For Fantuz: Job 1 is play again; Job 2 player development
Ticat receiver working to return from ACL tear, while offering added-value of continuing his mentoring
The number 1 priority, by f ar, is Andy Fantuz recovering from his knee surgery strongly enough to play this year.
That was made very clear by both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ head coach Kent Austin and by the elite receiver himself at Friday’s news conference where they discussed Fantuz’s new off-field position as a co-ordinator of player development.
“What I’ve been told is my rehab is my No. 1 priority,” Fantuz said. “Whatever I’m doing for my rehab trumps everything else.”
Fantuz was enjoying a spectacular 2016 campaign when he tore his ACL, while cutting on a pass pattern during a loss to Edmonton on Oct. 28.
With 101 receptions through 17 games he had shattered his own personal high (87 set in 2010), and had reached the 1,000-yard mark (1,059) for just the second time in his 11-year career. He was the first Ticat receiver to record 100 or more receptions, breaking the club mark of 98 co-held by Darren Flutie.
Fantuz, who became a free agent in February, underwent reconstructive surgery i n November and the “window” for recovery from ACL surgery is generally from eight months to a year.
So late August would likely be the earliest he could return to playing, but Fantuz refused to speculate on a time line.
When he’s cleared medically to play, he’ll sign a player’s contract with Hamilton, Fantuz said.
He’s been keeping the rest of his body fit.
He says he “feels really good,” and is now back running.
He’s even making light, premeditated cuts.
Fantuz said that during training camp, which opens next weekend, and in the regular season until he’s playing, he’ll be “helping all the players, the young guys, and especially the receivers, learn the offence, and with route-running. Whatever Stef (offensive co-ordinator Stefan Ptaszek) needs.
“It’s nice to be doing that kind of leadership role. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing in the past. But in a more official way, to add some value-added to the club.”
Austin took a shot at critics who’ve suggested the Fantuz hiring is a way of keeping him on the payroll — without signing him as a free agent — saying that’s why he said he’d “vetted” Fantuz’s new role with the CFL office.
“I’m referring to the idiocy of some of the stuff that has been reported that this is a contravention of something,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
He said Fantuz, who knows the team’s complicated offensive structure “better than just about anyone,” would help players develop physically and mentally, work with them on route-running, would critique players, and “help create shortcuts for players in their understanding, to bring them up to speed more quickly.”
Austin said that while Fantuz’s specific tasks might change from day to day, those tasks, “will be highly-defined. We wanted to make sure it was defined properly, so everybody understood, not just Andy and the coaches, but the players too, on what the role will be and why. And to make sure there will be a smooth transition.”
The Tiger-Cats will have at least 16 receivers in camp, and the coaching staff won’t have time to work with every one of them on every detail that they have to absorb in a highly-compressed training camp. That’s where Fantuz will step in.
“He’s a unique player for us,” Austin said. “Obviously I wouldn’t do this with just about anyone else.
“Some of these things Andy has been doing naturally. Certainly not at the level that we’re asking him to do now, but these are natural roles, because he’s a leader on the team.
“When he comes back and he’s ready to play, and we get him under contract, then his focus will be on playing, but he’s always going to help the others.”