Ferguson: Ticats will be a work in chemistry in ’22

CFL.ca will be previewing the 2022 season, taking an in-depth look at each of the nine teams as they get set to hit the field.

The Ticats made their decision at QB this winter, giving Dane Evans a two-year contract in December (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)

When asked to give a definition of what will shape the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2022 CFL season one word came to mind immediately.

Chemistry.

Now I’m no science major. Don’t ask me to extrapolate on states of matter, solutions or periodicity. I’m just a words man, but that means I know chemistry is defined as the investigation of items properties and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change; and the use of these processes to form new substances.

That perfectly summarizes what the Ticats — specifically their offence — will be defined by this season. It will be about the way players such as new solo, clear-cut-No.-1-QB Dane Evans will interact, combine and evolve with the likes of receivers, running backs and even offensive lineman in order to create a cohesive and much more productive group than in 2021.

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The reason I single out the offence is that I know the defence will hold up its end of the bargain. With Simoni Lawrence back and somehow still in his tackle hunting prime, new blood along the defensive line in Micah Johnson and an ever improving secondary guided by Canadian difference maker Tunde Adeleke, I have no doubts about the defence.

The stats speak for themselves on defensive coordinator Mark Washington’s ability to take any and all personnel he is granted and turn them into a well conceived and diverse unit. Of course, having head coach Orlondo Steinauer’s eye for defensive execution doesn’t hurt one bit. The defence is a group where chemistry might produce different outcomes periodically but most are positive for the Black and Gold.

To get on the same page with receivers is a skill. It takes time, patience and often vulnerability to meet each other half way on preferences and tendencies. Of course Dane Evans is no stranger to the crew he’ll be working with this year in Bralon Addison, Steven Dunbar Jr. and Tim White. The challenge comes in finding a consistency of excellence that Hamilton can lean on over the long haul of the season.

While Jeremiah Masoli is a few hours away in Ottawa going through the same process with a variety of fresh faces — outside of Jaelon Acklin, who made the trip East with the only CFL quarterback he’s ever known — Evans has the head start but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do.

Chemistry with his receiving corps, including Steven Dunbar Jr., will be crucial for Dane Evans to have success leading the Ticats’ offence this year (Photo: The Canadian Press)

The path to success was anything but linear for the 2021 passing attack. It started with Masoli winning a training camp battle with Evans, before bowing out to injury. Masoli eventually returned, only to be swapped out for Evans in the Eastern Final, where Evans completed 100 per cent of his passes to earn the Ticats a home Grey Cup berth. An injury to Evans had him out of the Grey Cup game before halftime, with Masoli getting the team to the brink of a drought-ending championship in a heartbreaking OT loss.

To summarize: Controlled chaos.

In his 2022 season preview conference call with the media, Steinauer emphasized how happy he was to no longer be answering The Quarterback Question weekly. What Steinauer and Ticats fans everywhere are hoping of course is the questions don’t shift to how, when, or where the Ticats receivers are going to get going consistently with their franchise quarterback.

Consistency is a funny word when dissecting offensive football because the concept rings closer to perfection in many fans’ minds than the true meaning of finding a way to produce on a game-in, game-out basis. If you expect a consistent offence to be perfect you’ll never be satisfied.

What the Ticats should aim for in place of perfection or unreasonable consistency is an improvement from 2021 based on building an identity around their new starting quarterback.

The types of throws Dane likes, the collection of routes he throws best to certain receivers and the first down run schemes that he is most efficient at pulling the trigger on should — and I believe will — all be clearly visible by the time Hamilton hits the field for regular-season action on June 11 in Saskatchewan.

From there the playbook pages can grow like branches off the X’s and O’s tree to become more exotic and diverse. First, it all starts with finding chemistry, building an identity and leaning into the skill set of the man wearing No. 9.

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