Free agency has died down; the draft is over; and training camps are well underway. The 2016 CFL season is almost upon us, and the promise of another exciting season is building. To get ready for the pre-season kick-off on June 8, we will go through each CFL team from worst through first and list three big reasons why you should be exited to watch your team in 2016. As a bonus, there’s even a reason to cheer against every team for the opposing fans. Last time we reviewed the Toronto Argonauts, and this week, LWOS examines some reasons to cheer for the 2016 Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Get Excited: 2016 Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Reason One: Elite Coaching
Kent Austin has been with the Ti-Cats organization since 2013, when he joined the club after he had coached the Saskatchewan Roughriders to a Grey Cup victory, before spending a few years at Cornell University. In the three seasons with Hamilton, the venerable coach championed his roster to the Big Game twice, and has never missed the playoffs. Critics will point out the Tiger-Cats fell short in both Grey Cups, but that falls flat when looking at what Austin has accomplished.
In five years as a head coach, he has a regular season record of 41-31, a playoff record of 7-3, and three Grey Cup appearances. Oh, and his starting quarterback, Zach Collaros was injured the only year Austin missed the Grey Cup. Regardless of how it is sliced, that is elite level coaching for only four CFL seasons.
However, it’s not just Austin that gives the Tiger-Cats such an advantage on the sidelines but also defensive coordinator Orlando Steinauer. In the conversation for the best defensive mind in the the CFL alongside Chris Jones and Noel Thorpe, Steinauer helped mold a ball-hawking defensive unit that had 26 interceptions and finished well in overall pass defense last year. Now starting to get the recognition he deserves, Steinauer is a potent lieutenant to Austin, and both men will doubtlessly have their team in the thick of the playoff hunt yet again.
Reason Two: Ball-Hawk Secondary
Among the biggest reasons for Austin and Steinauer’s success so far in the Hammer has been their ability to put players in a position to succeed. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Hamilton’s defensive secondary which, as previously mentioned, accumulated 26 interceptions last year, good enough for the league lead . What should really have opposing quarterbacks scared is that nearly all the players who helped achieve that total in 2015 are back again this year.
Emmanuel Davis, who had five picks last year, will again command the opposing teams best receiver and attempt to shut them down. The playmaking DB will have a shot to lead the league in interceptions with a strong defensive line creating pressure and a fantastic supporting cast around him. Members of that cast include Courtney Stephen, who picked off a healthy 4 passes last year and should continue to be one of the top National defenders in league.
Mike Daily and Rico Murray have returned as well and are both formidable pieces in Steinauer’s scheme. Daily played well in limited snaps in relief of the injured Craig Butler last year and with Butler again injured, the 26-year-old should see the field a lot. Murray plays in a hybrid ‘backer style showing strength against the pass (8 career interceptions) and the run (148 career tackles).
With the slew of talented players the Ti-Cats secondary possesses look for the same dominant play exhibited a year ago to continue in 2016.
Reason Three: Versatile Pass Rushers
What better way to take advantage of an elite secondary than with a vicious pass-rush? The 2016 Hamilton Tiger-Cats have a stocked defense with some versatile defenders who can bring the heat.
John Chick should not lack for motivation after being unceremoniously dumped by the Riders. One of the best pass rushers in the league, Chick has put up 45 sacks in his last four seasons and will immediately step into the role of departed defender Eric Norwood.
Simoni Lawrence is an all-purpose linebacker who showed a knack for getting to the quarterback with 5 sacks last year. Lawrence’s play and production have gone up each of his past three years and the defensive leader will doubtlessly keep chasing down opposing passers with abandon.
Then there is the monster the entire defense revolves around, Ted Laurent, who is widely considered to be the best defensive tackle in the CFL. Laurent’s numbers (3 sacks last year) don’t even begin to do the behemoth credit for what he brings to the table. Able to take on double or even triple teams while still collapsing the pocket Laurent had a hand in many of his teams sacks last year, even if they don’t show in the box-score. That’s not to say the 303 pound defensive tackle can’t produce his own sacks, just two years ago Laurent posted nine take-downs, not bad for an interior defender.
With youngsters Linden Gaydosh and Drake Nevis also fighting for snaps, the team possess an arsenal of defenders that can be sent after quarterbacks whenever the opportunity presents itself. And with opposing quarterbacks holding the ball for fear of throwing into the Hamilton secondary those opportunities will be plentiful.
Something For The Opposing Fans: Inferior Backup Plan
For all the credit that has been given to Kent Austin and how he has returned the Tiger-Cats to a perennial contender there is one major flaw in his approach to 2016, which is his quarterback depth. Collarosv is on the fast track to elite status and a perfect fit in Hamilton’s offensive system. The problem is that Collaros suffered a major injury last year which cost him several games as well as the playoffs.
After patching together a passable showing from backup Jeremiah Masoli in their playoff exit last season, it was expected that Austin would find a capable backup to Collaros for 2016. That was not the case as the regular season is just around the corner and the Ti-Cats still employ the athletic but flawed Masoli and the unproven Jeff Mathews. What makes this even more puzzling is that Collaros has missed major time due to injury before and the Ti-Cats have struggled mightily then as well. It all begs the question: What is different this time around for Austin and his backup quarterback plan should Collaros’ return be delayed? Opposing fans will be hoping the answer is nothing, and they may be right.