The Hamilton Tiger-Cats had a stellar 2019, finishing the regular season at 15-3 and on top of the East Division. However, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally broke the Ti-Cats stride, taking the Grey Cup with a 33-12 victory. The off-season has given Hamilton a chance to re-assess and make the necessary changes to end their 20-year Grey Cup drought.
Taking an “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” approach, the Tabbies brought back all their coaching staff and re-signed many of their key players while making some crucial additions. These moves ensure that Hamilton remains the team to beat in 2020. However, there are still some screws for the Tiger-Cats to tighten if they want to stay atop the East.
1. Locking Down a Starting Running Back
As the CFL’s Marshall Ferguson highlights in a review of the 2019 Tiger-Cats, Hamilton went through six starting running backs throughout last season. The stats show a lot of insecurity at the position — no running back got more than 20 per cent of touches.
Running back troubles for Hamilton began with the season-ending injury of Sean Thomas-Erlington, which forced the Ti-Cats to cycle through their backups, although they never settled on a starter for more than a few games. Hamilton has gotten off to a good start by signing Don Jackson from the Calgary Stampeders — now the key is keeping him healthy.
Whether the game plan is to start Jackson, keep Thomas-Erlington as the starter, or to alternate between the two, Hamilton needs to have at least one running back that can give them the stability that was lacking from the position last season.
2019 #Ticats run game profile is WILD.
– Forced by injury.. Balance in touches was remarkable.
– What could've been for Sean Thomas-Erlington.. 2nd yr in a row leading HAM +ve play %. pic.twitter.com/YtEGYyciVW
— 🇨🇦 Marshall Ferguson 🏈 (@TSN_Marsh) March 18, 2020
2. Find a Replacement Kicker — Fast
One of the deciding factors that tied the 2019 Ti-Cats offence together was kicker Lirim Hajrullahu. The St. Catharines, ON., native made 85.5 per cent of his field goals and accounted for 167 of the team’s 551 points over the season. In addition to this, a kick from Hajrullahu won Hamilton four of their regular-season games.
In the 2019 off-season, LWOCF’s Jeff Burns identified the Ticats’ kicker as a must-sign for Hamilton. Not only was Hajrullahu the only kicker for the Tabbies, he was the only kicker in free agency. This year was almost a repeat, with only four kickers in free agency who were all signed almost instantly.
Additionally, Hajrullahu’s release to the NFL meant that the Tabbies are without a kicker. Hamilton needs to replace Hajrullahu to be able to complete drives and remain an offensive threat in 2020.
3. More Defensive Pressure
On the whole, the Hamilton defence was excellent at putting pressure on their opposition throughout 2019. However, there were a few cracks in the side that head coach Orlondo Steinauer called the heartbeat of his team, which proved to be the Tabbies’ downfall in the Grey Cup.
Last season, the Ticats recorded 15 fumbles and 54 sacks, which indicates a strong defence. However, if Hamilton wants to improve even further, they need to be putting on more pressure and give the opposing quarterbacks less time to make plays.
This is crucial when faced with highly productive offences such as Winnipeg or Calgary, as quarterbacks like Zach Collaros and Bo Levi Mitchell are more than capable of capitalizing on a weak opposing defence. In short, 2019 set the bar for the Ticats defence. Now, they have to improve on last season’s shortcomings to ensure they stay strong in 2020.
Tiger-Cats in a Good Spot
The big takeaway from all this? Hamilton’s a strong team, and there’s not a lot to change to remain the top dogs (or cats) in 2020. However, ramping up the defence, locking down a stable running back, and acquiring a strong new kicker would undoubtedly help them up their game and ensure that they don’t fall flat at the final hurdle again.
Next season looks to be a promising one for Hamilton, as long as they can make the necessary changes and retain the focus and drive that got them to the Grey Cup last year.
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