TORONTO - There is nothing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats can do Saturday when they play in Saskatchewan to change their fate.
They will not win the East; they will not win a home date in the playoffs; the road to the Grey Cup will have to go through the cold, unfriendly confines of Swaggerville in a few weeks time.
But do not tell them that these last two weeks, against the Inspector-Clouseau inspired Riders and that accident waiting to happen commonly referred to as the Argonauts, are meaningless.
While the Tiger-Cats were many pundits’ pick to win the Grey Cup, this is a team that, while headed for the playoffs, is not exactly playoff-ready.
There are questions regarding who starts at quarterback, their .500 record is indicative of a lack of consistency, and the secondary has seen more comings and goings than Big Betty’s House of Bouncy Bouncy.
Some of that unpredictability in the secondary was supposed to change when the club acquired Milt Collins. But he’s been hurt and just this week returned to practice. It was supposed to change when the club acquired Dee Webb from Toronto. But that was Oct. 11 and he’s had just two games as a starter.
In Webb’s case, a little familiarity would breed contentment, and that’s why he considers the next two weeks so important.
“We’ve had two pretty good games but I don’t want to settle for mediocre,” Webb said. “I know I can be better. These games are important because we can, as a unit back there, build some more chemistry. It will give us a chance to learn about working together. It’s starting to gel but really we’re still just getting it together.”
The Ticats need all the time they can get because while Collins is as close to healthy as a football player gets this time of season, corner Woodny Turenne is sidelined with a hand injury and been replaced by Loyce Means on the first team defence.
“We’ve had some injuries and ... especially in the secondary it’s a chance to focus, get some communication back there and get used to playing with each other,” said head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. “There’s a number of different things we’re still working on.”
Right. Like, maybe, introducing yourself to the guy next to you.
Webb knows all about that, too. Moving to a new team, even if it is just down the highway from the Argos where he started back at training camp, can be discombobulating; starting with remembering whether to turn right or left getting on the highway.
“It’s not just a matter of learning different schemes. It’s difficult on and off the field, getting used to different guys, different locker room, different atmosphere,” said Webb, who still shares an apartment with former Argonauts’ teammates Lin-J Shell, Evan McCollough and Sean Smalls. “Going from a losing program to a winning program is probably the biggest difference. There’s a different vibe and energy in this locker room than in the other one.”
Any further critique of his former employer is left open to debate. “I’m just pleased to be getting a chance to show my true talent,” said Webb. He has six tackles in his first two games with the Ticats.
Meantime, Bellefeuille has had the canned noise pumped up at practice this week at Ivor Wynne and said the boisterous crowd in Saskatchewan this weekend will be rehearsals for what awaits in the playoffs.
“We talked about playing outside. Reminiscent of going to Winnipeg. Wind, Cold. Full stadium. Fans. Loud, tough place to play. All those elements. So working with the silent count, in the noise, it’s a great opportunity to get ourselves ready,” said Bellefeuille. “The most important thing is to keep playing well and continue to play clean football. We’re trying to build some consistency going down the stretch.”