edly agreed to a con­tract in prin­ci­ple to re­turn to the Ti­cats, but has un­til April to take ad­van­tage an NFL op­por­tu­nity, should one ma­te­ri­al­ize.

While that’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble, it would be a stretch to call it likely. So Hamil­ton is likely pen­cilling in an­other speedy re­ceiver with a 1,000-yard sea­son on his re­sume.

So the re­ceiv­ing corps, so rav­aged by in­jury last sea­son, now looks some­thing like this: Luke Tasker, Tyms, Tol­liver, Sink­field and a Cana­dian (Spencer Watt or Mike Jones, likely) with a steady dose of Bran­don Banks. Ju­nior Collins pro­vides vet­eran in­sur­ance. It’s a nice mix of ex­pe­ri­ence and po­ten­tial, size and speed.

The de­fen­sive back­field, mean­while, fea­tures two all-stars in Kan­neh and Davis, and a Cana­dian safety in Court­ney Stephen. They have the op­tion to play a sec­ond na­tional in Craig But­ler, if they need or want to.

The other spots will be filled by a cor­nu­copia of Amer­i­can de­fen­sive backs ei­ther al­ready on the ros­ter, on the ne­go­ti­a­tion list, or on their way to a free agent camp. It’s still a ques­tion mark, but there’s a solid nu­cleus, to be sure.

There have been some in­evitable depar­tures, but vir­tu­ally all were by design. Dyakowski, for all his off-field value, is on the down side and Sears played just eight games in two years due to in­jury. Mathews was a third-string quar­ter­back who’ll be re­placed by some­one younger and with more po­ten­tial (at least in the eyes of the Ti­cats.) Run­ning back An­thony Wood­son has been sup­planted by Burling­ton’s Mercer Tim­mis — both younger and cheaper — while de­fen­sive tackle Drake Ne­vis left for Winnipeg after get­ting a deal the Ti­cats had no in­ten­tion of match­ing.

Given their atro­cious in­jury luck the past cou­ple of sea­sons, the Ti­cats are clearly be­ing cau­tious here. To­liver ’s deal in­cludes play­time and per­for­mance in­cen­tives.

How­ever, there are still some ques­tion marks.

Hamil­ton doesn’t have a kicker un­der con­tract and man­age­ment doesn’t seem all that keen on pro­vid­ing Brett Ma­her with a con­tract that would pro­vide him with any kind of job se­cu­rity.

They will likely look to hold an­other open try­out and bring the best of the can­di­dates to train­ing camp.

The other con­cern: strong side line­backer. That’s a tough po­si­tion to fill at the best of times, a hy­brid that re­quires cover skills and stiff abil­ity with no real NFL equiv­a­lent: CFL ex­pe­ri­ence is al­most a must. It was a prob­lem spot last sea­son and the fi­nal so­lu­tion — 34year-old vet­eran Keon Ray­mond — won’t work again.

The Ti­cats and Ar­gos play each other three times this sea­son, in­clud­ing mar­quee games to open the sea­son and on Labour Day. There’s plenty of his­tory and bad blood, both his­tor­i­cally and in more re­cent times.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see — once all is said and done — who is sing­ing a happy song.

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Brian Tyms gets a hand­ful of Aaron Craw­ford’s mask dur­ing last sea­son’s East semi­fi­nal against Ed­mon­ton.

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