It’s that time again, Hamil­ton

Tiger-Cats be­gin to build their team for 2017 sea­son

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS Ti­cats

CFL train­ing camp is a num­bers game and for rook­ies try­ing to break in to the league, they are def­i­nitely stacked against you.

There will be close to 90 play­ers in Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats’ train­ing camp when it gets un­der­way on Sun­day. And while each one will, the­o­ret­i­cally, have the chance to make the fi­nal ros­ter (46 play­ers, 10 on the prac­tice squad, plus in­jured) the harsh re­al­ity is that many of those spots are al­ready filled — par­tic­u­larly on a vet­eran team like the Ti­cats.

And with just 10 prac­tices and two pre-sea­son games in an ex­cep­tion­ally short train­ing camp, play­ers with CFL ex­pe­ri­ence have a de­cided ad­van­tage over the new­com­ers.

For some new­com­ers, just fig­ur­ing out the wag­gle, the ex­tra man and the big­ger field — never mind the weird money — takes a few days. And by the time they’re up to speed, it may al­ready be too late.

Still, there are some in­trigu­ing bat­tles set to play out at sev­eral spots on the Ti­cats’ ros­ter. OF­FENCE What we know: Zach Col­laros is ab­so­lutely rock solid in his sta­tus as the No. 1 (whether he can stay healthy is an­other mat­ter), and Jeremiah Ma­soli is the proven, ex­pe­ri­enced backup. New­comer Matt Johnson might push sopho­more Everett Gol­son — nei­ther has seen CFL game ac­tion — but that seems un­likely.

At re­ceiver, Luke Tasker and Ter­rence To­liver will be starters for sure. Along the line, Amer­i­can Xavier Ful­ton is ex­pected to be the start­ing left tackle, Mike Filer will be at cen­tre and vet­eran Ryan Bomben will be at guard. Sec­ond-year stud Bran­don Reven­berg is the likely suc­ces­sor to Pete Dyakoswki at left guard. Camp bat­tles: 1. Right tackle. With vet­er­ans Jeremy Lewis (re­leased) and Brian Sim­mons (traded) no longer with the club, the team needs a new Amer­i­can starter on the right side. Jake Ol­son, who missed all of last sea­son with a torn patella suf­fered in 2015, is a strong can­di­date. New­com­ers Mal­colm Bunche, Jor­dan Swin­dle and To­rian White are in the mix as well, with a start­ing job and a likely prac­tice ros­ter spot avail­able

2. Cana­dian re­ceiver. With Andy Fan­tuz out with a torn knee lig­a­ment un­til Labour Day (at the ear­li­est), vet­eran Spencer Watt re­leased and Matt Coates gone via free agency, the Ti­cats are go­ing to need a starter to emerge from a largely untested group. Vet­eran Gio­vanni Aprile would ap­pear to have the in­side track. But sopho­more Mike Jones could push him. And 2017 draft pick Ja­cob Scar­fone, also com­ing off knee surgery, will be one to watch.

3. Third and fourth Amer­i­can re­ceiver. With Tasker and To­liver locked in, that leaves two start­ing spots avail­able. Brian Tyms looked great at the end of last sea­son and had a very strong mini-camp in April; while vet­er­ans Kevin El­liott and Ju­nior Collins will also be strong con­tenders. Af­ter that, it’s a bit of a free-for-all with close to a dozen can­di­dates in con­tention. Jalen Saun­ders is a speed­ster with some re­turn ca­pa­bil­i­ties, while Ed Wil­liams and Devon Breaux had strong mini-camps. Vet­eran speed­ster Bran­don Banks, hav­ing just re­struc­tured his con­tract, will likely play the same role as pri­mary re­turn man and oc­ca­sional down­field threat.

4. Backup Cana­dian of­fen­sive line­men. The sud­den re­tire­ment of Mathieu Gi­rard ru­ined the pos­si­bil­ity of go­ing with four na­tional starters, and it’s also left the Ti­cats need­ing some of their younger play­ers to step up quickly. Vet­eran Landon Rice re-signed and he’s a ver­sa­tile piece. But one of Ever­ton Wil­liams — who is likely in his makeor-break year — or draft picks Braden Schram and Brett Gold­ing will need to de­velop along the same tra­jec­tory as Reven­berg did a year ago.

5. Run­ning back. Vet­eran C.J. Gable is back af­ter play­ing in 15 games last sea­son, his high­est to­tal since his rookie year in 2013. His com­bi­na­tion of run­ning, re­ceiv­ing and pass pro­tec­tion re­mains tough to match. But at 29, his age, in­jury his­tory and his mid-level con­tract are work­ing against him. Se­condyear man Ross Scheuer­man played in three games last sea­son and showed plenty of prom­ise be­fore break­ing his wrist. And rookie Alex Green had a strong mini-camp. DE­FENCE What we know: De­fen­sive end John Chick and Si­moni Lawrence will an­chor a unit un­der new co-or­di­na­tor Jeff Reinebold, with Cana­dian de­fen­sive tackle Ted Lau­rent and na­tional safety Courtney Stephen as other start­ing locks. All-star Emanuel Davis will play field half­back and Ab­dul Kan­neh, a free agent pick up from Ot­tawa, will likely hold down the bound­ary spot. Camp bat­tles 1. Kicker. Af­ter bring­ing seven can­di­dates to mini-camp in April and hold­ing an­other work­out this week, the Ti­cats have nar­rowed the list to two or three can­di­dates who will com­pete for the job dur­ing train­ing camp. The fi­nal names have yet to be an­nounced, but all will have lim­ited CFL ex­pe­ri­ence (and pos­si­bly none at all.) That’s a risk and will be re­gard­less who ul­ti­mately wins the com­pe­ti­tion. Brett Ma­her, who held the job last year, re­mains a free agent and could re­turn at some point — es­pe­cially if the cur­rent crop strug­gles.

2. SAM line­backer. This was an area of con­cern last sea­son and two vet­er­ans with ex­pe­ri­ence at the po­si­tion — Johnny Sears and Rico Mur­ray — signed with Toronto as free agents. Be­cause of its unique­ness to the Cana­dian game, the strong-side spot usu­ally de­mands a vet­eran pres­ence and the Ti­cats do have some in-house pos­si­bil­i­ties in De­mond Wash­ing­ton, who is com­ing off a knee in­jury suf­fered in camp last year; and Do­minique Ellis who has put some work in this off-sea­son if his so­cial me­dia ac­counts are to be be­lieved. Bar­ring that, the team will need to find a big body who can run — and learn the nu­ances of the CFL game in a hurry.

3. Cor­ner­back(s). Speak­ing of trou­ble spots, the sec­ondary was a train wreck for much of 2016, par­tic­u­larly on the edges, as the team cy­cled through a num­ber of line­ups. Cle­shawn Page, who lined up at the bound­ary cor­ner in the East semi­fi­nal loss to Ed­mon­ton, was mak­ing his first start of the year. The team has brought a cast of thou­sands in to au­di­tion, though Khalid Wooten, ac­quired in a trade from Mon­treal, and NFL vet­eran Justin Rogers are two early can­di­dates to keep an eye on.

4. Sev­enth Cana­dian starter. There are a few of op­tions on of­fence (run­ning back, a sec­ond re­ceiver, four of­fen­sive line­men), but the sev­enth na­tional starter is likely to come from this side of the foot­ball. The ques­tion is where? Two Cana­dian de­fen­sive tack­les are pos­si­ble, with Mike Atkinson the likely part­ner for peren­nial all-star Ted Lau­rent; with a bevy of young­sters and draft picks to back them up. Line­backer is also an op­tion with sopho­more Ter­rell Davis or McMaster prod­uct Nick Shor­till as pos­si­bil­i­ties — though tak­ing in­ter­na­tional Larry Dean off the field is un­ap­peal­ing. De­fen­sive end poses the same is­sue with Justin Capic­ciotti as a vi­able op­tion, but at the ex­pense of Adrian Tracy. The team played with two Cana­di­ans in the sec­ondary in 2015, but the ef­fec­tive­ness of Craig Butler is largely un­known as he comes off knee surgery and there’s no vi­able backup to Stephen, should they move him from safety to the cor­ner. This ros­ter domino will have a huge im­pact on how the team is con­structed.

5. Amer­i­can de­fen­sive tackle. If the team ul­ti­mately de­cides to stick with one Cana­dian on the line, they’ll need an in­ter­na­tional to re­place the de­parted Drake Ne­vis, who signed with Win­nipeg. Claudell Louis and Davon Cole­man emerged from mini-camp, and look for the team to add a cou­ple of other big bod­ies be­fore camp opens. If they don’t, it would be an­other strong in­di­ca­tor that they’ve de­cided to go Cana­dian here.

Camp gets un­der­way on Sun­day at 9:30 a.m. at Ron Joyce Sta­dium at McMaster Univer­sity and all ses­sions are open to the pub­lic.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Zach Col­laros will be with the team right from the start af­ter miss­ing the start of the sea­son in 2016 due to in­jury.

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