The 2023 Hamilton Tiger-Cats came into the season with championship aspirations and expectations to match those aspirations. During the off-season, the Tiger-Cats had made moves to rebuild a large part of their roster, including signing quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, linebacker Jameer Thurman, defensive back Chris Edwards, running back James Butler, and defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis. The message from head coach Orlondo Steinauer was that these moves, along with others, had been made with the intention of the Tiger-Cats winning the Grey Cup in their home stadium.
Those championship hopes were quickly replaced with disappointment when the Tiger-Cats started the season with three straight losses, losing quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to an injury during that stretch of games. The Tiger-Cats were able to recover with Matthew Shiltz leading the offence and get to a 2-4 record after the first six games. During that time, the Tiger-Cats struggled to develop chemistry with their new players, and their defensive unit repeatedly sabotaged their efforts with costly penalties and undisciplined play.
During the middle third of the season, the Tiger-Cats still struggled with injuries as Matthew Shiltz was also injured. In response, Hamilton gave CFL rookie Taylor Powell a chance to step up, and he responded by using his skills and weapons effectively. The defence started to play more consistently and the Tiger-Cats hit their stride with a 3-3 record during the middle portion of the season.
Heading in the last six games, the Tiger-Cats found themselves able to make a run to a playoff spot. During this run, they did find a way to manage quarterback injuries and inconsistent play on offense and defense to go 3-3 and end the regular season with an 8-10 record and qualify for a playoff spot. For the Tiger-Cats to take the next step and compete for a spot in the Grey Cup championship game, they would need to be able to pick up a win on the road in Montreal against the eventual Grey Cup champions.
The 12-27 playoff loss in Montreal was a reflection of the Tiger-Cat’s inconsistent play throughout the season. Hamilton played recklessly on defense, complete with penalties, and offensively they failed to score touchdowns in the red zone and had to settle for field goals. Hamilton also turned the ball over, allowing the Alouette’s defense to control field position.
The Tiger-Cats had an 8-10 record and first round playoff loss for the second year. This season, the Tiger-Cats could not win a single game against the Toronto Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes. While the Tiger-Cats could not live up to their championship expectations, they did find some positive outcomes for the season.
The Rise Of Running Back James Butler
The free agent signing that made the most significant impact for the Tiger-Cats was running back James Butler. Butler ran well behind the Tiger-Cat’s inconsistent offensive line units to pick up 1116 yards on 235 carries and scored seven rushing touchdowns. He also contributed with 61 receptions for 527 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Making Connections With Quarterback Taylor Powell
While all eyes were on quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to start the 2023 season, rookie quarterback Taylor Powell was able to step in, make plays, and lead the offense. Powell was able to lean on James Butler and receiver Tim White to lead the Tiger-Cats to several wins. The young quarterback showed the ability to lead the offence as a true pocket-passer, but he also showed the ability to use his legs to pick up critical first downs and put the ball in the end zone.
Resurgence of the Tiger-Cats Defence
The Tiger-Cats used significant resources to add strength to their defence. While initially, the results were chaotic and lacked discipline, several playmakers did establish themselves. Defensive lineman Casey Sayles could sack opposing quarterbacks seven times and was selected as an East Division and CFL All-Star. Linebacker Jameer Thurman had a tremendous first season with the Tiger-Cats, with 98 defensive tackles and five quarterback sacks. Veteran start Simoni Lawrence also had a big year with 84 defensive tackles, five quarterback sacks, and forced three fumbles.
Another impact player on defense was safety Stavros Katsantonis after stepping in for the injured Tunde Adeleke. Katsantonis had five interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
Exceptional Performers on Special Teams
To start the 2023 season, the Tiger-Cats had more questions than answers on special teams. During the season, the Tiger-Cats picked up veteran CFL kicker Marc Liegghio, who was 41 for 47 field goals and 27 for 32 on conversion attempts. Punt and kick returner Tyreik McAllister was an explosive player and significantly impacted the success of the Tiger-Cats special teams units.
Looking Ahead To 2024
The Tiger-Cats are again finding themselves looking ahead to next year to make a championship run. Many of the players that the Tiger-Cats added this year will be free agents, and the only thing guaranteed is that they will look different in 2024. During the season, offensive coordinator Tommy Condell was dismissed and replaced by Scott Milanovich, and some improvements were seen in the season’s final six games. Looking into 2024, the Tiger-Cats will have to make several decisions about personnel and leadership, and those decisions will determine how Hamilton responds to back-to-back 8-10 seasons.
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