Doin' the Ticat Shuffle

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

So, what do we make of these re-striped Tiger-Cats?

It was not that long ago that Greg Marshall -- that other Greg Marshall, not Winnipeg's defensive co-ordinator -- had re-sharpened their claws and revived the roar in their throats. He was even named CFL Coach of the Year (2004) for turning the sorry 'Cats around.

But that sure didn't last long. Marshall was fired early last season and replaced by Ron Lancaster Sr., who likely would have canned himself as head coach if there was a suitable candidate to replace him.

The 'Pussycat Dolls' suffered severely last season. Ailing quarterback Jason Maas never lived up to the expectations when he was acquired from Edmonton.

Neither did running back/slotback/kick returner Corey Holmes, who was acquired from Saskatchewan. Go down the list of disappointments and it is no wonder why the Tabbies finished 4-14. Running back Josh Ranek was another.

So were kicker Jamie Boreham, wide receivers Kwame Cavil, D.J. Flick and Craig Yeast.

Their main feature was a re-jigged lineup almost every week.

And you wonder why the 'Cats scored the fewest points (292) while allowing the most (495) in the CFL last season?

But now, they are starting over yet again under a new GM, Marcel Desjardins, who hired a new head coach, Charlie Taaffe, who knew each other from a more successful partnership in Montreal. Desjardins was the assistant GM when Taaffe won two straight CFL Coach of the Year awards but they fell just short of winning the Grey Cup before Taaffe decided to return south to take advantage of a retirement policy set up for U.S. college mentors.

And the new partners have not been idle. They banished those identified as deadwood and brought in new recruits. Those include former NFL quarterback Shaun King, who was cut by his Arena Football League team last winter, former B.C. Lion defensive lineman Nautyn McKay-Loescher, ex-Alouette safety Richard Karikari, former Toronto offensive lineman Jerome Davis and are pinning their kicking hopes on an American, either Nick Setta or Mark Myers.

Hamilton drafted receiver Chris Bauman, a Brandon native, first overall, and was also able to snag receiver Chris Getzlaf in the 2007 college entry draft.

Maas, if he beats out King, should be healthier this year and Holmes may be used better than he was last season. Other key players returning include running back Jesse Lumsden, wide receiver Mike Morreale, offensive lineman George Hudson, linebacker Agustin Barrenechea, and defensive backs Tay Cody and Renard Cox.

"Coming off a 4-14 season, changes were necessary but there is still a lot of veteran leadership here," Taaffe said during a CFL state-of-the-union teleconference call on the eve of training camp. "With guys like George Hudson, (linebacker) Rob Hitchcock and Mike Morreale, there's still a strong leadership going there." And Taaffe showed that he has not lost any of his familiarity with CFL cities while he was gone.

"I want a team that plays with a lot of passion, a lot of intensity, one that represents the community we're in -- a kind of working-class environment, a hard-nosed town," Taaffe told reporters when he was first hired back in December, 2006. "It's important that, No. 1, we come out and earn the respect of our opponents and the respect of our fans." And that will start with the quarterback. Although the Tiger-Cats assured Maas that he would come to camp as No. 1, they signed King on the eve of training camp, acquired quarterback Rocky Butler from Saskatchewan and are very high on prospect Timmy Chang.

"We're not looking to replace Jason Maas but we're creating some depth, some competition," said Taaffe, who signed a three-year pact.

Taaffe must also decide who will carry the ball on the ground and his receivers need to establish a deep threat.

"We have a lot of work to do, obviously," Taaffe told the Hamilton Spectator after an intra-squad game on the weekend.

Both the offensive and defensive lines should be solid. Defensively, Taaffe needs to mould both his linebackers and secondary. And the kicking game remains a mystery.

Taaffe, by the way, also lured assistant coaches Mike Working and Gregg Butler away from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

So now, we can all sit back and watch Taaffe work his special magic.

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Hamilton Tiger-Cats

2006 record: 4-14

New GM: Marcel Desjardins

New head coach: Charlie Taaffe

- New recruits: QB Shaun King, QB Timmy Chang, QB Rocky Butler, DL Nautyn McKay-Loescher, S Richard Karikari, OL Jerome Davis, K/P Mark Myers, WR Chris Bauman, SB Chris Getzlaf, DL Phil Gibson, Nick Setta, K, WR Richard Alston

- Key returning players: QB Jason Maas, SB/KR Corey Holmes, RB Jesse Lumsden,

- WR Mike Morreale, WR Brock Ralph, OL Geroge Hudson, LB Agustin Barrenechea,

- LB Rob Hitchcock, Tay Cody, DB, Renard Cox, DB, Wayne Shaw, S Gonzo Alonzo: DE Tim Cheatwood, DL James Cotton, SB Terry Vaughn, P Pat Fleming, WR D.J. Flick, P/K Jamie Boreham, RB Josh Ranek, OL Wayne Smith, QB Kevin Eakin, DL Adriano Belli, WR Kamau Peterson, DB Jason Goss, WR Craig Yeast, LB/DB Chris Martin, LB/LS Matt Robichaud


Photos