Ticats defence ready to step it up

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:21 AM ET

HAMILTON - Rey Williams doesn’t care if he lights a fire under the opposition.

Right now he’s too busy trying to light the fire under his own team.

And by that we don’t mean trying to burn down his team but set the spark so they play to their potential.

A little over a week ago Hamilton’s middle linebacker pulled the entire Ticats defence aside and told them in no uncertain terms that the days of worrying about hurt feelings and walking on eggshells when it came time to criticism were over.

The linebacker demanded accountability and thick skins from the entire unit. Screw up and you were going to hear about it, feelings be damned.

And his message got through.

“When guys messed up last week, other guys jumped on them,” Williams said of a tough loss in Montreal. “It wasn’t coming from me. It was other guys and (those hearing it) they didn’t get salty about it. They took it and they knew they messed up.”

So consider the accountability problem at least temporarily, if not permanently, solved. The next step, and this has been the tough part for this defence, is putting together four solid quarters.

For a half and parts of the third quarter last week this Ticats defence had Anthony Calvillo flummoxed and that’s a rarity. But as Williams will tell you, half a game, three quarters of a game or even 31/2 quarters isn’t enough. It has to be four full quarters.

Head coach George Cortez, who throws around compliments like he might man-hole covers following a loss did allow that his defence has played two halves in the past two games which, if put together, would be in his words “as good a game as you could possibly play.”

But a couple of big second-half plays in each of those games — the 32-25 loss to Winnipeg followed by the 31-29 loss to Montreal — by the opposing offence were enough to make all that earlier solid work go for naught.

“For whatever reasons we haven’t finished the deal and that’s one of the things we’ve been talking about and hopefully we will do that Monday,” Cortez said.

Williams, as the leader of that Hamilton defence, took those missed opportunities as hard as anyone, but he can’t deny the Ticats defence hasn’t made progress. At the same time he knows he and everyone else has to do a little more.

“There is a definite sense of urgency and I’ve told everyone this is a gut-check game for us,” Williams said. “In Montreal we played a good game but we have to play a game and win a game. You know. And we have to be able to win a game on defence. We haven’t been able to do that once this year in my opinion. We can’t wait for the offence to bail us out. We have to bail them out and not give up any points.”

Facing a Toronto team that leans heavily on its own defence, the timing for a game like that — a game where the Hamilton offence doesn’t need to score 30 points in order to win — is just about perfect.

“We don’t think there’s anything wrong particularly,” Williams said of the Hamilton defence. “We know the scheme. We have practised hard and we’re confident. They aren’t going to throw anything at us that we haven’t seen. We just have to execute.”

And the best way to ensure smooth execution against Toronto is to put pressure on quarterback Ricky Ray.

In Williams’ opinion, Ray is throwing the football as nice as he ever has. He’s just not getting the time he used to get when he was chucking for the Edmonton Eskimos.

“I just think teams are doing a nice job of getting to him,” Williams said. “If you can get to him, it makes it harder. If you get some pressure on him and don’t give him time, he will struggle. If you can make him uncomfortable in that pocket and get him moving then he’s a different quarterback.”

If that comes across as a thinly-veiled critique of Toronto’s offensive line, Williams offers this bit of insight as well.

“At times they are good and at times they are not so good,” he said diplomatically of the men paid to keep Ray upright. “They play hard, man. One thing about Toronto and it’s why I love playing them, is they are a physical team.”

It’s at this point that Williams starts to smile again. The conversation about the Hamilton defensive shortcomings isn’t a pleasant one for him but now it’s forgotten and it’s like someone has doused a quarterback in BBQ sauce and Williams is getting his first sniff of would-be slaughter.

“I plan to get after it,” he says. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them. There might be some ejections. There’s definitely going to be some penalties but they’re dirty and we have to be dirty right back. They might not be the best (offensive line) but they do get after you and you have to respect that about them.”

Really, could a Labour Day clash ask for a better sale than that.


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