HAMILTON — It’s hard not to cheer for Tiger-Cats running back D’Andra Cobb, even though last year’s improbable hero is today’s looming question mark.
Cobb, who was working as a high school security guard in Lancaster, Calif., after being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars in August 2006, resurfaced three years later in Hamilton, of all places, with few if any expectations of him entering training camp.
And then he wowed them, this 5-foot-10, less than 200-pound running back, with no pedigree to speak of. Though the rookie started the season on the reserve team, he finished as one of the CFL’s most feared rushers, racking up 1,217 yards and five touchdowns on 216 carries.
Toss in another 335 yards and two TDs receiving and Cobb was a major reason the perennial dogs of the CFL East vaulted into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
But that was then and as recently as last Friday night, former CFL all-star turned TSN colourman Glen Suitor speculated that if Cobb continued to struggle the Ticats might soon be looking for a replacement.
Given that the remark was made late in the first half of the Ticats’ seventh game — an eventual 39-28 victory over the Bombers in Winnipeg — it’s unlikely Cobb heard it.
Just the same, he was arguably the finest Ticat on the field in the second half, a 30-minute performance coach Marcel Bellefeuille agreed was fun to watch, and, we’re guessing, a major relief.
Cobb, who finished the game with 86 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns blames himself, mostly, for his slow start.
His coach believes he was “thinking too much.” As a rookie, he had to rely on his strength, agility, speed and instinct since everything — from the field to the rules to the players — was all new to him.
“I know everything that’s going on now,” Cobb said Tuesday as the Cats prepared to face the surprising 5-2 Argonauts on Friday night at the Rogers Centre. “I probably was thinking too much. It’s one of those things where you have to shut it off. Just knuckle down, and go out and have fun.
“I’m kind of disappointed in myself,” he continued. “ No one had more expectations than I had for myself. But everything’s not going to pan out the way you want it to. You just have to stay with it, grind it out.”
Alexandre Gauthier, at 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds, the monster of the Ticats O-line, isn’t about to cry over spilled milk. Sure Cobb’s numbers are down, and, no, Hamilton didn’t get off to the swift start everyone hoped for, but they’re still 3-4 with 11 games to go.
“Every year you get a few teams that are struggling with their running game — and then, at a certain point in the season, things start working,” Gauthier said. “Is it because the offensive line is playing better? Or is it because the running back is reading better?
“Running is something that when you have good momentum and you are confident in what you are doing, you’re successful. You just have to make sure you don’t give up, that every week you keep trying and trying.”
Meanwhile, Bellefeuille admits the coaching staff neglected the running game from the get-go, though not now.
“We focused on our passing game in training camp because that was an area we wanted to get better at,” he explained. “We’ve (also) played some games where it’s been nip and tuck and every down counted — so we’ve thrown the ball more.
“We’re now shifting a little more towards the run and it betters our offence. (Cobb’s) game has definitely improved. He’s breaking tackles, seeing the field. He’s not thinking as much about where he wants to go. He’s getting back to playing like he did (last year).”