By DAN RALPH
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
HAMILTON -- It has taken five years, but Jeremiah Masoli is finally a starting CFL quarterback.
The 29-year-old secured the No. 1 spot with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after leading the team to a 6-4 record last season under then-interim head coach June Jones. The Tiger-Cats made Jones their full-time head coach this off-season and then signed Masoli to a two-year extension as their starter.
But the question remains: for how long?
Hamilton opens the 2018 season with road games against Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders, two teams expected to contend for tops in the West Division. Then the Ticats return home to play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on June 29 before facing the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a home-and-home series.
Hamilton's first game against an East Division opponent isn't until July 28 when it plays host to the Ottawa Redblacks.
However, facing five straight West opponents isn't the only issue Masoli must deal with early this year. Johnny Manziel, the former Heisman Trophy winner, will be on Hamilton's sideline this season.
Johnny Football signed with Hamilton on the eve of training camp. His arrival made headlines across North America and throughout camp a number of American outlets made the trek to Ron Joyce Stadium to speak to the celebrated 2014 Cleveland Browns first-round pick.
Manziel came off the bench in both of Hamilton's exhibition games, completing 21 of 32 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown with 29 yards rushing on six carries.
While those numbers aren't off the charts, Manziel did show flashes of brilliance and his confidence has appeared to grow as he gets more familiar with Canadian football.
Hamilton has also helped fan the Manziel flames with Jones stating publicly he felt Manziel could be the best player ever to suit up in the CFL. Heady praise, indeed, for a player who has yet to play an official down in Canada.
Manziel, 25, has been happy with his progression since joining the Ticats. Given his reputation, Manziel understands he's going to be a target whenever he's on the field. But he said he's not going to back down.
"I don't want anything but everybody's best shot," Manziel said. "I've talked to guys on the team about this, about some things I said last week as far not backing down from anybody.
"I think that's our mantra for our whole team."
BREAKDOWN OF THE 2018 HAMILTON TIGER-CATS HEAD COACH
Jones enters his first full season after replacing Kent Austin on interim basis last year.
6-12, third in CFL East and missed playoffs.
QB Manziel was undoubtedly Hamilton's biggest off-season acquisition. Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, signed as a free agent, fills a definite need and comes off a Grey Cupwinning season with Toronto. Offensive lineman Mathieu Girard coming out of retirement fills a hole created by the trading of Ryan Bomben to Montreal. The club also bolstered its coaching ranks with the return of assistant head coach Orlondo Steinauer and the hiring of special teams coordinator Frank Gansz Jr.
The Zach Collaros era ended in January with the Ticats dealing the quarterback to Saskatchewan. All-star slotback Andy Fantuz, who played in just three games last season after suffering a torn ACL in October, 2016, wasn't re-signed. Hamilton dealt defensive back Abdul Kanneh to Toronto and also bid farewell to defensive back Emmanuel Davis and Canadian defensive lineman Ben D'Aguilar.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Masoli finished the 2017 season with a bang and will have solid veterans Luke Tasker and Brandon Banks to play catch with. Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent and veteran linebackers Simoni Lawrence and Larry Dean should be the anchors to Jerry Glanville's defence with national safety Courtney Stephen serving as the leader of the secondary.
Jeremiah Masoli, seen during a 2017 game against the Alouettes, is the new starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
GRAHAM HUGHES /THE CANADIAN PRESS