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The 2018 Hamilton Tiger-Cats have the highest ceiling as an explosive offence of any group I’ve seen while covering the CFL. At least they did before losing receivers Jalen Saunders, Terrence Toliver, and Brandon Banks in a chain of events that made Head Coach June Jones almost laugh for well over two months due to its ridiculous nature.
While Jones was laughing in front of cameras, he was working with the Tiger-Cats’ front office staff behind closed doors to find a solution.
What they were looking for was an answer to the question, “who do we throw the ball to” and perhaps more importantly, “who can learn our system quick enough to play fast?”
Rashad Lawrence was viewed as an ultra athletic pass catcher with great hands who just needed a chance to develop with game reps. He was given that chance and didn’t produce as hoped when quarterback Jeremiah Masoli struggled to get Lawrence understanding his every thought as Saunders, Tasker and Banks had done all season.
Terrell Sinkfield Jr., a long sought after ex-Ticat, and once upon a time Hamilton 1,000-yard receiver, returned from the National Football League to much fan excitement before having a minimal impact on late season games and being a last hour scratch from Hamilton’s Eastern Semi-Final roster.
Talented young national receivers Mike Jones and Justin Buren stepped up to contribute, but failed to match the consistent play-to-play scoring threat of Banks dynamic playmaking.
So where was the offence going to turn for production? It’s not as though with different receivers Masoli or June Jones were going to throw the ball less or attack vertically less. Those methods are staples of the 2018 Ticats attack and could not be abandoned without losing all identity built in being one of the CFL’s best offensive attacks.
Who can get open? Who can make a play? Who can separate on second down for a big chain moving gain when it’s needed the most?
So many questions, so few answers.
Rookie receiver Bralon Addison, a former Toronto Argonauts practice roster member and – like Jeremiah Masoli – Oregon Ducks alum, gave Hamilton what it needed and appears to be the answer for what has ailed offensive projections since Banks went down in Week 19 against the same REDBLACKS they’ll travel to face in Ottawa this Sunday.
To understand the importance of Bralon Addison’s emergence as a legitimate receiving threat is to understand what Brandon Banks truly meant to the Ticats in 2018.
From quick screens to throws over the middle requiring Masoli to have the receiver in the perfect spot at the perfect time and beyond, Banks always seemed to make the big catch in the big moment for Hamilton through 19 weeks.
On Sunday in the Eastern Semi-Final, Addison did not go for several hundred yards or make seven men miss, springing himself on a long touchdown run, but he did make the big play when it was needed dearly by this Ticats offence in search of answers to all those questions poised earlier.
Take the 38-yard completion on the second play from scrimmage. A required play in the opinion of Head Coach June Jones: “to get started quick is big in those type of games. I think you guys know the stats better than I do, when we get started quick we’re a better team. We get behind, we don’t seem to play as well.”
The play was needed. Addison supplied what Banks had given Hamilton all year, but what was it about Addison that Jones saw in practice convincing him to not only play the undersized slotback who had only been in Hamilton for two months, but to start him over Sinkfield’s NFL pedigree and CFL experience?
“He’s better,” Jones told the media Sunday night with his trademark blunt honesty and fun loving laugh before furthering the method of his madness.
“I saw what I saw in Speedy and Jalen and the guys that have been real productive for me,” he continued. “He gets it. He understands, he’s smart. You saw him make that catch last week in the end zone. The game, I’ve used this term, the game is not too big for him. He can make those type of plays and he did it again tonight.”
In his own words Addison is but a humble servant to a team in need, often deflecting his importance in the last two weeks for Hamilton and attempting to stay naive to the opportunity in front of him over the final two weeks of the 2018 Grey Cup playoffs.
“I think that’s a credit to the coaching staff, and the veteran guys,” he said after Sunday’s game at Tim Hortons Field. “I’m a competitor, I don’t pay too much (attention) to the outside noise. These guys help me prepare, I just want to do my part and help this team win.”
The key to the Banks-Masoli partnership since June Jones arrived in Hamilton Labour Day of 2017 has been their trust and comfort working with one another. That chemistry has been near impossible to duplicate between Masoli and anyone other than Tasker, so why Addison? And how, in such a short period of time, has that feeling developed between the two?
For Bralon, perspective in a life spent on the football field lends understanding that only improves when surrounded by a group of injured receivers finding a way to help.
“I’ve played QB before, I think as a quarterback you can kinda judge the guys you’re comfortable with,” Addison explained. “Speedy, Jalen, Terrence, those guys they always are there and available. That’s the thing about this team, the veteran guys — even if they’re not playing because of injury — they still want to help young guys. I’m a pretty intelligent guy, so I pick up things pretty fast, but those guys have helped me come a long way.”
The Ticats as a collective appeared to come a long way Sunday. A team swinging wildly from appearing as Grey Cup contender, to East Division fraud might have found the secret sauce to once again achieving the exorbitant numbers many Hamilton fans took for granted early in the season.
Is it possible the answer to all their questions could be Bralon Addison? We all find out together Sunday in Ottawa for a chance to play for the Grey Cup.