HAMILTON - In the football world, George Cortez knows it’s best not to use a term that gets thrown around the sport as often as the pigskin gets heaved down the field.
“I don’t like the word chemistry,’’ began the Ticats head coach.
The conversation involved offence, an area dear to Cortez’s heart, a facet of three-down football that is once again in vogue with games producing more big plays.
As the Als pay a visit to the Hammer, the topic naturally turns to Anthony Calvillo and Montreal’s offence, which has established itself as one of the most consistent and productive units in the recent history of the CFL.
Cortez, whose background and expertise is on the offensive side of the ball, is well aware of the subtle and not-so subtle qualities that allow Montreal’s offence to function at a high level and Calvillo’s role in the equation.
“He understands what they’re trying to accomplish,’’ added Cortez. “When you know what you’re trying to accomplish in the passing game, it gives you a leg up because you’re not caught many times thinking where you’re going to go with the ball.”
When he looks at his team’s offence, Cortez sees an emerging unit that has shown flashes of turning the corner.
In Henry Burris, the Ticats have a quarterback who will make plays with his feet, the most obvious example being provided in last week’s win over the visiting Argos when Smilin’ Hank used his legs to keep the chains moving in what would turn out to be the game-sealing score.
“(Burris) has a good understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish,’’ continued Cortez. “He’s doing a good job of leading the guys.
“Part of it, and it’s what I said about A.C., is that (Burris) knows ... how we’ve coached things in the past and where we expect guys to be.”
Burris and his receivers remain a work in progress, a group getting accustomed to a new signal caller and system, a quarterback who is slowly understanding the nuances of his pass catchers.
“They (quarterbacks) understand by looking at a guy running what they’re going to do next,’’ said Cortez. “They can just tell by how their (receiver’s) body leans, what their body posture is. If that’s chemistry, the longer they play together, the better it gets.”
Given their history, the Als’ passing game is much more refined when compared to Hamilton’s passing offence.
But as the East gets poised for a three-way tie atop the division, a scenario that will play itself out if Hamilton is able to beat the Als at Ivor Wynne Stadium on Saturday night, the passing game will go a long way in determining the eventual winner.
In Toronto, the Argos are pretty much in the same boat as the Ticats, teams with legitimacy at the quarterback position with receivers capable of producing big plays.
For now, the edge must go to the Als, based strictly on their familiarity.
Obviously, how well defences play, how well they limit gains and how returns are manufactured will have an impact, but this CFL season is shaping up as a wide-open, high-scoring showcase where passing offences figure to dominate.
As far as Cortez is concerned, the best example he’s ever seen when discussing familiarity in a passing offence was provided during his stop in Calgary, where he served as the team’s offensive co-ordinator.
“The best example was Doug Flutie,’’ said Cortez. “We won the Grey Cup in 1992 and he said how easy it was in ’93 because he had played with the receivers for a year. You understand when a guy takes a certain release and starts tilting his body in a certain way, what he’s going to do next.”
It’s unlikely the Ticats and Als will combine to score 96 points, the amount produced when these teams last met, an epic East semifinal Hamilton won when Calvillo’s third-down attempt in overtime was dropped in the flat by tailback Brandon Whitaker.
But there’s always the possibility of fireworks and big plays.
For a Week 4 matchup, Hamilton versus Montreal is as appealing as any.
HANGING TIGHT IN THE EAST
The East is shaping up as a three-horse race, a field so tight that the margin of error is thinner than Marwan Hage’s hair.
While there’s still time for Winnipeg, which emerged last year as the East’s representative in the Grey Cup, to get its house in order, a win Saturday night by Hamilton will turn the division into a three-way tie for first.
Technically, the Ticats would be first based on their wins over the Argos and against Montreal if a victory gets posted in the Hammer.
“You’ve got to give credit to Montreal,’’ said Hage, Hamilton’s sage centre who has battled back from off-season knee surgery. “They’ve been on top for a long time.
“People have been chasing them for some time ... it’s good for the league all over. But you never take anything away from any team.”
Barring a setback, defensive end Greg Peach, a key off-season acquisition via free agency, makes his long-awaited debut.
“He’s beyond bored to tears,’’ said Ticats head coach George Cortez of Peach. “He’s very excited about playing.”
Peach was expected to fill the sack void left by Justin Hickman, but the one-time Eskimo suffered an upper-body injury during camp and has yet to suit up.
The Ticats have recorded two quarterback sacks, including one from their defensive line, Brandon Boudreaux.