What a difference a year makes!
We are only 3 weeks into the 2018 season, but already the outlook for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats feels more positive than anything they experienced, particularly early on, in 2017. In fact large chunks of the 2017 CFL season were pretty forgettable for Ti-Cats fans. This time three weeks into the season they are 2-1 and have looked competitive in every game. Last year at the same stage they were 0-3 on their way to an 0-8 start that undermined improvements they made in the latter half of the year.
Actually things started to improve for Hamilton midway through the 2017 season when Kent Austin stepped down as the head coach and named June Jones as his replacement. Jones had only been with the Ti-Cats for around three weeks at the time of his appointment, and his only other CFL coaching experience was with the Ottawa Rough Riders as offensive coordinator in 1986.
Some might have considered it a risk, but Jones does have considerable experience coaching in the NFL and in the American Collegiate ranks. Jones was rapidly successful after being given the reins. He led the team to a 6-4 finish to their season and they were easily a much more competitive team than had been seen before.
Most observers expected Hamilton to be more competitive this year too, but I am not sure how many would have anticipated the combative and positive start they have made. They could potentially have been 3-0 this season had they held on at Calgary in Week 1, and subsequent wins over Edmonton and Winnipeg have made CFL fans take notice.
Hamilton had plenty written about them in the off-season. Especially with the acquisition of Johnny Manziel attracting the attention of fans beyond the CFL fold. However, Manziel spotters will just have to wait. Ti-Cats fans will be more than happy with starting QB Jeremiah Masoli who after 3 weeks of the season leads the league in passing yards & looks in control of the offense. In their week 3 win over Winnipeg Masoli was 31 of 41 for 369 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. That marked the eighth straight game with 300 or more yards passing matching a CFL record.
It is no coincidence surely that Masoli has thrived in Jones’ system. Under Jones Hamilton have had success through making schematic changes. This season they have been using six- and seven-man protections schemes with four receivers. The extra time this generates for a rhythm passer like Masoli to scan the filed is surely part of Hamilton’s early season success too.
On the other side of the ball, Simoni Lawrence and the rest of Hamilton’s D look like they have found their teeth this year. Winnipeg who had been garnering a lot of attention for how their young QB was leading their O were put to the sword. The Bombers did not muster a first down for a huge chunk of the game stretching from early in the second quarter until early in the fourth quarter. That’s the kind of dominance that all D’s are looking for.
Hamilton fans will be optimistic looking forward too. They have a home and away contest (split by a rest week) with Saskatchewan coming up who are 1-2 and have looked just as uncomfortable at times this season as the Ti-Cats have looked to be finding their groove.
Nobody knows how this will play out. That is why they play the games after all. I am pretty sure though that Hamilton fans are already enjoying their football way more than they were in 2017.
What a difference a year makes!
Image originally from cfl.ca