Hamilton Tiger-Cats Season Preview
With the preseason in the books, what better time to do a Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2022 season preview?Hamilton has made the necessary cuts to get down to the 46-man roster. This has solidified their roster, and practice squad for the 2022 season. Before we get into who was let go, let’s take a quick look back at the 2021 season.
Looking Back at 2021
Orlondo Steinauer may have been hired in 2019, but last season proved to be only his second as a head coach. However, in 2019 his first season as a head coach he won the 2019 Coach of the Year award. This came on the strength of a 15-3 record, and a Grey Cup loss. The expectations were high going into the 2021 season despite the year off in between.
Hamilton and Steinauer again found a way to make it back to the Grey Cup, despite a drop-off in their record. Having won 8 of 14 games, their winning percentage had dropped from 83% to 57%. Jeremiah Masoli, Dane Evans, and David Watford still combined for 3,574 passing yards 17 TDS, and 9 interceptions.
The Ti-Cats went four deep at the receiver position with Tim White, Jaelon Acklin, Brandon Banks, and Steven Dunbar atop the pecking order. In the running game Sean Thomas-Erlington, Don Jackson, Maleek Irons, and Jackson Bennett did their best combining for 795 yards and touchdowns on the ground.
On the defensive side of the ball, Steinauer’s pride and joy unit, produced 17 interceptions, 3 touchdown returns, and a 13.7 yard per return average showing these guys had designs on scoring every time they took the ball away. Despite playing in just 14 games, they produced 31 sacks, with Ja’Gared Davis (6), Dylan Wynn (5), and Julian Howsare (5) leading the way.
In 2022 some things have changed first and foremost on the offensive side of the ball. Jeremiah Masoli, Jackson Bennet, and Jaelin Acklin have reunited, but this time in Ottawa trying to lead the Redblacks back to the Grey Cup. Brandon Banks left to join the Toronto Argonauts. Suddenly four key performers have moved on from this offense, forcing Hamilton to turn to the next men up on the roster.
At Quarterback Dane Evans is one of two returning quarterbacks, and he finds himself as the starter in the 2022 season with Masoli gone. This offseason knowing Masoli was likely leaving, after being benched for Evans down the stretch last season, Hamilton signed Evans to a two-year contract Shoring up their quarterback spot for at least the next two seasons.
In 2021 he played well when he entered the game. He would complete over 64% of his passes for 787 yards through the air 6 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. He also showcased his mobility by running 20 times for 114 yards and 3 more touchdowns on the ground. His three rushing touchdowns were good for second on the team in 2021.
Evans continued his solid play into the preseason. In week one against the Montreal Alouettes, he was 4 of 5 for 46 yards before making way for back-ups Mathew Shiltz, and Jalen Morton. Although Jamie Newman wound up the 3rd quarterback they like what they have in Jalen Morton as well who landed on the practice roster.
In week 2 Dane Evans was allowed to sit out the game, and instead, this became the battle of the number 3’s. Jamie Newman and Jalen Morton had some questions to answer. Jamie Newman came out looking like he was on fire completing all 8 of his passing attempts for 88 yards and 1 touchdown adding 3 carries for 16 yards. After looking solid in week 1, Morton had a rough game in week 2. He completed 6 of 11 passes for just 44 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception, running one time for 13 yards. This is the game that decided who would be kept on the active roster, and who fell to the Practice squad.
After struggling to get anything going in both weeks, the run game remains one of the biggest questions in 2022. With virtually the same depth chart as the 2021 season, there doesn’t seem to be any savior rushing to fix this issue so far. With Don Jackson at the top of the depth chart, I don’t think this run game is scaring defenses in 2022 after their paltry performance in 2021.
Don Jackson is the starter here, and once upon a time back in 2018 Jackson did produce 924 rushing yards. This is what the Tiger-Cats were banking on when they signed him before the 2021 season. However, in his last two seasons on the field, he has missed a significant amount of time. Last season he played in just four games, racking up 44 carries, and 8 receptions in that short period.
He would ultimately total 345 all-purpose yards on 53 touches. Averaging 13 touches a game for 86 yards per game. His injury history is concerning which is why we see Sean Thomas-Erlington return as the top back-up following his career year in 2021.
A Canadian national has spent his entire career with Hamilton since being drafted in the 8th round 66th overall in 2017. Heading into his 5th season on the field in 2022, we will likely see a running back by committee approach to keep both backs healthy. The 5’9 217-pound bowling ball of a back showed what he could do when called upon last season.
He would total 519 all-purpose yards on 92 touches while scoring a total of 5 times. He is a solid backup at very worst, and a man you can rely on to start if it comes to it. He played in 12 of 14 games last season.
The third-string back here is Wes Hill. The 2021 CFL Rookie played in just 1 game last season collecting four carries for 20 yards and a 5.0-yard per carry average. He got his start in 2019 with the Arizona Cardinals but was let go in the final cuts. The Detroit Lions would later sign him where he would rush 10 times for 21 yards and two one-yard touchdowns, adding 2 receptions for 1 yard. He was let go and didn’t land with another NFL team since.
This led him to head North for the 2021 season after spending 2020 out of football after being waived by Detroit in final cuts. During his college career, the bigger back was a bell-cow back, and he could be the dark horse here to take over the backfield. At Slippery Rock in 2018, he rushed 246 times for 1,714 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He would rack up eight 100+ yard rushing games, and three 200+ yard rushing games in that 2018 season, all while adding another 28 receptions for 193 yards. With just under 2,000 yards of total offense, I believe Hill can dominate in the CFL if given the chance to carry the workload. He is simply not a change of pace runner. He is one of the classic running backs that gets stronger as the game goes on and he collects more and more carries.
Wide Receiver Position
With Brandon Banks and Jaelon Acklin leaving via free agency the Tiger-Cats are again looking to younger contributors on the roster to fill the holes left behind by the departures. These two men had combined for 94 receptions for 1,152 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2021. This is no small chunk of their offense. Acklin was second on the team in receptions, and yards. He also tied for the team lead with 4 touchdowns and produced the longest play of the season at 65 yards.
Tim White returns as the top receiver here in Hamilton. He produced 56 receptions for 774 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2021, and also found himself contributing in other ways. He added 12 carries for 81 yards. White is a veteran receiver and spent 5 seasons bouncing around the back end of NFL rosters before signing with Hamilton in 2021. He proved he belongs in the CFL after his rookie season immediately entrenching himself as the number one target.
Opposite of him heading into the 2022 season is Steven Dunbar. Dunbar was 3rd on the team in receptions last season with 44 for 630 yards and 4 touchdowns. This was his first on-field action in his professional career, and he showed he belonged in the CFL as well. Dunbar got his start back in 2018 with the 49ers appearing in one game. He spent the 2019 season on Denver’s practice squad, before moving on to the XFL in 2020. Following an injury that forced him to IR, he signed a contract with Hamilton shortly before the league folded and he was officially released. While there are questions at the position they lie behind these two young men at the position.
Bralon Addison an X-Factor in 2022
Bralon Addison is a 28-year-old veteran receiver. Getting his start way back in 2016 with the Denver Broncos, Addison never really stuck anywhere but Chicago in the NFL. After starting the season on the practice squad for Denver, he found his way onto the Bears practice squad later that year. He would be promoted to the active roster to close out the season. However, this led to his first chance in the CFL with the Argos who only kept him on the offseason roster. He would sign in Hamilton for the first time in 2018.
Addison would show his versatility in 2019 and have a break-out season. He attempted 1 pass, ran 36 times for 218 yards, and 1 touchdown, and caught 95 passes for 1,236 yards and 7 touchdowns. Hamilton knows what he is capable of especially when used in this hybrid role, and if not for injuries last season he undoubtedly would have had a bigger season. He will look to reclaim his top spot on this depth chart this season but currently is penciled in as the third receiver.
Ungerer found himself next on the stat sheet in 2021 with just 15 receptions for 187 yards and 1 touchdown. However, the Tiger-Cats like his ability in space, as evidenced by his usage in the return game. At 5’10 171 pounds, he is another smaller receiver on this roster, but his versatility should prove to be key for Hamilton in 2022. The Canadian National was also a second-round pick before the 2019 season. He is going to be given every chance to seize that 4th receiver role which we saw produce 44 receptions in 2021. Ungerer could be in line for a huge spike in playing time on offense this season and is one of the main reasons they let Banks, and Acklin walk in free agency.
Behind Ungerer, we have a group of three guys fighting for reps in the 2022 season. Staring with 2022 4th round pick Kiondre Smith. Smith was the highest selection from the Guelph Gryphons U-Sports Squad in the 2022 CFL Draft. Last season in college he averaged 94 receiving yards a game, as well as over 13 yards per reception. He scored four times and added tremendous value in the punt return game. He is looking to solidify the back end of this receiver depth chart in 2022.
White spent time with Hamilton in 2021, but before that, the American spent time on the practice squads of two AFC South teams. The Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans in 2019. He ultimately was let go following the 2019 season and decided to head north to Hamilton for the 2020 season which was ultimately canceled. Meaning White’s first professional regular-season experience came last season. He would go on to catch 11 passes for 105 yards and 1 touchdown, also seeing time in the punt and kick return game. The 5’9 170-pound 25-year-old may be one of the younger guys on this roster, but that doesn’t guarantee him snaps as they churn this roster. White will have to impress early when he gets touches if he wants to come off the bench before Smith.
Johnson is a former NFL wide receiver. Having attended college with QB Tyree Jackson at Buffalo, he bounced around the NFL following being signed as an undrafted free agent for the better part of three years. He would see time in Tampa, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. He was signed by Hamilton before the 2022 season. Johnson is one of the bigger receivers on this roster at 6’2 210 lbs which is an aspect I think this offense was lacking higher up on the depth chart. Due to this, I expect Johnson to get his number called regardless of where he might be listed on the depth chart. The Former first-team All-Mac Receiver in 2017 and 2018 has a lot to prove having never played in a regular-season game yet.
In the kicking game, last season the roster featured Taylor Bertolet and Michael Domagala. It was a near disaster for the squad despite the Grey Cup trip. Both kickers managed 70% or worse on field goals in 2021. Bertolet has since signed with the USFL, leaving Domagala to compete for the job. However, he showed he had improved as a kicker this offseason, having focused on kicking, rather than being a triple threat specialist. If he can improve upon his 70% conversion rate in 2022, the Tiger-Cats should see quite the improvement in the scoring department. He ultimately beat out Seth Smalls who was released following week 2 of the preseason.
At Punter, the incumbent beats out Blake Hayes who finds himself on the practice squad. That man is none other than Joel Whitford. Whitford was a rookie in 2021 but managed to play in 12 games. While Domagala did end up punting 25 times over the season, Whitford added another 68 punts averaging over 45 yards per attempt, with a long of 68 yards. He also was able to score 4 points. Whitford may have won the battle here, but you don’t keep a punter on the practice squad for no reason. If he can’t stay healthy in 2022, we could see a changing of the guard with Hayes taking over the job so Domagala can focus on kicking field goals and extra points.
In 2021 as mentioned before the defensive unit did their part to produce victories, holding opponents to an average of 16 points per game, on their way to 17 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries, and 31 sacks as a team. How will they fair in 2022?
As mentioned in this article by Evan Willsmore: Tiger-Cats Announce String of Signings, Hamilton was able to retain many key players on the defense. Linebackers Simoni Lawerence and Jovan Santos-Knox will return, along with DB Cariel Brooks who led the team with 5 interceptions in 2021, and Dylan Wynn who produced 5 sacks last season, but managed 11 in 2019.
There wasn’t much in the way of turnover on the top of the defensive depth chart, which bodes well for a unit that played fairly well for the majority of the season in 2021. If they can remain healthy, and get similar contributions from guys like Lawerence, Brooks, and Wynn, they stand a solid chance at being one of the better units in 2022.
Honestly, this unit might be the most well-rounded on the team. As mentioned before their coach is a defensive mind having played defensive back in his career, and then coaching the position to begin his career. He finds himself now running an entire squad and doing quite well so far. If he can return a stout defense in 2022, I believe their passing game will figure it out with Dane Evans, and his trio of top wideouts. The run game is the most crucial piece of this puzzle.
I think to help protect your defense, you will need to prioritize the run game in the 2022 season. This is a big reason why I think should Jackson suffer another injury, Wes Hills should be the first back off the bench. Although the big back to carry the load, bringing in Thomas-Erlington as the change of pace back so his role doesn’t change all year long essentially. With Hills on the roster, there is a chance this run game produces the way Hamilton had hoped in 2021. If they don’t they are putting a large amount of pressure on the defense to once again carry the load on a playoff-caliber roster, which simply isn’t a recipe for success in 2022.
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