Tiger-Cats look to break streak of mediocrity
Kevin Glenn and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been a model of consistency the past two seasons.
The team posted a 9-9 record both years and reached the CFL playoffs after missing out the four seasons prior to that. However, each regular season of promise and potential has ended abruptly in the East Division semifinals.
More of the same would not only be deemed a huge disappointment for the organization, but it would also put amiable head coach Marcel Bellefeuille on the hotseat.
"The goal isn't just winning in the playoffs," said quarterback Kevin Glenn. "It's getting to the Grey Cup and winning it.
"That's why you step on to the field, to do what you can to get into the playoffs, then win once you get there."
Bellefeuille says the Ticats aren't dwelling on the past.
"It's more important for this team to know that this is a different team," he said. "One team finishes first, last year it was Montreal, and everyone else was last and that's more of our mindset.
"We're trying to be the best team and we're going to focus on this year and not what other teams did."
Hamilton's biggest off-season acquisition was aimed at challenging the Montreal Alouettes' two-year reign as Grey Cup champions. The Ticats dipped into free agency to sign tailback Avon Cobourne, the former Als player who was the MVP of the club's 2009 Grey Cup victory.
Cobourne's arrival made sophomore running back DeAndra' Cobb expendable and he ended up signing with Montreal, as did veteran kicker Sandro DeAngelis shortly after the Ticats sent him packing this off-season.
But it was Montreal GM Jim Popp's condemnation of the Cobourne signing and taking a shot at both Bellefeuille and Ticats president Scott Mitchell that has helped fuelled a budding rivalry between the two teams despite Popp's subsequent apology.
The two teams certainly will see a lot of each other as they're scheduled to meet four times this season — July 29 and Sept. 5 at Ivor Wynne Stadium as well as Sept. 11 and Oct. 16 at Montreal.
Both Bellefeuille and Glenn say Cobourne has made a huge impact in his brief time in Hamilton.
"First, there's his ability as a player but there's also his leadership," Bellefeuille said. "He demands things from the players, it's not always the coaches having to demand a certain level of practise or focus.
"That's important the players take that on, it has so much more power."
"Avon is outspoken and at any given time is going to say what's on his mind and that will help," Glenn said. "Some guys might be thinking it but won't say it because that's not their makeup but he will.
"It's tough sometimes as a quarterback to be in that mindset because you have so many other things to think about. I do do it but it's great to have someone beside you who is saying the exact same thing."
Cobb was a productive player in Hamilton, twice rushing for more than 1,000 yards and adding 60 receptions as a rookie in 2009. But the former Michigan State Spartan led more by example and was a quiet person in the locker-room.
In Cobourne, the Ticats have a productive, two-way veteran player who is effective running the ball and catching it. Yet Cobourne is also a very vocal and intense competitor who not only knows what it takes to win but also how to be a team leader, on and off the field.
But Hamilton's undisputed offensive leader will again be Glenn. The five-foot-10, 205-pound Detroit native is entering his third season as Hamilton's starter and 11th in the CFL.
Glenn has thrown for over 8,100 yards the past two seasons and registered more than twice as many TD strikes (51) than interceptions (24). Last year, he finished second overall in CFL passing with 5,102 yards -- only Saskatchewan's Darian Durant had more with 5,542 yards — and his 33 touchdowns strikes was second only to Calgary's Henry Burris (38).
Once again, Glenn's favourite target is expected to be veteran slotback Arland Bruce III. The dynamic Bruce had 86 catches for a career-high 1,303 yards last season with eight TDs. Canadian Dave Stala (career-high 85 catches for 1,015 yards, six TDs) offers a nice compliment to the speedy Bruce.
Calling the shots offensively will be Khari Jones, who begins his first season as Hamilton's offensive coordinator. But Jones, a former CFL MVP, is very familiar with Glenn as he served previously as the Ticats' quarterbacks coach.
When Hamilton released linebacker Otis Floyd in the off-season, the club not only let go a productive linebacker but also its defensive leader. That's a role rush end Stevie Baggs, entering his first full season with the Ticats, is anxious to assume.
"Being here from the start this year, the coaches and players understand what my work ethic is and how I am as a leader on the team," Baggs said. "As the season goes on, you have to depend on certain men to do certain things and if people know who you are on and off the field, I think that's one of the biggest things we need to have."
Hamilton's defence will also be run by a first-year co-ordinator as Corey Chamblin comes over after three years as the Calgary Stampeders defensive backs coach. He replaces Greg Marshall, who left to become the Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach.
Bellefeuille wants the Ticats to be more aggressive defensively this season. In Calgary under defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, the Stampeders successfully employed a press man system, something Chamblin is expected to use in Hamilton.
Stellar linebackers Markeith Knowlton and Jamall Johnson are expected to anchor Hamilton's defence. Knowlton was the CFL's top defensive player last season after registering 71 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, a league-high six fumble recoveries and two blocked punts.
Johnson finished second in the CFL in tackles with 101 and also had five sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Renaud Williams, a CFL veteran signed in the off-season, is expected to take Floyd's spot in the lineup.
Hamilton kicks off the 2011 season against Winnipeg on Friday and Bellefeuille, for one, can't wait.
"I'm excited for the season to start, more because we're building and developing," he said. "You go through the process of training camp and want to see how the players do and make out in the season.
"And it's here now."