Avon Cobourne is not used to starting his off-season this early. He's so unsettled by it, he's not even planning to watch this year's Grey Cup.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats running back and his teammates cleaned out their lockers Tuesday, two days after being eliminated by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL East Division final. The loss was in stark contrast to the Ticats' thrilling 52-44 upset victory in overtime one week earlier over the Montreal Alouettes, the team with which Cobourne won the previous two Grey Cups.
"I feel like the Grey Cup's not going to happen if I'm not in it," Cobourne said. "But it still goes on. It's hard to deal with."
Winning a playoff game may have been a step forward for the organization, which lost in the first round of the postseason the last two years, but that wasn't much consolation. The team's inconsistent play over an 8-10 regular season and an up-and-down postseason left some searching for answers as they packed up for the off-season.
"We need our players to focus more, we need our coaches to focus more," a visibly agitated Cobourne said. "We need to grow up a little more than we are right now."
Others didn't want the playoff victory to mask the fact their season was so erratic.
"It's very disappointing. I've played in this league nine years, and I don't know how much time I have left. I don't want to be selfish here, but I want to win a Grey Cup," veteran receiver Dave Stala said.
"We're not good enough yet. I don't know what it is. I thought we were a lot better team earlier in the season. I think the consistency thing is big."
Many Ticats said the unpredictable play could be partly explained by the numerous lineup changes over the season. Trading away veteran receivers Arland Bruce III and Maurice Mann went along with a shuffled receiving corps infused with talented but inexperienced, while injuries dictated a revolving door of players in the secondary.
"You're not lining up like the teams that are playing with the same group all year, but that was necessary to make us a dynamic enough team to win and be able to score 50 [-plus]points and win a playoff game," head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said.
"Had we not made those changes, we wouldn't have been able to do that. So those moves were all positive, but they do effect your consistency level."
Bellefeuille is under contract through next season, and says management has not discussed job security with him. As for his vision for the team, Bellefeuille says he plans continuity over the many personnel changes made last off-season.
"There's a great young nucleus that can grow and play together for the next number of years," Bellefeuille said.
Quarterbacks Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter, rotated often this season, are both under contract through 2012.
Porter told members of the media he feels ready to become a starter. Glenn gave a non-committal answer when reporters asked how he would feel if the Ticats wanted to keep using both regularly next season.
"That's something I would have to discuss with management," said Glenn, who said he has never seen a situation where a team successfully platoons quarterbacks, except perhaps rarely at the U.S. college level. "Right now, I can't answer that for you."
Several key Ticats are scheduled to become free agents, including two of the team's most effective players this season: defensive end Justin Hickman and kicker Justin Medlock. Both are expected to explore possibilities with NFL teams.