Ticats expect turnaround

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:42 AM ET

Was it an omen, or simply an amusing coincidence?

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Charlie Taaffe, speaking on a CFL conference call yesterday, was talking about how competitive he expects the Ticats to be with the defending East champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season, when he was interrupted.

"We played Winnipeg some good games last year --" Taaffe began, only to be drowned out by the sound of a fire alarm.

Not a good sign, perhaps. But the second-year Ticats head coach is confident his team, 3-15 last season, can end its three-year reign as the East's cellar-dwellar by throwing a scare into favourites Winnipeg and Toronto.

"We expect to be right in there competing with them," Taaffe said. "We played very competitively most of the time. That's part of the growing process. When you've got a chance to win in the fourth quarter, that's the next step, learning how to close the deal."

The feeling is having Casey Printers at quarterback from the start of the season (he joined the Cats mid-2007) could go a long way to this team's return to the post-season.

But will an improved Printers be enough to make up for weaknesses throughout the roster?

That's where veteran CFL talent guru Bob O'Billovich enters the picture, taking over as Hamilton's GM.

Known for unearthing talent, most recently for the B.C. Lions, O'Billovich has also been forced to address a losing climate in Steeltown.

"There probably was, to some degree," the GM said. "Things are habit-forming. That's why it's important to come in here with a whole new fresh outlook.

"We have to develop a team attitude, right from the front office to the coaches to the players on the field. We've worked hard at bringing in players that are very good character guys."

The Ticats are banking on free-agent receivers Tony Miles (Toronto) and Pat Woodcock (Edmonton) to make up for the loss of Jason Armstead (salary cap victim) and Brock Ralph (traded to Eskimos).

They're also counting on the improvement of youngsters like former first-round draft, receiver Chris Bauman of Brandon.

"He's much stronger and looks great, up to 230 pounds," Taaffe said. "Last year, as a rookie, obviously it's a big step from the CIS to the CFL, maybe some confidence issues, at times, not real strong. He's really worked hard in the off-season."

But the offence hinges on Printers, the former Lion who returned from NFL exile to sign one of the most lucrative deals in the CFL.

"When Casey joined us last year I think it was Week 11," Taaffe said. "It was very difficult. He had no grasp of the offence. We had to slow everything down. Plus he came in here with a little bit of a tweaked hamstring. He hadn't played a lot of football for the better part of two years.

"He's had a whole off-season. He's in much better condition. Having the benefit of going through a full training camp... we're real optimistic about Casey. He has the talent to be a special quarterback in this league."

He'd better be.

Or the Ticats will remain at the bottom of it.

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HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

KEY DEPARTURES

REC Jason Armstead (released), REC Brock Ralph (traded to Edmonton), LB JoJuan Armour (free agent, Calgary), S Richard Karikari (released, signed in Calgary), DB Tay Cody (released, signed in Montreal).

KEY ARRIVALS

GM Bob O'Billovich, O co-ordinator Marcel Bellefeuille, D co-ordinator Denny Creehan, REC Tony Miles (free agent, Toronto), REC Pat Woodcock (free agent, Edmonton), S Dylan Barker (draft).

KEY RETURNEES

QB Casey Printers, RB Jesse Lumsden, LB Zeke Moreno, K Nick Setta, DE Charlton Keith, REC Chris Bauman, C Marwan Hage.


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