Ticat receivers feeling heat
By MIKE THOMAS, Special to QMI Agency
|Ticats receiver Maurice Mann makes a superb catch during a recent Ticat mini-camp at Ivor Wynne. Several rookies are putting the pressure on vets like Mann as Hamilton's main camp continues in Hamilton. (QMI Agency/Alex Urosevic)
HAMILTON -- Heading into training camp no one would’ve thought the Hamilton Tiger-Cats would be faced with questions about their wide receivers but the impressive play of both rookies and veterans has left the Ticats coaching staff with some choices.
“They’re making our jobs tougher everyday,” said head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. “So many of the veterans have come back competing and so many of the new players have stepped up.”
Hamilton’s passing game was a strength last season as Arland Bruce II and Dave Stala each caught passes for over 1,000 yards with Maurice Mann and Marquay McDaniel not far behind, leaving players feeling secure with their roles going into camp.
Enter rookie wide-outs Aaron Kelly and Bakari Grant and all the sudden the position isn’t as cut and dry as thought. After an impressive rookie camp the newcomers have refused to back down and the team has itself a competition on hand.
“I think everything will fall into place,” said offensive coordinator Khari Jones. “We’ve got some decisions to make of course.”
Even when final cuts are made, some veterans might see their number of opportunities on offence go down — sacrificing statistics for a greater good, something they’re already preparing for.
“Whoever has the big game has the big game,” said receiver Maurice Mann, entering his fifth season in the CFL. “Stats and accolades fade at the end of the day, we’re just worried about winning.”
Even with some surprising competition having emerged, the veteran receivers have shown nothing but confidence with both their play and their attitude on the field.
“I think this core is definitely a step up from last year,” said Mann. “Whoever we can have in this group is going to be an asset and a weapon.”
Mann has established himself as a player to watch so far in camp. He’s been vocal on the field with teammates at all positions and has turned in some catches that would’ve been highlight reel worthy had they been filmed.
On top of their experience, an edge the veterans might have on the first year players is the confidence and attitude they bring with them to the field.
Thursday in practice, Mann tossed the football into the stands at Ron Joyce field after making an acrobatic catch in the end zone. It was reminiscent of some of Dave Stala’s soccer themed celebrations from a year ago or Arland Bruce’s antics over the past few seasons.
“To have fun and to be working hard is what we want everyone to see,” said Mann. “At the end of the day that identity becomes contagious.”
The club doesn’t have to make any more cuts until the end of training camp but narrowing down the roster will allow the coaches to get a better look at some of the real contenders.
“We may make some decisions before we have to,” said Bellefeuille. “We won’t keep (players) around just for the sake of keeping them around.”
Any way the coaches look at the situation the Tiger-Cats will head into 2011 with serious talent catching the football.
“This is by far the best group of receivers that we’ve had in my three years here,” said Jones. “Whichever way we may choose I don’t think any of them will be weak links.”
Capping off their first week of full team practices the Tiger-Cats will hold their annual Black and Gold scrimmage at Corpus Christi High School (5150 Upper Middle Road) in Burlington, Saturday from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m.
The team’s offence will square off against the defence in a simulated game. This will be the first look at this year’s Tiger-Cats in a game setting.
Scoring will be kept for the first time this year and referees will be on hand to regulate the game.
The game looks to be more of a test for the offensive unit, as there will be no hitting. Bellefeuille explained the team wants to avoid any unnecessary injuries.