Sophomore jinx hits Cats hard

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

HAMILTON -- The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are enduring a horrific sophomore slump.

After a winning rookie season, head coach Greg Marshall has watched his club become one of the CFL punching bags this year.

With a 2-10 record entering tomorrow's lopsided matchup with the Edmonton Eskimos at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the Cats have the worst record in the league - and not surprisingly, the worst offence.

Hamilton ranks last or second last among the league's nine clubs in 16 of 24 offensive categories. No team generates fewer yards per game, scores less points or has a worse aerial attack.

Troy Davis was the top rusher in the CFL in 2004, but is now eighth. Danny McManus passed for 5,000 yards last season, but has thrown for just 1,956 yards this year.

Granted, he hasn't played every game, but is still second in the league in interceptions.

The defence hasn't been much better. No team has given up more touchdowns this year or surrenders more points on average per game.

There have been problems off the field, as well, with inexperienced Rob Katz taking Ron Lancaster's general manager duties.

But these just might be severe growing pains on the approaching road to success.

There is an intriguing question surrounding this team: Is the Tiger-Cat organization on the same path the Saskatchewan Roughriders took at the turn of the decade?

There are some striking similarities.

In 2001, the Riders were in the midst of growing pains under second-year head coach Danny Barrett.

The Green and White had a horrendous offence and finished 6-12.

But Saskatchewan had a very young defence with nine starters in their first or second year with the club. That list included Nate Davis, Scott Schultz and Omarr Morgan.

Barrett and young defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall stuck with the majority of the youngsters - and have watched the team play in the CFL Western Final the last two seasons.

The Riders were one field goal away from reaching the Grey Cup last year.

This year, Saskatchewan is surging into the stretch run with a legitimate chance to make it three straight trips to the Western Final. Marshall and second-year defensive co-ordinator Kavis Reed also have a very young defence in Steeltown this year.

No less than seven starters are rookies or second-year players in the CFL.

All three starting linbebackers - Renard Cox, Agustin Barrenechea and Chris Martin - are sophomores.

Cox and Martin are actually former defensive backs from major U.S. colleges.

The secondary is also inexperienced. Both cornerbacks from Hamilton's last game are rookies. Of course, there are other issues with this team. Hamilton has yet to find its good young quarterback. But Saskatchewan was in the same spot in 2001.

Marvin Graves, Kevin Glenn, Jonathan Beasley and Keith Smith all took turns with the putrid offence that year before Henry Burris arrived from the NFL in 2003.

Only time will tell if Hamilton will follow Saskatchewan's lead or keep spinning its wheels.

And like in Regina, there will be no shortage of fans waiting to find out.

Even though they have been dealt this horrendous season, Tiger-Cat fans are still coming out in droves.

The team has yet to draw less than 27,000 patrons to a regular-season game, an impressive story on its own.

Imagine what this city will be like if the Tiger-Cats show drastic improvement in the next few years.


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