Tiger-Cats set four veter­ans free

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS

The Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats re­leased six play­ers on Tues­day and there were a few mild sur­prises among them.

Amer­i­can de­fen­sive backs Cas­sius Vaughn and Travis Lee as well as de­fen­sive tackle De­lano John­son were all play­ers with at least some de­gree of CFL ex­pe­ri­ence and were thought to be can­di­dates for start­ing spots go­ing into train­ing camp.

Vaughn started nine games last sea­son af­ter be­ing signed in midAu­gust and had 26 de­fen­sive tack­les, one spe­cial-teams tackle and five pass knock-downs. He had 130 yards on five kick­off re­turns.

But there’s lit­tle ques­tion Vaughn strug­gled, get­ting beat on many oc­ca­sions. He started his first game at the bound­ary cor­ner Labour Day, just a cou­ple of weeks af­ter be­ing signed, but ended the sea­son on the prac­tice ros­ter af­ter los­ing his start­ing job to Cle­shawn Page in the East semi­fi­nal.

Play­ers on the prac­tice ros­ter au­to­mat­i­cally be­come free agents af­ter the sea­son but Vaughn re­signed in Jan­uary — a move the Twit­terati didn’t seem to like — and the move seemed to make sense, given that’s he’s played al­most 70 NFL games over six sea­son, in­clud­ing 23 starts. He’s got size (listed at five-foot-11) and he can run (he’s also got a kick­off re­turn TD in the NFL.)

Lee started six games early last sea­son, made 24 tack­les, got moved to the prac­tice ros­ter, then re­leased. The Ti­cats re-signed him on Jan. 24.

John­son played in six games last year, start­ing two, and has 18 games of ex­pe­ri­ence over three CFL sea­sons. He can play both tackle and end and that kind of ver­sa­til­ity is some­thing the Ti­cats usu­ally covet.

So what changed? A few things, ac­tu­ally.

1. The Ti­cats held their mini­camp at the end of April and have a better sense of the tal­ent they’ll be able to bring to train­ing camp. De­fen­sive tack­les Davon Cole­man and Claudell Louis, for ex­am­ple, could be can­di­dates at the de­fen­sive tackle spot.

2. NFL ros­ters are start­ing to take shape which means there will be ne­go­ti­a­tion list play­ers and free agents coming to the re­al­iza­tion that the in­vite they hoped was coming from the four-down folks may not ma­te­ri­al­ize. All of a sud­den, the CFL op­tion looks a whole lot more ap­peal­ing. I would ex­pect the team to an­nounce a num­ber of sign­ings be­fore train­ing camp be­gins.

3. The ra­tio is a fac­tor. With five Cana­dian de­fen­sive tack­les on the ros­ter — in­clud­ing two new draft picks — the team may be se­ri­ously

con­sid­er­ing start­ing two Canucks in the mid­dle, with Ted Lau­rent and Mike Atkin­son be­ing the likely can­di­dates.

4. They have a new de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor. While Jeff Reinebold has been here all four sea­sons un­der head coach Kent Austin and for­mer DC Or­londo Stein­auer, he’ll have more in­flu­ence over player per­son­nel de­ci­sions now that he’s run­ning the de­fence.

Stein­auer of­ten pre­ferred vet­eran play­ers, some­times to the detri­ment of al­low­ing new tal­ent to be de­vel­oped and Reinebold may be more will­ing to try new guys, es­pe­cially early in the sea­son.

The re­lease of Cana­dian re­ceiver Spencer Watt is less of a shock. A sixyear CFL vet­eran, Watt tore his Achilles af­ter sign­ing with the Ti­cats in 2015 and missed the en­tire sea­son.

Last year, he reg­is­tered just 21 catches for 211 yards in 18 games and the Ti­cats likely ex­pect they can get sim­i­lar production from vet­eran Gio­vanni Aprille — who can play solid spe­cial teams — sopho­more speed­ster Mike Jones, for­mer Laval stand­out Felix Flaubert-Lussier (who had a great mini-camp) and newly-drafted Ja­cob Scar­fone. If Andy Fan­tuz re­signs and re­turns by Labour Day, so much the better. Watt wouldn’t have been a big-ticket item but he was un­doubt­edly mak­ing more than the min­i­mum and vet­eran play­ers with a ques­tion­able in­jury his­tory have been an en­dan­gered species in Ti­cat land this off-sea­son with of­fen­sive line­man Peter Dyakowski as well as de­fen­sive backs Rico Mur­ray and Johnny Sears get­ting caught up in the purge.

Re­leas­ing veter­ans at this time of year is un­usual but it will give the depart­ing play­ers an op­por­tu­nity to catch on else­where be­fore train­ing camp ros­ters are fully set.

Amer­i­can de­fen­sive end Mike McA­doo and in­ter­na­tional re­ceiver Franky Okafor, who at­tended mini­camp in April, were also re­leased.

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