Ticats coach impressed by some newcomers

Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach and general manager Kent Austin has been pleased by his players' progress...

Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach and general manager Kent Austin has been pleased by his players' progress at camp. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:33 PM ET

When Kent Austin was hired as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ general manager and head coach last December, he had a good idea that the learning curve would be a steep one for his club, especially on offence.

But as training camp came to an end Tuesday — the Ticats will have a walk-through on Wednesday for their final pre-season tune-up a day later, with final cuts coming this weekend — Austin was, more or less, pleased with his players’ ability to catch on.

“Our offence is not easy if you are a receiver,” Austin said with a hint of a smile. “It’s probably the worst position to be in — you have a lot to learn. There are a lot of adjustments in our patterns, and they have to have great time and space ability. When you don’t come from that kind of a background, it is very new. It’s like Chinese at first.”

Austin will have a clearer idea of whether that’s entirely true after the Ticats play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday at the University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium.

While incumbents such as Andy Fantuz and Sam Giguere are secure in their jobs, Austin has been impressed by at least two newcomers.

Wide receiver Justin Hilton and slotback Greg Ellingson, both imports, will get every opportunity against the Bombers to not only stick but earn a starting role.

If it happens for either, the result will have been one earned through determination and lots of homework. Football players, none more than rookies trying to learn the nuances of the Canadian Football League game, spend the majority of their spare time during camp with their noses stuck in their playbook.

“It’s like being in school again,” Ellingson said. “It’s like your math book or your science book, you go back and you have a certain section you have to go through, try to memorize everything you can. Make sure you know the coverages and how to change your routes and options for it, and then you come out in practice and that’s your test.”

Ellingson, who caught two passes for 45 yards against Montreal last week, had a bit of a head start in preparation for camp.

The 25-year-old was a teammate of former Alouettes quarterback Adrian McPherson with Tampa Bay of the Arena Football League this year, and picked the brain of McPherson on all things CFL. At the same time, Ellingson was being watched by Danny McManus, the Ticats’ director of U.S. scouting.

“I love football, so I kind of knew what the CFL was all about,” Ellingson said. “(McManus) explained things to me — how you can move on the line, don’t have to stay stationary, there were some things I was not aware of. I talked to (McPherson) about the CFL and taking the next steps to getting here. They both gave me some good advice.”

Of course, the 6-foot-3, 197-pound Ellingson has some natural talent.

“He is sneaky fast,” Austin said. “Really smart. He picked up the offence really quickly, can play more than one position. He has done very well.”

Austin wants to see more consistency out of Hilton. But Hilton, cut by the Cincinnati Bengals last August, is excited at the prospect of being part of the Ticats next week.

“The concept and philosophy of this offence is explosive and really fun to play in,” Hilton said.

“I’ve probably studied more football-wise here than I ever have. It’s the offence. It has made me understand defences and how they are disguised, what they are going to come out with, why they are disguising it in the first place and what the quarterback is seeing and why.”

Austin wants his receivers to demonstrate how all the homework has paid off.

“We’ll see how they play come game time,” Austin said. “I think they have done a good job of gaining an understanding in a collapsed period of time.”

AUSTIN FEELS FOR INJURED ESKIMO

How Kent Austin’s rotation at quarterback settles into place on Thursday night, he can’t say for sure.

But the Hamilton Tiger-Cats general manager/head coach (right) knows who will get the football rolling hen the Ticats play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the University of Guelph in their second and last pre-season game.

“We’re still working through it a little bit, but we’re going to start Henry (Burris),” Austin said on Tuesday.

“It just depends how that goes and how much time we give him that will affect the rest of the rotation.”

Burris, the Canadian Football League leader in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes in 2012, didn’t play in Hamilton’s first pre-season game, a victory last week in Montreal. Brian Brohm, who suffered an injury against the Alouettes, probably will not face the Bombers, Austin said.

A former quarterback, Austin said he has sympathy for Edmonton Eskimos pivot Matt Nichols, who is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a pre-season game versus Saskatchewan.

“It’s an awful thing to happen .... first and foremost, it’s about the player,” Austin said. “We wish him a great recovery. It’s part of the game. We are in a profession where anything can happen at any time.

“Hopefully, you have built enough depth on your team and each position with quality players that you can weather injuries like that.”


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