HAMILTON - The Hamilton Tiger-Cats came to the conclusion this week that Runako Reth wasn’t nearly the football player that Arland Bruce used to be.
Now it is up to a young receiving corps to prove head coach Marcel Bellefeuille’s faith hasn’t been misplaced somewhere in Vancouver.
Chris Williams has been an exercise in incredulity. Question is, now that other teams know he’s a revelation can he continue to be one in double coverage? Question is, can Maurice Mann, the club leader in receiving yardage before he was injured, still make that happen when teams change their defensive schemes without Bruce to worry about?
“They can carry the load. They’ve proven it over five weeks now. This isn’t something that showed up for one game. We’ve gone almost a third of the season with these guys, playing in some tough places, and winning,” Bellefeuille said Thursday.
It is true Bruce hadn’t been much of a factor, making nine catches and spending more time in the Ticats’ infirmary than the opposition’s secondary. With Mann expected to return to the lineup as soon as next week, Williams sitting with 304 yards and 20 grabs, big-bodies like Bakari Grant and Aaron Kelly looking like keepers and Dave Stala playing the best football of his career, Hamilton looks to finally have a No. 1 receiving corps instead of just a No. 1 receiver. And, that’s not even including Marquay McDaniel, the 1,000-yard receiver last season, who can’t even get into the starting lineup.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn said they’ve dubbed them “Dave’s Kids” because “they look younger than they are and Stala looks older than he is.” This will no doubt be warmly received by Stala.
Attitude, said Glenn, has been the key to success for his young pass-catchers.
“That’s the biggest thing for players when they come to the CFL,” Glenn said. “I’ve seen big names come up here who’ve had phenomenal careers in college or good careers in the NFL and they just didn’t unlearn to relearn. They come in and say, ‘but that’s not how I learned to do it’. They didn’t let it go. They didn’t say, ‘OK I’m a rookie. This is my first time playing ... tell me what I need to know.’ These guys have cleared their mind of any other football they’ve played. They’re adapting to the nuances of the CFL.”
The Ticats may never have had such riches. Sure there was Darren Flutie for a while, and before him sterling Earl Winfield, and Tony Champion looked good in the end zone. But there has not in living memory been an elite receiving corps. Williams is a waterbug who stands a Pinball-esque 5-foot-8. He just plays a lot bigger and looks the most likely to emerge as the go-to guy.
But Bellefeuille says there isn’t one specific player who will benefit from Arland’s departure.
“I don’t think so, to be honest. There’s still enough depth here, that guys will have to play well every week (to stay in the lineup).”
Futures can unravel in a myriad of ways. Williams learned that with the Dolphins in 2009 when he saw opportunity disappear quicker than Arland Bruce at a Bart Andrus Appreciation Dinner.
“I had a decent shot in Miami and then I broke a bone in my hand. We were in a pre-season game. I was returning a punt. I was getting tackled and tried to go down and got a helmet right on my hand. I didn’t think it was broken and I even finished the half. But it didn’t feel right and sure enough it was broken when they looked at it. They cut me two days after it happened. Like I say; it’s a lovely game; not such a lovely business.”
So while Ticats’ management believes it has something special with this youth movement, the truth about sports is that the definition of potential is just someone who hasn’t done anything (much) yet. Or, in McDaniel’s case, done much lately. And don’t think it doesn’t bother him.
“I guess it’s an opportunity for someone to step up,” he said. He’s just not counting on that someone to be himself. It’s been that kind of season.
“I’ve never not played. You want to be out there. That’s the hardest part. You’re watching the games and want to contribute,” said McDaniel, who had 995 yards last year, but only four catches in 2011.
He is very diplomatic, careful choosing his words. If Bruce can be traded, a part-time receiver is just so much dross. And he knows it.
“It’s different. I started my junior year in high school and I’ve started everywhere else ever since except for that time I was on the practice squad in Denver. But I can’t be frustrated. Mad. Some of these guys I’ve played with for two years so it’s hard to just watch now.”
Bellefeuille wasn’t exactly effusive regarding McDaniel, referring to him as a “different” player. Maybe he gets another shot. Maybe in this group he lingers on the cusp of the 42-man starting roster.
Perhaps like Bruce, he too, is already yesterday’s hero.