Between the 2021 Grey Cup championship game and the 2022 pre-season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made a series of decisions that would essentially put their offence into re-building mode. The Tiger-Cats made decisions to move away from playmakers at wide receiver, they chose to let go of Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback, and they made numerous personnel moves along their offensive line.
This provided opportunities for new playmakers to step up and replace those offensive weapons that would not return to the Tiger-Cats. The result was an offensive unit that was very slow in developing chemistry, and that was a recipe for a struggling offence. Some observers would blame the Tiger-Cats lack of offence success on the off-season decisions to allow key offensive players to move on to other teams. But even under ideal conditions, offensive units tend to gel much later than defensive units, so with the large number of new faces, it was reasonable for the offence to take some time to come together.
What was not reasonable was the total lack of organization on offence early in the season, and a season-long habit of turning the ball over especially when backed near their endzone. Some of the offensive struggles could be blamed on the offensive coordinator, but it is more realistic to admit that the offensive players for the Tiger-Cats did not seem to be ready to take the reins and run the Hamilton offence. Turnovers, dropped passes, poor pass protection, and a lack of understanding of offensive football were all problems that plagued the Tiger-Cats offence.
Many of the off-season decisions that the Tiger-Cats will have to make in the off-season need to address the issues that lead to a disappointing year for the Tiger-Cats offence. We will take a look at each position group, and begin to evaluate the personnel moves the Tiger-Cats will need to make in the off-season.
During the 2021 playoffs, injuries gave Dane Evans a chance to prove himself as a potential star player for the Tiger-Cats offence after being the backup quarterback/short-yardage quarterback for the majority of the season. The Tiger-Cats were sold on the ability of Evans to lead the offence and decided to not bring back quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Dane Evans as a starting quarterback ended up being a series of struggles and mistakes with 16 interceptions and losing 7 fumbles.
Evans did produce 16 passing touchdowns and 4 rushing touchdowns, but relative to the turnovers Evans did not play well enough for the Tiger-Cats to win most weeks. Backup quarterback Matt Shiltz had multiple opportunities to step up and take over the offence, Shiltz did have a quarterback rating of 98.5, but only produced 435 yards of offence. Shiltz did add a spark to the Tiger-Cats offence due to his ability to run the ball effectively. 3rd string quarterback Jamie Newman was new to the CFL brand of football, but as the season went on Newman became a solid quarterback sneak man and seemed to have to potential to be a successful CFL quarterback.
Quarterbacks Grade: D-
The Running Backs
Coming into the 2022 season the most common complaints about the Tiger-Cats offence were related to their offensive line issues and their lack of an effective running game. As the season progressed and the offensive line started to maintain a consistent line up the Hamilton running backs displayed the ability to improve in the running game.
The season started with running backs Sean Thomas-Erlington and Don Jackson as the primary running backs. But due to injury situations, Wes Hills was able to become an effective back for the Tiger-Cats offence. Hills finished the season with 384 yards rushing and a rushing average of 5.6 yards/carry. Sean Thomas-Erlington played multiple roles during the season, but he did rush for 371 yards and 7.0 yards/carry. Sean Thomas-Erlington and Don Jackson did prove themselves to be consistent receivers, and they also improved in pass protection.
Running Backs Grade: B
The Wide Receivers
With the Tiger-Cats offence being a pass-heavy offence, the opportunity for receivers to be successful was available on a week-to-week basis. Early in the season the wide receivers had several key drops and struggled to get to a comfort level with the Tiger-Cats running games. The result was an offence that constantly tried to produce explosive plays, but many times failed to play up to expectations. Like the rest of the Tiger-Cats offence, the receivers had to overcome early season struggles while maintaining their focus on improving their performance.
By the end of the season, Tim White and Steven Dunbar Jr. started to emerge as the playmakers that the Tiger-Cats needed to rely on to win games. Tim White ended the season with 94 receptions and 1,265 yards and produced 7 touchdowns along with 7 explosive plays. Steven Dunbar Jr. also became a consistent weapon with 72 receptions for 1000 yards to score 6 touchdowns and 7 explosive plays. The wide receiver unit was a group that was hit hard by injuries and many players were asked to step into key roles with the Tiger-Cats offence.
Wide Receivers Grade: B-
The Offensive Line
During the 2019 and 2021 seasons, Hamilton’s offensive line was criticized by fans and analysts. The offensive line had a few foundational linemen in Chris Van Zeyl and Brandon Revenberg, but around those players, the other lineman struggled to play together to produce high-level offensive line play. The offensive line started the season by giving up 3.2 quarterback sacks per game, and they struggled to establish the running game.
Weekly, the Tiger-Cats were making moves to improve their offensive line as quickly as possible. Around Week 7 these adjustments started to produce significantly improved offensive line play. The offensive line cut down the quarterback sacks allowed, and they showed the ability to improve the running game. From the start of the season to the end of the season the Tiger-Cats offensive line showed flexibility and could play winning football as a unit.
Offensive Line Grade: C
Next article: Part 4 Assessing the Defensive by Position
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