The Ticats held a three-day mini-camp this week and here are five things we learned:
1. The team needs an offensive coordinator. Soon.
Without former OC Tommy Condell, who resigned in early April, Kent Austin seemed run off his feet this week. He was scripting the offensive plays, coaching the quarterbacks, overseeing things as head coach, then evaluating players as the vice president of football operations. That’s a lot.
That said, finding the right fit could be tough. Austin made it crystal clear this week that any new offensive assistant he brings in will be running the existing offence he designed, not a new scheme of their own choosing. But it seems clear that Austin needs to find someone who can help him with a workload that will only intensify as the season draws near.
How that void will be filled is now a big question as the team heads towards training camp in less than a month. The players are concerned about it, too…
2. Having CFL experience really helps at mini-camp
Of the 67 players in town this week, 22 had at least some CFL experience – even if it was just practice roster time – and they had a distinct advantage over those that didn’t. The adjustment to the wide field, the yard off the ball, the waggle… new players talk about it all the time but it’s even more evident when the ratio of newbies to veterans is turned on its head as dramatically as it is at a rookie-laden mini-camp.
Defensive back Geoff Tisdale, who has nine years of CFL-time, looked solid as did receiver Junior Collins (five starts last year) in large part because they had a basic understanding of the concepts and what was going to happen on any given play. Rookie quarterback Jake Waters, meanwhile, had to think then throw on every play – a tough way to play a game that requires instinctively quick decision-making.
3. Speaking of quarterbacks…
While Zach Collaros’ health and the battle between Jeremiah Masoli and Jeff Mathews will undoubtedly define training camp, the addition of Waters makes things interesting at the other end of the depth chart as well. While the team could easily carry five quarterbacks for as long as Collaros is recovering, once he’s ready they may very well decide to go down to the usual three or four they’ve carried the last few seasons.
It will be interesting to see how Waters develops, along with the performance of third-year man Jacory Harris, who was largely ineffective in limited game opportunities last season.
4. The tale of two tackles
A pair of players who stood out this week were offensive tackles Terrence Campbell and Sean Donnelly. Campbell, who played with current Ticat defensive end Eric Norwood at South Carolina, showed both quickness and toughness, mixing it up with defenders on a couple of occasions. Word is he put in extra time watching film as well. Donnelly is a massive 6-foot-7, 333 pounds and used his size and strength effectively all week.
The Ticats have four tackles returning from last season: Brian Simmons, Jeremy Lewis, Jake Olson and Cord Howard. But Olson is still recovering from a torn patella and I would expect a fierce training camp battle for what’s likely to be two starting spots and a reserve role.
5. The numbers game…and what comes next.
The Ticats currently have 84 players on the roster and there were another 31 non-roster invitees to mini-camp. From those 115 players, the team must be down to 75 plus two “non-counters” (Canadian players who have yet to appear in a CFL game) by Sunday.
And the team will inevitably continue their talent search: neg list players and others hoping for a shot south of the border will be reevaluating their options after this week’s NFL draft and ensuing rash of free agent signings. The deck will get shuffled a couple of more times before training camp.
From there, the team will be pared down to a 46-man active roster, along with 10 practice roster spots. That doesn’t include the dozen or so injuries that will inevitably take place during camp.
But it means a fair number of the players that were at mini-camp won’t be back for main training camp at the end of May and even fewer will ever see the field during a regular season game – and that illustrates just how difficult it is to eke out a career in professional football.