The Ticats made their decision at QB this winter, giving Dane Evans a two-year contract in December (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)
Upon Further Review is a series that looks back at each team’s 2021 season, their key free agent additions and other staff and roster changes and looks ahead to their 2022 campaign.
When the Hamilton Tiger-Cats began their 2021 CFL season journey the goal was clear.
Win a Grey Cup at home.
Depending on your opinion they came one Jeremiah Masoli to Jaelon Acklin completion or a conceded single away from climbing the mountain top, conquering their 2019 Grey Cup foes and setting Hamilton into what surely would’ve been a month-long celebration on a night nobody in town would forget for a long time.
Unfortunately for fans of the Black and Gold, close is what defines their — lack of — championship legacy over the last 20 years, with 2021 adding just another chapter to the unimaginable twists and turns Ticats teams have weathered in their effort to raise the Grey Cup.
The 2021 Ticats were stunning for many reasons. The defence refused to quit, keeping the team in most games while special teams and the offence struggled to find their rhythm.
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For offensive coordinator Tommy Condell the Achilles heel wasn’t design, play selection or lack of scheme versatility. One could argue despite struggling statistically throughout the year, Condell’s offence was doing everything it could, given the pieces on hand.
The real challenge to putting up more points was poor offensive line play, injuries and an overwhelming feeling that receivers and quarterbacks were feeling each other out more than playing on instinct and trust.
Brandon Banks and Jeremiah Masoli being hurt didn’t help; neither did Dane Evans working on the fly without much of a training camp and no preseason to download the body language, speed and route running style of new receivers Tim White, Steven Dunbar, Papi White and more.
The whole year felt like a juggling act. One week Masoli would go to Ottawa and throw it more vertical than he had in any recent Ticats outing; the next time in Toronto with a trip to the Grey Cup on the line Masoli was pulled and Evans was going 16-16 with 14 of those 16 attempts travelling eight yards or less in the air, a stunningly low average depth of target.
The polarization of extreme opposites made Hamilton a tough read through the season, but at the end there they were with a chance to win it all. The question now becomes how will they get back, and finally over the Grey Cup hump?
With Evans anointed the starter and Masoli headed East to Ottawa, the Ticats’ offence will have one identity in 2022 and beyond which should help chemistry and continuity. Around Evans, the Ticats really only added one national receiver in former BC Lions’ pass catcher Lemar Durant. He should compete with incumbent wide side receiver David Ungerer and former first-round pick Alex Fontana to replace the loss of Darius Ciraco.
In the trenches, Micah Johnson and J.R. Tavai give Hamilton even more muscle at the point of attack which already bolstered Dylan Wynn, Ted Laurent and Julian Howsare. What defensive coordinator Mark Washington and head coach Orlondo Steinauer decide to do with all that manpower is one of the more enjoyable questions leading into training camp.
The REDBLACKS scooping up Acklin will undoubtedly hurt as he and Evans had created an ever-improving sense for each other. That combined with the release of Brandon Banks means Hamilton’s aerial attack success will be dependent on two specific aspects to me.
Can Bralon Addison stay healthy and can Tim White become the dominant force we saw hints of throughout 2021?
If the answer to both of those questions is yes and Dane Evans is the trigger man for more than 85 per cent of the snaps, Hamilton is going to produce consistent offence with Steven Dunbar, Ugerer, Durant and friends chipping in.
When Addison is healthy and on the field he is one of the CFL’s most productive players per snap. When White opens up his stride he can run with anyone in the league and has a bounce to his route running that seems to naturally create separation.
As for the defence, they’ll continue to carry the mail for Hamilton fans who love a good shutdown unit. With Richard Leonard back in the fold at field halfback, Tunde Adeleke’s excellence and the emergence of Jumal Rolle through Delvin Breaux’s shadow, Hamilton has one of the CFL’s most complete groups. It will be on the offence to up their play from 2021 and give Hamilton fans reason to believe this version of the Ticats can finally break the championship drought come November in Regina.