This hasn’t been quite the start linebacker Renauld Williams envisioned for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence.
Through the opening two weeks of the 2012 season, the unit finds itself last in the CFL in points allowed (41 per game), touchdowns (eight), sacks (one), rushing yards allowed (329) and total yards (883). What’s more, the Ticats (0-2) have forced no turnovers thus far under first-year defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan.
“Coach Creehan has a new scheme that guys are obviously still getting used to,” Williams said Tuesday. “Every play you have to read the keys he’s telling you to read and you have to get to where he’s telling you to get to.
“If you don’t, one guy will destroy a whole play. Between the defensive line and the linebackers, everyone has to get to where they’re supposed to get on every single play. You can’t have a mental lapse.”
The Ticats’ slow start can’t be pinned solely on the defence. Hamilton’s offence, while second overall in passing yards and total yards — has turned the ball over six times to stand second only to Calgary (eight). The Ticats have a league-high three turnovers on downs.
The good news is with 16 regular-season games remaining, there’s obviously no need for Hamilton to press the panic button. Having said that, the six-foot, 228-pound Williams said Saturday’s home game against the arch-rival Toronto Argonauts (1-1) is critically important.
“It’s definitely a must-win for us,” he said. “You don’t want to start 0-3.
“There’s a little sense of urgency, more than last week. Any time we play Toronto, it’s a big game regardless of if we were 2-0 or 0-2. This is the game we want to win, we always want to beat Toronto.”
Hamilton opened the season dropping a 43-16 home decision to Saskatchewan on June 29. Roughriders’ quarterback Darian Durant finished 25-of-34 passing for 390 yards and four TDs, three going to slotback Weston Dressler, who had 13 catches for 180 yards.
“We were out of sync as a defence that game,” Williams said. “Guys were moved around and people were still getting comfortable to certain spots they were unaccustomed to playing.
“I thought in our second game we were more in sync and for three quarters played well.”
On Friday night, Hamilton suffered a 39-36 road loss to the Grey Cup-champion B.C. Lions. Quarterback Travis Lulay, the CFL’s outstanding player last year, threw for just 178 yards and two TDs but tailback Andrew Harris rushed for 147 yards and a TD on just 13 carries.
Harris, the CFL rushing leader with 194 yards, anchored a B.C. ground attack that rolled up 208 total yards and effectively cemented the win. After scampering 61 yards to set up a field goal earlier in the fourth quarter, Harris ran four times for 46 yards as the Lions ran out the final 2:33 after Hamilton scored a TD and a two-point convert to make it a three-point game.
“He [Harris] had over half of his yards in the fourth quarter,” Williams said. “We were good up until that point.
“Really, though, there were some good things come out of that game . . . we just have to keep coming together and keep playing.”
Williams and Co. will face a Toronto offence heading into Ivor Wynne Stadium on a roll. Quarterback Rick Ray had 407 yards passing and two touchdowns in the Argos’ 39-36 home-opening win over Calgary on Saturday. Receivers Andre Durie (10 catches, 118 yards) and Dontrelle Inman (three catches, 107 yards, two TDs) were his favourite targets while tailback Cory Boyd ran for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Williams, 31, said the key remains getting to Ray, the CFL’s passing leader with 705 yards, while not losing track of Boyd.
“It’s getting to Ricky and containing Boyd,” Williams said. “You want to try to get to Ricky and make him hold the ball, he loves to throw those outs, and also hold Boyd in the run game.
“If we can do that, we should be OK.”
Hamilton has had trouble pressuring the quarterback as Williams has the unit’s lone sack. The Ticats had 37 sacks last year to finish fourth in the CFL, with ends Justin Hickman (tied for league lead with 13) and Stevie Baggs (five) accounting for more than half that total.
Trouble is, neither player remains in Hamilton as Baggs was released this off-season and Hickman signed with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. But while piling up sacks is the goal of many defences, Williams admits the underlying theme of a defensive front is to get to the passer quickly and harass him.
“A good defence will get to the quarterback,” Williams said. “Hurries, pressures and stuff like that are effective ways to get to the quarterback even if you don’t have the sacks.
“But I do think sacks are important, too. Ever since I’ve been in the league, the guys who have the most sacks are usually on the top defence.”
While Williams isn’t happy about Hamilton’s slow start, he says there’s still plenty of time for the defence to find its mojo.
“It’s a long season and that’s something us vets are letting the guys know, that we’re going to get this thing tightened up,” Williams said. “The coaches will get everyone to where they need to be and we’re going to start rolling and get some wins sooner than later.”