Morris: Culture, wins, win out for Wynn

When considering his free-agent options, the chemistry inside the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ dressing room was the deciding factor for Dylan Wynn.

Several teams showed interest in Wynn, but the American defensive tackle decided the harmony that had developed in Hamilton during back-to-back Grey Cup appearances was more important than earning a few more dollars somewhere else in the CFL.

“That was a personal decision for me,” said Wynn. “I love winning and I love the competitive nature of the game. A great team always has chemistry in the locker room. I have that here.

“It’s hard to quantify that monetarily. I feel like in Hamilton everyone is on the same page and I love it here. I’m pretty young for the amount of success I’ve had. I feel like I can up my game even more with this group. Hamilton has embraced me as a city and it’s really hard to leave a great organization.”

Continuity also played into the 28-year-old re-signing with the Tiger-Cats. Of the seven defensive linemen listed on the Hamilton depth chart for December’s Grey Cup game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, only Ja’Gared Davis won’t be back this season, having signed as a free agent with Toronto.

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To offset the loss of Ja’Gared Davis in free agency, the Ticats went and signed defensive tackle Micah Johnson, which should push the Ticats’ d-line toward the top of the league (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Hamilton responded by signing free agent defensive tackle Micah Johnson.

“Especially on the d-line, being able to know the guys that you’re playing with is huge,” said Wynn. “It will be different (this year) because J.D. was such a big presence in our room. But Micah is a monster in his own right and has been consistently for years.

“I’m very excited to work with Micah. We have high expectations for our room. We’re quite excited for that opportunity.”

The 33-year-old Johnson has spent eight seasons in the CFL, the last two with Saskatchewan. A three-time CFL All-Star, he and Wynn have a combined 71 career sacks.

Wynn expects it will take time for him and Johnson to meld.

“There’s a feeling out period,” he said. “I feel like when you hit a certain level of success in this league it’s because your mentality starts to align. He’s a hard worker and I have no doubts we will gel quickly.”

Besides Wynn, the Hamilton defence remains intact with linebacker Simoni Lawrence, cornerback Jumal Rolle and halfback Cariel Brooks — all CFL-All Stars — returning, along with East Division all-star safety Tunde Adeleke and middle linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox.

Hamilton’s defence was ranked in the top third of the league in many statistical categories last season. One exception was sacks, where Hamilton was ranked fifth with 31.

“We definitely didn’t play up to our standard and we want to improve,” said the six-foot-two, 283-pound Wynn, who in 12 games last year had 30 tackles, five sacks, and two tackles for a loss. “That being said, we focus on affecting the quarterback.

“We might not get him on the ground every time (but) that was something we tightened up later.”

During playoff wins over Montreal and Toronto the Tiger-Cats registered 10 sacks. During the regular season Hamilton also led the league with 61 pass knockdowns with Rolle and Kameron Kelly contributing 10 each.

“The skill set of the guys that we have in coverage make it easy to be a great d-line,” said Wynn.

Wynn had a pair of tackles in the Ticats’ overtime loss in the Grey Cup to the Blue Bombers in December. He’s determined to get back to the Grey Cup this year and bring a championship to Hamilton (Photo: The Canadian Press)

Something else that convinced Wynn to remain in Hamilton was the coaching staff, which he considers the best in the league. He loves the competitive environment nurtured by head coach Orlondo Steinauer.

“Everyone is competing to work harder than each other, whether it be the coaches or players,” he said. “Competition drives greatness and everyone, from the coaching staff, front office to the catering staff is quite competitive.

“That’s what Coach O brings and that’s what he preaches every day. We’ve just got a group that buys in. It’s hard to put a money value on it. It definitely makes it hard to leave.”

Wynn also calls Randy Melvin, “the best d-line coach I think I’ve had.”

“What coach Melvin quietly brings is just irreplaceable,” he said. “He’s been a high level coach for so long and truly is a student of the game.

“He is blessed with the ability to teach and teach every well.”

Wynn was born in Texas but great up playing high school football in California. He attended Oregon State University  then spent parts of two years  with the NFL Cleveland Browns.

Wynn signed with Toronto in 2017 and helped the Argonauts defeat Calgary in the Grey Cup. He had 34 tackles and six sacks that year and was named an East Division All-Star.

He signed with Hamilton in 2019.

Wynn has been part of a Tiger-Cats team that has lost the last two Grey Cups to Winnipeg.  They were upset 33-12 by the Bombers in 2019 in Calgary, then lost 33-25 in overtime at home in December.

“Nobody wants to be second,” said Wynn. “Your name doesn’t go on the Cup for being second.

“It’s motivation but never a distraction. It puts a little fire in you. How we deal with it is one step at a time. We focus on the little steps. That’s how you climb you climb Mount Everest.”

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