Tiger-Cats have plenty to build on

A Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver gets hit so hard the ball goes flying out during Thursday night's...

A Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver gets hit so hard the ball goes flying out during Thursday night's game against the Bombers. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:21 AM ET

HAMILTON - No Canadian Football League head coach worth his salt would dream of putting his feet up on the first official weekend of summer.

So it was that Kent Austin, who will resume his CFL coaching career in earnest when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts in the season opener next Friday, hunkered down with his staff in the Ticats’ downtown offices on Friday and tried to decide who would and who wouldn’t survive the final cuts.

Rosters are due to the CFL by 10 p.m. on Saturday.

“It has been hard,” Austin, also the general manager, said. “We evaluated the film (from the 52-0 win against Winnipeg on Thursday) early (Friday) morning and then we met as a staff with our personnel guys for probably three hours. Got some answers. We have to make some tough decisions.

“There are (hangups). We are still working through some issues, some of them are related to health.”

Collectively, Austin is evaluating a group that won both of its pre-season games, scoring 85 points and allowing 26. With those numbers, there’s not a large discrepancy on either side of the football in overall performance.

On offence, there’s familiarity with the personnel. Quarterback Henry Burris is the leader, with receivers Andy Fantuz, Sam Giguere and Onrea Jones supplying experience.

A line that includes Marwan Hage, Peter Dyakowski and Brian Simmons — is enough protection to aim for the crazy numbers Burris put up last season.

Rookie slotback Greg Ellingson made a positive impression, as did fullback Jon Delahunt. Chevon Walker likely is bound to be the starting running back, but Austin likes C.J. Gable’s blocking ability.

Lindsey Lamar returned punts for touchdowns in both pre-season games. That does little for the case of Chris Williams, who was the CFL’s punt return yards leader a year ago, as he sits at home and refuses to honour his contract.

The biggest changes for the Ticats have come on defence, not coincidentally after the team allowed a CFL-high 576 points in 2012. And it’s on defence where Austin might have the toughest decisions.

Rookie defensive back Raymond Brown had three interceptions against Winnipeg. Safety Erik Harris, another freshman, had an interception and recovered a fumble. In all, the Ticats forced nine turnovers.

The teachings of defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, who made interceptions his bread and butter when he played, have taken hold.

“We’re certainly flying around,” Austin said. “We are showing a propensity to be ballhawks out there. I think we’re tackling better, we’re running to the football, we’re faster, we are more athletic, more aggressive.

“But we have a lot of room for improvement in every area. It’s a start right now.”

That was Austin’s mantra in general on Friday — that the start really is in the infancy stage.

“Guys were well-prepared,” Austin said of his impression after watching the Winnipeg game film. “For the most part, I thought we executed pretty well. We still have a long way to go, still need to eliminate some silly penalties, but the guys are really playing hard and being real pros about their preparation.”

Once Austin gathers his players, those who did well enough to survive final cuts, for their next practice on Sunday, it’s not hard to imagine what he will say to the group.

“It’s about winning — I don’t really care about offensive or defensive stats,” Austin said. “Every game takes on its own complexion and writes its own story, if you will. You have to bring the context. You can’t just take out a stat and say this means we performed or this means we didn’t perform. It’s too simplistic an approach.

“We take an approach to be well-prepared, to control our emotions and to be unselfish in the role you are given. Those are characteristics we want each of our football players to live every day.

“If we want to be great and win the championship, it’s what we have to do.”

NOW COMES REAL TEST

Justin Goltz is no Ricky Ray.

And the Winnipeg Blue Bombers certainly are not the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.

So as Hamilton Tiger-Cats general manager/head coach Kent Austin hemmed and hawed over his final roster on Friday, he already was forgetting about the 52-0 pre-season pasting the Ticats put on the Bombers on Thursday and was starting to prepare for the regular-season opener in Toronto on June 28.

“We will look at a ton of film from last year, as well as the pre-season, but mostly from last year, as it relates to the (Argos’) current personnel,” Austin said on Friday afternoon.

“They will have some changes and we will have to do some due diligence on that as well. It’s a holistic approach to preparation. It is not just the pre-season, it is the past as well.”

Undoubtedly, Austin will lean on defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, who was the Argos’ defensive backs coach last year.

The Bombers brought few potential starters for the game at the University of Guelph. In facing Ray, Chad Owens and the rest of the Argos, the Ticats will get a stiff challenge they didn’t experience in either of their two


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