Competition will be fierce at Ticats camp

Ticats wide receiver Andy Fantuz during mini-camp at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., April...

Ticats wide receiver Andy Fantuz during mini-camp at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., April 20, 2012. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)

IAN SHANTZ, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:35 PM ET

HAMILTON - It won’t be tame in Tiger Town.

Certainly not with these kinds of expectations.

Expect a five-alarm competitive fire to break out in Steeltown beginning Thursday, when Hamilton Tiger-Cats rookies and quarterbacks hit the field to open training camp. And if you’re a fan of the Black and Gold, hope the flames don’t die out all the way through to what will be an historic November night in Toronto one way or another.

“We’ve got a real good group of skilled players,” new Ticats head coach George Cortez said as he met with reporters under the bluest of skies at McMaster University’s Ron Joyce Stadium on Wednesday. “I think it'll be competitive.”

Cortez was referring specifically to his long line of options at receiver and, to a smaller extent, linebacker — most notably the punchy trio of star newcomer Andy Fantuz, hometown favourite Dave Stala and former first-rounder Samuel Giguere who, collectively, could put a serious dent in defensive statistics throughout the rest of the league.

However, if the three receivers are content with sharing the ball this season, that may be a football first, so Cortez will no doubt have his hands full when it comes to keeping everyone satisfied.

“Competition brings out the best in guys,” the experienced coach who most recently worked as the quarterbacks coach with the Buffalo Bills assured. “There’s no such thing as negative competitiveness.”

Considering there are five men hoping to get the ball to those receivers, there’s certainly no shortage of competition between what is an absolute parade of pivots in the Hammer right now.

Veteran Henry Burris, moving over from Calgary to become Hamilton’s bona fide starter, is backed up by Quinton Porter. Three others — Tate Forcier, Sedrick Harris and Nick Fanuzzi — are vying for the No. 3 spot.

But if Cortez has any issue with an overload at centre, he’s saying the exact opposite. Unprompted on Wednesday, the coach clarified his club’s intentions for the position, saying it makes sense to have a third man in the loop and ready for game action as early as possible.

“The role of the third in the whole thing is not to play. (It’s) to absorb stuff, so that when he has the opportunity to play — when I say play, I’m talking about a real game, not pre-season — he can actually go out and play,” he said. “Depending on how it all works, that second guy may never play for you.

“We have a plan in place at how we want to do it. It’s been proven it works pretty well.”

Following a busy offseason of acquisitions — Hamilton also lured dangerous running back Martell Mallett, the league’s top rookie in 2009 — the Ticats have put themselves into the conversation among the early favourites to contend for the Grey Cup.

After reaching the East final last season, anything less may be considered a step back.

“Somebody said to me, ‘Oh, you must be under a lot of pressure,’ ” Cortez said succinctly. “No, pressure’s when you don’t have good players.”

It’ll begin to shake out soon enough.

“The real football stage starts here in a couple of days,” he said. “Guys always react differently to competition, so you never know. Especially the young guys.

“We’ll see.”

TICATS NOTES

MARIUZ RETIRES — AGAIN

Veteran Ticats linebacker Ray Mariuz has retired, the team announced on Wednesday. It’s the second such announcement for Mariuz, who had retired last May before rejoining the team in October, suiting up in six games. In 146 games over nine seasons, Mariuz made 167 defensive tackles and 162 special teams tackles.

CANADIANS ADDED

Hamilton has signed six Canadian players, including a pair of hometown boys. Defensive back Matt Bucknor and offensive lineman Jason Medeiros hail from the Hammer, while receiver and two-time Hec Crighton nominee Simon Charbonneau-Campeau and tackle Garlins Duclervil played in Montreal. Offensive lineman Seamus Postuma and receiver Jordan Brescacin played in Windsor.

JUNIORS GET CALL

Four junior-aged players from Ontario received invites to this week’s training camp, including Beau Lumley, Derek Hurlock, Jay Diston and Will Finch.

CORTEZ NOT INTO COTS

Asked if he planned to stay with the players in one of Mac’s dorm buildings during training camp, coach George Cortez was quick to respond: “I’m staying at my house. At least the last 12 training camps I’ve gone to in the CFL, I’ve stayed at home. I’m kinda used to staying at home.”


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