Tiger-Cats season preview: C.J. Gable has big expectations
2nd-year CFLer posted 782 rushing yards, 598 receiving yards in 2013
C.J. Gable wants his second season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to be one for the Canadian Football League record book.
The former USC running back's goal this year is to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, something that's never been accomplished in the CFL. Robert Drummond came close in 1997 with the Toronto Argonauts, running for 1,134 yards and registering 85 catches for 840 yards despite missing three games.
But the six-foot-one, 208-pound Gable feels the Canadian game ideally suits his skillset.
"I think it allows me to show my abilities catching, running and blocking," Gable said. "I think it shows everything I can do.
"Last year helped me a lot. Now I know what to expect and can go full speed."
The 26-year-old Californian showed his versatility last season with Hamilton. The first freshman to start an opener at USC — he did so against Arkansas in '06 — ran for 782 yards on 130 carries (six-yard average) and seven TDs while recording 54 catches for 598 yards and five touchdowns.
Gable was second to Calgary Stampeders centre Brett Jones for the CFL's top rookie award.
Hamilton posted a 10-8 record in head coach/GM Kent Austin's first season to finish second in the East Division. The Ticats dispatched Montreal and Toronto in the playoffs to make their first Grey Cup appearance since beating Calgary 32-21 in '99, but lost 45-23 to the hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium.
Gable admits that loss made for a long off-season. But neither he nor the Ticats will have to wait long for a shot at redemption as Hamilton opens its season Sunday night in Regina.
"I'm really looking forward to this game," Gable said. "It [losing Grey Cup] was hard but I think it's motivation.
"I think we're all motivated to get there again this year and feel like it's unfinished business."
But Hamilton will feature plenty of new faces on its roster this year.
Third-year pro Zach Collaros replaces veteran Henry Burris at quarterback, signing with Hamilton this off-season after being let go by the Toronto Argonauts. That allowed Hamilton to release Burris, 39, who joined the expansion Ottawa Redblacks.
Collaros, 23, was 190-of-287 passing (66.2 per cent completion average) for 2,316 yards with 15 TDs and six interceptions last year. Burris had a league-high 4,925 passing yards with 24 TDs but also threw 19 interceptions.
However, Hamilton surrendered nine sacks in its final exhibition game, a 41-23 loss last week to Toronto.
"We're sensitive to that issue," said Austin. "You sack our quarterback, we don't have much of a chance to win, as any team.
"We know we have to protect our quarterback and we will."
The Ticats also dealt linebacker/defensive end Shomari Williams and punter Josh Bartel to Saskatchewan and sent defensive back Dee Webb to Calgary, released kicker LucaCongi and linebacker Brandon Isaac and lost centre MarwanHage and running back Chevon Walker in the Ottawa expansion draft.
They dipped into free agency to sign defensive back Craig Butler and linebacker Abraham Kromah (both from Saskatchewan), receiver Cary Koch (Edmonton), offensive lineman Steve Myddelton ( B.C.), defensive lineman Ted Laurent (Edmonton), defensive back Brandon Stewart (Winnipeg) and punter-kicker Justin Medlock.
Medlock returns after making 49 of 55 field goals (89.1 per cent) and posting a 41.6-yard punting average with Hamilton in 2011.
Medlock played 10 games with the NFL's Carolina Panthers in '12 and went to the Oakland Raiders' training camp last year before being released.
Also back is stalwart linebacker Simoni Lawrence. The six-foot-one, 235-pound Lawrence signed with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings as a free agent Feb. 10 but was released just over three months later.
"It was fun," Lawrence said. "I got paid to work out, basically.
"It was an awesome experience but I'm happy to be somewhere that just feels like home to me. I'm so comfortable here with everybody and the system."
Gable said Lawrence's return is big for the Ticats.
"He's the heart of our defence," Gable said. "It's really good to have him back this season."
Like Gable, the Grey Cup loss to Saskatchewan doesn't sit well with Lawrence and he welcomes the opportunity for a rematch with the Riders.
"Speaking for myself, I still have a very sour taste in my mouth from that game," he said. "They were, flat out, just better than us and we don't want that to happen again.
"It's a long off-season knowing you lost to a team that was just better than you."
Lawrence said while he feels Hamilton is much improved over 2013, the Ticats must still work hard to be successful.
"We've got to understand we've got to get better every week because around the league everybody gets better every week and competition ramps up," he said. "Anything less than our best and we won't win games."
Lawrence expects Hamilton's defence to be quick and physical.
"It's a fast defence," he said. "We're just going to fly around the ball and try to create turnovers and get our offence the ball back as quick as possible."