If Chris Williams sits out the entire season, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats might not have to look far to replace the dangerous dual threat.
Canadian Sam Giguere is anxious to become a bigger contributor to the Ticats this year.
“It’s hard to take a lot of positives from a 6-12 season,” the muscular receiver said recently about the 2012 campaign, which was his first in the CFL. “Personally, I would’ve like to help the team more and I don’t think I achieved that.
“So this year for me it’s real important to step up and be able to contribute more and make the big plays and get the wins.”
There’d be no better time than now for the 6-foot, 215-pound native of Sherbrooke, Que., to step up. Hamilton, which missed the playoffs last year, is preparing for upcoming season minus Williams, the CFL’s top special-teams player last season who is mired in a bitter contract dispute with the Ticats.
The speedy receiver/kick-returner went to arbitration to have the final year of his CFL contract voided, reportedly to pursue NFL offers. But an arbitrator ruled last week that Williams’ deal was binding even though it was negotiated by an unregistered agent, a violation of the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement.
Williams was a no-show for both Hamilton’s mini-camp in April and training camp. It’s unclear if he’ll report now or sit out 2013 then pursue an NFL deal.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound Williams has arguably been Hamilton’s best player the last two seasons. The 25-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas, was the CFL’s top rookie in 2011 after registering 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and six TDs. He also had 12 kickoff returns for 252 yards and a touchdown while returning 12 punts for 81 yards.
Williams was even better last year, with 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs. He also led the CFL in punt returns with 78 for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns while adding five missed field goal returns for 256 yards and a TD.
Williams’ six combined return TDs was a CFL record.
Last season was Giguere’s first in the CFL after spending three years on the practice roster of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants. The Ticats had high expectations for the former Sherbrooke star when they took him eighth overall in the 2008 CFL draft after he had 45 catches for 871 yards and seven TDs in ‘07.
Not surprising, the bar was set exceedingly high when Giguere finally arrived in Hamilton. Over three seasons at Sherbrooke, the 27-year-old had 94 catches 1,950 yards and 17 TDs and in ‘07 was a first-team all-Canadian.
Giguere cracked Hamilton’s starting lineup last season but managed 41 catches for 549 yards and a TD. He also returned 24 kickoffs for 483 yards.
But for the second straight year Giguere, who also doubles as brakeman with the Canadian bobsleigh team, finds himself playing for a new coach and learning a new offence. Kent Austin begins his first season as Hamilton’s head coach and GM replacing George Cortez, who was fired after one season with the team.
“Every new coaching staff evaluates players . . . and a new coaching staff also means a new playbook and more time studying,” Giguere said. “But everyone is up to the same challenge and we’ve been working on timing and execution and getting as comfortable as we can with the plays.
“Being a pro means being able to handle change . . . with the season we had last year I think everybody figured there’d be changes. Everybody wants to win and these are steps we must take if we want to make the playoffs, get to the Grey Cup and win a championship.”
While Giguere and his offensive teammates adjust to a new coach and playbook, at least there’s familiarity in the offensive huddle. Giguere is one of five returning receivers in camp — Canadians Andy Fantuz and Dave Stala along with Americans Bakari Grant and Onrea Jones — and also back is sophomore running back Chevon Walker.
Most importantly, starter Henry Burris returns after an impressive first season in Hamilton when he established career highs in completions (391), attempts (604), yards (5,367) and TDs (43).
Burris recently turned 38 but hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards in eight of the last nine years.
“Even though we’re learning new plays, I think there’s some good chemistry that’s developing within the offence,” Giguere said. “I’m more comfortable with the formations, motions and waggles and more comfortable with Henry.”
If training camp is any indication, the Ticats are looking for different ways to utilize Giguere. He’s seeing time as both a wide receiver and slotback.
“He has done well,” Austin said of Giguere. “He’s had to learn a couple of positions and we’re moving him around a bit but he’s come in in shape and he has some talent.”
Austin said he has an idea of where Giguere should line up but plans to let the pre-season play out before making any firm decisions.
“Right now we need more time with him and need to see him in a game,” Austin said.
Giguere said it’s too early in training camp to decide which position he prefers. Then again, in Austin’s offence, the burly receiver said there will be plenty of footballs to go around.
“I think the playbook is built in a way that everybody can contribute and get some footballs,” he said. “I think everybody is going to be moving around a lot during the season.
“That’s what being a good offence is, being able to move guys and get the matchups we want.”
And Giguere expects the Ticats to be potent offensively, with or without Williams.
“I don’t think the offence has to depend on one guy,” he said. “I think it’s a weakness if it’s that way and I think we have the players on offence to be able to step up and keep going.”