Inside Enemy Territory, Volume 3: Playing Out The String
by Russ Harrison
The 2006 CFL season is winding down. Some teams are definitely poised for a run for the Grey Cup, some seem to be in a state of limbo, and others are playing out the string. At least those in the latter category are hoping it's a string and not an unlit fuse leading to an off season blow-up!
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats fall into the string-playing set, finishing their failed campaign with two contests against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and BC Lions in successive weeks before a final bye week to conclude the year.
Yes, the insanity that is the current CFL season schedule -- in part because of the Renegades' demise -- does have a silver lining: the bleeding tiger gets to stop its gushing a week earlier than the other non-playoff team, whichever that club will be.
The Marcel Desjardins era has to date seen a number of notable pronouncements about the future direction that Desjardins foresees for the team moving forward. The Khalil Hill send-off was the one incident that particularly sticks in my mind. I am not a booster of managerial prerogatives by any means, but I can grasp the message being sent. The days of drift in the Ticat dressing room and coaching offices are dwindling as fast as the the season is ending.
Another one is today's indication by head coach Ron Lancaster that Jason Maas is going to be shut down for Saturday's game versus the Bombers and in all probability for the season finale against the Leos next week.
For the record, I had called for Maas being shut down if being physically unable to perform weeks ago on ticats.ca. He has clearly been labouring at various points of the season with a mix of shoulder and abdominal concerns. Throw in a wonky back and a lingering hip pointer early in the season and you get a sense of Maas being the pocket equivalent of a Rock'Em Sock'Em Robot with a bobblehead from a sprung spring that won't reset.
Terrible towels can be thrown in to stop the slaughter right now...
I feel Jason Maas can rebound from the travails of this season if he can regain full health and be energized with a new coaching regime and a successful offseason
recruitment campaign that fortifies the O-line and improves the receiving corps. After the failed Paopao offensive coordination experiment, it ought to be interesting to see who becomes the new OC in 2007 -- someone with experience and a clue being preferred!
I feel Maas needs to be given a chance to compete in a meaningful QB training camp competition to rebound as a starter. One thing is clear to me: if Charlie Taaffe becomes the Ticats' new head coach, there will be no more excuses from a system viewpoint. Taaffe has a solid track record from his days in Montreal as OC and head coach and will have a CFL -ready offensive system in place for the Cats if he is the man.
I can envision a healthy Jason Maas having a system to run on the field that will fit his skill set better next year than being asked to be something he is not: Kerry Joseph. That is the nub of the failed Paopao project.
I fully expect that the OC hire will be not an afterthought like the Jamie Barressi out-shuffle on Greg Marshall's watch last offseason. The next OC will be the new head coach's guy...and that informed decision will have positives for Jason Maas if he can rebound.
As I have wailed throughout the season in the Pong-like bitching fests about the offense on ticats.ca during 2006, no QB in Canada could be successful on a regular basis in the Ticat fold given the playbook gymnastics, offensive line inconsistencies/atrocities, and the turnoveritis that has plagued the team throughout all skilled positions on offense. Period.
So giving Maas the Old Yeller treatment given this is a wee bit skewed. If he were in a Calgary or BC situation and clearly being the focal point of the breakdowns, then that blame game would make sense for me. Not even Buck Pierce, the BC super backup and current QB flavour of the day among CFL armchair QBs, would be able to right the ship.
It may not be Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat," but it certainly can't be considered a Rob Hitchcock rescue vessel either...glub glub glub...
Until the coaching issue is resolved, a lot of the Rx-ing in Tigertown both in the fan forums and in the football media isn't going to mean a heck of a lot. I'm a Rich Stubler booster and would love to see him become the next Ticats head coach if available.
Practically speaking, I think the Taaffe angle makes more sense given his prior association with Desjardins and his quoted desire to coach in the CFL again in general and Hamilton in particular, but there is a process in motion. How long it takes will depend on whether Taaffe is a lock or not. Time will tell.
That brings me to The Don's departure in Montreal. Any Don Matthews departure that didn't have a suspense-novel feel to it would be surprising. The whole episode has raised more questions than answers.
Bob McCown on The Fan 590 has been pumping the idea that Matthews will resurface in Hamilton as head coach for 2007 if he is somehow not done and if the Ticats brass basically have the sanity to act in such an eventuality.
Having watched Matthews as a fan based in Montreal for the last couple of years, I have sensed that he is not doing too well physically -- the golf cart at practice being one indication that his mobility and general energy level isn't what it once was. The man is 67, after all.
That being said -- in a Joe Pa meets Methuselah at Penn State world -- if Matthews was game and willing to be carted around in a cart not unlike Commander Pike in the original Star Trek series...I would be tempted to give him the reins in a heartbeat.
Of course three lit red lights would indicate that The Don wanted the team to fake a punt in such a scenario, but I digress!
Seriously, given the man's contribution to the CFL, I wish him all the best. I am more informed by what his impact and rapport were with his players than whatever media scribe's ranting against against Matthews's well-known hardass stance against many in the press. As a true character whose personality has had such an effect on the Canadian game for 30 years now, he will be missed.
As for the rest of the season, I find it pretty hard to go against the Lions as the pick to win the Grail come November. Geroy Simon ate the Stamps wideouts' collective lunch last weekend. He can do his superhero poses in the endzone whatever way he likes because he gets it done more than any other receiver in the country.
The key will be whether Dave Dickenson and/or Buck Pierce will be healthy enough at crunch time to deliver the ball to Simon and his cohorts. If the Lions have a healthy QB of the two, that and the great play of the Lions defence will likely combine to put Vancouver over the top come Grey Cup time.
A collapse this year will be the biggest yet for the Leos. Right now they are positioned to win it all.
That is all for now. Next week I hope to have some positives to share from the upcoming Ticats-Bombers tilt at Old Civic on Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT.
Oski Wee Wee,