Be afraid of Ticats' defence
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
|Alouettes linebacker Diamond Ferri is tackled by Tiger-Cats defenders Daniel Francis (left) and Kyle Jones (top) on Friday. (Reuters)
HAMILTON - The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have won three games in a row and one of the primary reasons is a defence that no longer has a permanent address on Skid Road.
The current edition of play busters held the Saskatchewan Roughriders to three points.
Against the Montreal Alouettes the defence exhibited resolve, allowing a 16-play drive, but allowing a mere field goal. It stopped Montreal again in the third quarter on a third down.
Much has been spoken of the play of linebacker Jamall Johnson, the whirling dervish at linebacker who has been among the league leaders in tackles all season. But the Ticats, who have a chance to move into a share of first place this weekend when they play in Calgary, can also point to improvement in the secondary for their resurgence.
In Week 2, Hamilton’s secondary missed tackle after tackle and quarterback Ricky Ray’s Edmonton offence piled up 555 yards in offence. Halfback Carlos Thomas got the hook from coach Marcel Bellefeuille due to performance issues. “We didn’t do our jobs,” said cornerback Ryan Hinds, at the time. “We had a chance to make plays and didn’t make them. We have to get better. Fast.”
Fast forward three weeks: They have gotten better. Fast.
The Alouettes, who had averaged 36.3 points a game with Anthony Calvillo at the helm the first three games of the season, were held to 26 points by the Ticats, who have bought into new defensive co-ordinator Corey Chamblin’s aggressive style.
“We have the makings to be a great defence,” said safety Jason Shivers. “Things are starting to jel for us. We’re starting to understand how each other plays. It has taken a bit for the younger guys to understand the CFL game.”
Shivers was in the middle of a shuffle that included moving him to free safety, veteran Bo Smith from boundary corner to halfback and inserting youngsters like Thomas and Marcel Young, who has two interceptions.
“I’m like a traffic controller out there,” Shivers said. “At that spot you’ve got to communicate with guys; let them know if you see something.”
Hamilton has improved its completion percentage and yards per game allowed from 2010.
“We’re more athletic. We have a little more speed,” Bellefeuille said. “We’re still finding our way, understanding our schemes and things but we’re definitely on our way. We’re not there yet but we’re definitely on the right road.”
Shivers’ job description includes keeping everyone on that right road.
“I was drafted by the NFL as a free safety so it was like moving back to a home position,” Shivers said. “It’s a leadership position and I’m naturally vocal. I don’t mind yelling at guys.
“As the quarterback of the defence I have to be able to point things out to someone like our defensive backs because they’re sometimes playing with tunnel vision because they have to play man to man.
“I talk a lot to them. I think that’s important.”
Whatever he’s saying, it seems to be working. Kids like Young and Thomas aren’t running into as many dead ends lately.
Smith, in his fourth season in Hamilton, has had his share of disappointments. Last September he was within one more Darrelle Revis snit of becoming a New York Jet.
“Cut on the last day; I was the last man (cut) when he came back,” Smith said. More bitterness greeted his return to Hamilton. There were devastating losses that ended the Ticats’ Grey Cup runs the past two seasons.
This year, he believes, in something better.
“We got a good secondary and we’re going to become great,” he said. “We’ve been so close (to a Grey Cup championship) ... If we play as a team we can get over this hump.”