It certainly hasn’t been the steel-curtain-defence first year defensive coordinator Casey Creehan must have envisioned when he came to TigerTown back in January.
Obviously, when breaking down the Ticats defence so far in 2012, it starts with on-field performance. There is no way to sugar coat it, missed tackles, lack of turnovers forced and ability to come up with stops at crunch time have been the main causes for concern in the Steel City.
Although, when you look at the bigger picture, there are some factors working against the Ticats. First and foremost the injuries suffered within the back seven on defence.
In preparation for their tilt with the Argonauts in Week 3, Marcell Young broke his hand during practice. He was placed on the 9-game injured list and hasn’t played a down since.
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The 25-year-old had a strong rookie season in 2011 and quickly became a trusted cover man in Hamilton’s secondary. Young’s 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame enables him to match up well against big, physical, fleet footed receivers like SJ Green, Jamel Richardson and Nik Lewis. Not a player you want hanging out on the sidelines in street clothes.
Two weeks later, the injury bug bit Ticats strong side linebacker Markeith Knowlton. He suffered an ankle injury against the Alouettes on July 21 and has been on the injured list since.
Many people around the league believe the ‘SAM’ linebacker position is the hardest to play on defence. It requires a player that has strong recognition skills, is stout against the run and can cover receivers like a defensive back. Nothing can beat experience – rookies get exposed quickly - at the position and Knowlton, a seven-year CFL veteran, has lots of it. The trouble is he’s been out of service.
After Hamilton’s bye week, another experienced ‘Cat defender went down. Bo Smith hurt his ankle on August 9, while playing the Stampeders, putting him on the shelf ever since. Smith’s injury put three of the starting back seven, to open the season, on the injured list. Pushing younger players into roles with little to no CFL experience.
Not to mention Knowlton’s replacement at ‘SAM’ backer, Carlos Thomas who seemed to be getting comfortable at the difficult defensive position. He went down with a shoulder injury in his fourth start in Montreal on August 23. Thomas’ wonky shoulder forced a rookie, Brock Campbell into the lineup at strong side backer the last two weeks.
To say the least, it’s not an ideal injury situation for a coordinator looking to develop cohesiveness in his first year directing a defence. It’s hard enough for coaches and players to get comfortable in a new scheme, let alone when names on the first team defensive depth chart seem to be in constant flux.
Up front on the defensive line, a few players have had a shot to replace Justin Hickman’s 13 sacks from 2011. We’ve seen flashes from Brandon Boudreaux and Greg Peach who have three sacks apiece, but yet to see the type of play Hickman provided week in and week out.
Other issues aside, most first-year coordinators experience bumps along the way. It’s like a new job for anyone in the world. It takes some time to get comfortable with new surroundings, people and responsibilities.
You have to believe Hamilton’s less than stellar showing on defence through 10 games is eating Creehan alive. But if you could pick one guy to rally the ‘Cats defence down the stretch, why wouldn’t it be him?
Creehan is as intense and passionate as they come in professional football. He knows what it takes to get a defence to play at a high level – if you don’t remember he was a member of the Blue Bombers defensive coaching staff last season, ‘Swaggerville’ being the operative word here.
After all, it can only get better for Hamilton’s defence – in terms of statistical rankings and injuries healing. Eight games remain with Hamilton’s playoff fate far from decided and something tells me there is still some roar left in Creehan and his defensive ‘Cats.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|