The Ivor Wynne Stadium sound system provided the canned crowd noise and Mother Nature the wind and chill, but the atmospheric element most satisfying for Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille during practice this week had to be a deep-throated “Dere ya go! Dere ya go!”
The source of the three words was defensive co-ordinator Corey Chamblin and, no, they weren’t shouted out on every play. What did you expect after a CFL East Division semi-final in which the Ticats were scorched for 513 yards passing?
Early in the week, Bellefeuille made very clear he had told his players to refrain from discussing anything – good or bad – to do with the Ticats’ 52-44 overtime win in Montreal last Sunday, which made sense for his defensive unit.
Even on the Alouettes’ last play, a third-and-two pass that fell out of running back Brandon Whitaker’s grasp, the sense was it bombed less because of tremendous coverage and more because Whitaker was clearly hobbled after suffering what appeared to be a leg injury.
The Ticats watched videotape of the game early in the week, but defensive halfback Bo Smith – the only member of the defensive backfield to start every game for the Ticats in 2011 – said focusing on the East final opponent, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was easy because they are different than the Alouettes.
To begin with, the Ticats won’t face CFL most outstanding player award nominee quarterback Anthony Calvillo again. Plus, the Bombers’ offensive approach is different.
“They’re tricky,” Smith said, with a knowing smile. “They’ll try to slow play you; they’ll try to lull you to sleep and then you think they’re going to be running a reverse, they’ll still have somebody running down the field. That’s way different than Montreal. Montreal will throw more quickly and go yard by yard and then bomb you.”
Of all the missed tackles and botched plays in the semi-final, the one that stuck in the Ticats craw was a 75-yard pass-and-run touchdown from Calvillo to Éric Deslauriers, set up when Hamilton safety Carlos Thomas simply lined up on the wrong side of the field.
“The worst play in the game,” said Hamilton general manager Bob O’Billovich, himself a former defensive back.
Chamblin has bigger issues than his reputation going into this game. But as an assistant coach who has previously been interviewed for CFL head coaching openings (and who is expected to be interviewed for the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ top job), the year-long issues the Ticats have had adapting to his attacking, man-to-man style of coverage must at least be puzzling.
“What people need to understand about CFL football is there is a time on defence when you are attacking and a certain time when you are reacting, because the offence has motion,” Chamblin explained. “There’s unlimited motion, there’s nothing stagnant so you can say, ‘This guy is always here.’ ”
Chamblin called the Bombers offence simple and efficient, but also echoed Smith’s assessment about their propensity for gadget plays, regardless of whether No. 1 quarterback Buck Pierce or backup Alex Brink is in the game.
“All you can do is coach what they’ve shown in the past,” Chamblin said. “I mean, there are 1,002 reverses and trick plays, right? All you can do is make a play on it.”
Talk about (Ti)cats having nine lives: Let’s see if Chamblin’s secondary has it in them to take advantage of one of the unlikeliest second chances in CFL history.