June 15, 2024

Preview: Ticats Ready For Challenge of Home Opener

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so as starting safety Stavros Katsantonis put it today,  the Tiger-Cats need to “go out there and set a tone” in tomorrow night’s home opener.

The Ticats are coming off a one-score loss in Calgary in last weekend’s season opener and they’ll be looking to set themselves on the right path to a better record than the 3-6 they had last season at Tim Hortons Field–Labour Day marks the  10th anniversary as its home of the Ticats–where, when they’re at the best, they’re physically and psychologically dominant.

“I think with the first home game in front of the fans after a year and the excitement of the ‘99 team, I think the guys are fired up and ready to go,” head coach Scott Milanovich said today as his team wrapped up the practice week with the usual day-before walkthrough practice.

The celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Ticats’ 1999 Grey Cup team one of the many attractions at the home opener, including the debut of the New Stipley Experience in the south end which features live music, food, beverages and plenty of entertainment.

On the field, the Ticats’ offence will be going against a strong Rider defence and want to get off to a better start than last week in Calgary, when they had a sluggish first half but found a groove in the second. 

“I think offensively we just need to raise our level of expectations, understand what we have the ability to be and not to wait to come out of the gates until you’re behind, then start to put your foot on the gas,” Milanovich said. “It’s mindset. That’s something, again, that has to be developed over a bit of time and having success. I think we have the guys on offence who can do those things.”

A couple of them are receivers who’ll make their season’s debut tomorrow night: Hamilton native Tyler Ternowski, who’s coming off the practice roster to replace Brendan O’Leary-Orange, who played well in Calgary but has been put on the six-game injury list; and 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver Dezmon Patmon also coming off the practice roster. Patmon was in the NFL with Indianapolis for two seasons when Milanovich coached there. He was very noticeable in the second preseason game against Toronto in Guelph and would like to get involved in some physical play as early as he can in his first regular-season game in a new league, in a new country

“Every receiver deep down, even if they don’t want to admit it, they want to touch the ball,” he says. “ But you can’t look at it that way, football is the ultimate team sport…I’m going to go out there and do my job: sometimes you have to get another guy open, and vice-versa. I’m going to do my job and hopefully, the ball comes my way.”

The other significant change in the depth chart is one that was anticipated all week after boundary-side cornerback Jamal Peters practiced with the A unit. But it wasn’t confirmed that he would be in the lineup, and start, until this morning. The high-profile free agent, who starred with the Argos last year, had been injured since early in training camp but had already made an impression on his new teammates. His ability to exert “sticky” (tight) coverage on top receivers on the short side of the field should help against a quarterback like the Riders’ Trevor Harris, who likes to release the ball quickly. Harris found premier receiver Shawn Bane Jr. for three touchdowns last week, two of them as they outscored Edmonton 21-3 in the fourth quarter of the comeback win.

On the other side of the ball, Bo Levi Mitchell knows that he’ll be up against a creative, physical, defence, run by new Saskatchewan head coach Corey Mace, who was the defensive coordinator in Toronto until he got the prairie job this off-season. When he was setting records in Calgary, Mitchell played with both Mace and Rider defensive backs coach Joshua Bell.

“I’ve been teammates with Mace and Bell, so they kind of know me through and through. And vice versa,” Mitchell says. “I think they played me a little different than they played some people last year. They’re smart guys. They understand the game, they understand what you’re going to try to do as a quarterback; they’re going to try to take away your primary throws; they’re going to try to take away the throws you love to make and force you to make the ones you may be a little bit more uncomfortable with.

“It’s about getting through your reads, it’s about trusting your eyes, trusting your process, taking what they give you and trying to put together drives. You want to put together those 10- to 12-play drives. If you can find a way to do that, you’ll be successful.”

Having a couple of dozen members of the 1999 team as inspiration can’t hurt the effort to re-establish home-field advantage Katsantonis says:

“Definitely. They’re the last ones to hoist the trophy in this town so there’s a lot of respect for the guys that played on that team. Obviously, Coach O (Orlondo Steinauer, current Ticats President of Football Operations) was on that team and having them around will definitely add more to play for.  To make sure we’re impressing them and that the foundation they’ve built in ’99 is still established.”

It’s also Father’s Day and football is loaded with coaches whose fathers were coaches and players whose fathers were players.

For instance, Steve Tasker, father of Ticat legend and current Ticats Audio Network analyst  Luke Tasker was one of the greatest special teams players in NFL history;  Brendan O’-Leary-Orange, who is now injured, is the son of Doyle Orange who spent three seasons with the Argos, and was just the second 1000-yard rusher in franchise history before ending his CFL career as a Ticat in 1997;  and current starting Ticat receiver Kiondré Smith is the son of Adrion “Peewee” Smith who started his career with the Ticats in 1994 but spent a decade with the Argos, winning a Grey Cup there and making the CFL all-star team three times.

“Having a father for a player is a double-edged sword,” Kiondré Smith said this morning.

“On the one hand, my father is a great role model and he’s the reason I wanted to do this forever. I was four or five in his last year, which was a Grey Cup victory.  I knew exactly what was going on.  I might not have had full understanding but I have vivid memories. I knew at the time the importance of the game, and why we were going. I was in the Grey Cup parade and I have pictures of it. Fond memories for sure.

“The double-edged sword part is that you’re always chasing a legacy as a person. No matter what you do, some achievements aren’t only your own, they’re shared. It’s not always a bad thing but I don’t necessarily want to be compared to my father…not until it’s all said and done.”

Smith was an all-Canadian at two positions when he played at the University of Guelph, so making the CFL and earning a starting role at a tough inside-receiver spot was not because of his last name….it was on his own merit.

CATS CLAUSES: Besides Jamal Peters, Dezmon Patmon and Tyler Ternowski, other additions to the Ticats game day roster are DB Patrick Burke, Jr., OL Evan Johnson, and DLs Benoit Marion and Kobe Jones … deletions from last week are DB Mark Milton, and DLs Reece Martin and Kelle Sanders who all shift to the practice roster while DL Luke Brubacher and WRs Luther Hakunavanhu and Brendan O’Leary-Orange, all Canadians,  go from the game roster to the six-game injury list  … the Ticats will encounter their former middle linebacker Jameer Thurman, who had 98 tackles last year in his only season in Hamilton and signed as a free agent with Saskatchewan in February … Malik Carney, who spent three years with the Ticats before signing in Saskatchewan as a free agent in February, starts at defensive end for the Riders … Brett Lauther, whose CFL career started in Hamilton in 2013, has been the Saskatchewan kicker since 2018 … former Ticat middle linebacker Larry Dean retired three months ago and moved into Saskatchewan’s front office as director of player personnel.