Ticats secondary struggling
By Mike Ganter, QMI Agency
|Bo Smith and the rest of the Ticats' defensive backfield has come under some heat the past couple of games and it's expected changes will be made before Monday's tilt against Montreal. (Reuters)
It was just about this time last year that Bo Smith returned to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after being among the last cuts of the NFL’s New York Jets.
At that point, he was considered a saviour of sorts for a struggling Ticats secondary that welcomed back the three-year veteran.
Manning the boundary side halfback spot this season from Day 1, Smith finds himself part of a struggling unit this time around and admits that when the team brings in recent NFL cuts such as Buffalo’s Loyce Means, as it did on Friday, he, like everyone else in that secondary takes notice.
“Basically, you’re thinking they’re bringing someone in to replace somebody else,” Smith said. “It opens your head up and makes sure you’re going to be on your game, that we’re all going to come out here and do our jobs and talk and communicate with one another because, if you don’t, you’re getting replaced.”
There is no question the Ticats secondary is in a bit of a funk. After allowing just five touchdowns through the air in the first six games, the last line of defence has allowed five in the past two games, two against Winnipeg in a loss and three against Toronto in a win.
“It’s basically mental errors and us not doing our job,” Smith said. “That’s it.”
Cory Chamblin is in his first year as the Ticats defensive coordinator and comes from a Calgary defence where aggression was demanded on each and every play. He’s brought that attitude and his aggressive man-to-man defence to Hamilton where they had been playing more of a zone. It’s a different approach for the holdovers from years past, such as Smith, so some growing pains were expected. It’s just odd that the struggles have come in the past few weeks after the unit came out of the gate so locked in.
If Means turns out to be better than someone who has been here all season, then he’ll play ahead of them. But Chamblin knows the message alone — that no one’s job is safe — might be all that is necessary.
“Being a professional coach, I always believe you need competition and that’s just the way the business is,” Chamblin said. “That’s the only way I know how to do it. It’s not that we’re displeased with what we have, but it’s a business and as a coach I need the best product on the field whether that’s someone coming in or someone already here.”
Chamblin is looking for mental focus for four full quarters from his defence and lately he hasn’t been getting that.
“We have guys on that back end who will go good for three quarters and then it’s just one or two plays that guys lose that focus,” he said. “It’s not like we’re turning guys loose everywhere. It’s just those one or two plays that we are trying to clean up and get them to focus.”
Which brings us back to Means, who was on the field for practice on Friday but would need at least two or three weeks of prep time before the team could think of starting him.
The wider field in the CFL makes those out-routes which are short and quick in the NFL a much tougher cover up here, to say nothing of the bigger end zones.
Early indications are that Means has the speed and quickness to adapt nicely to the Canadian game, but you get the feeling talking to Chamblin that he would be just as happy sticking with as much of the current unit he has assembled as possible.
Already this week, the Ticats released Daniel Francis, who had worked his way into the starting mix at safety. Newcomer David Hyland has seen a lot of reps in practice the past two days at that position with Jason Shivers, who has also played some safety, shifted over to halfback opposite Smith’s side.
Head coach Marcel Bellefeuille hasn’t decided how the secondary will line up for Monday’s Labour Day tilt with Montreal but there are clearly going to be at least some changes.
Whether more new faces are to come and whether they will stick around will depend on how well the Ticats defend Anthony Calvillo, a guy Ticats running back Avon Cobourne refers to as “the best quarterback in the game today,” and the guy the Cats defence will see in back-to-back weeks starting Monday.
Clearly they have their work cut out for them.
Bellefeuille says it only makes sense for the Ticats to give themselves options and with the NFL cutdowns ongoing, there will be no shortage of those.
“It’s a situation where we do need to play better (in the secondary) and we understand that and we will continue to look for answers,” Bellefeuille said. “Hopefully, we can just work with the players that are here and get them to a level that we need to be at and while we are doing that we will be bringing in other players and having a look to see if we can find someone who can help us.”