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By Ted Michaels, CFL Editor - Archive - Email
Setting the tone
Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - Bob O'Billovich is cautiously optimistic.

The vice president of football operations for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, like most CFL followers, is curious to see what his offseason moves will produce this year.

This week, all CFL teams are holding three-day mini-camps. They give veterans a chance to get reacquainted with teammates and give rookies an opportunity to get up to speed on what a full training camp will be like.

The burning question in Hamilton at the start of the 2012 CFL campaign is simple: are the Tiger-Cats good enough to get to the Grey Cup?

"When we come out of training camp this year, this will probably be our most veteran team that we've had since I've been here," O'Billovich said. "Hopefully, that will make us better when it comes to wins and losses."

New Tiger-Cats quarterback Henry Burris, who was acquired in a January trade with Calgary for QB Kevin Glenn, offensive lineman Mark Dewit and a conditional draft pick, feels the mini-camp will set the tone for the rest of the season.

The Temple grad is entering his 13th season in the CFL, nine of which he played in Calgary, and three in Saskatchewan. He told AM900 CHML News that he can't wait for the unofficial start of the 2012 season.

"I'm looking forward to getting out there and meeting the guys, and getting the system in place, and building relationships both on and off the field," he said.

The native of Spiro, Okla., went on to explain, mini-camp will be more important for the Tiger-Cats, because of new head coach George Cortez, who hasn't worked with most of the players.

"It definitely hits home for teams in our situation, where there's been some moves made in the offseason and a new coaching staff in place, so a lot of new teaching will take place as far as the systems that will be installed," Burris said. "So, at least it gives us a chance to get a jump start on things. Teams like Winnipeg, B.C. (who met in last year's Grey Cup) and Edmonton didn't make a lot of changes, so they have that chemistry. Mini-camp gives us a chance to speed things up as well."

Burris says the Hamilton aerial attack could be a thing of beauty this year, with a plethora of top-notch receivers, including veterans Dave Stala, the biggest free-agent signing in the offseason, slotback Andy Fantuz and Terrence Jeffers-Harris, the former Winnipeg receiver, who signed as a free agent on Feb. 9.

Throw in second-year players Chris Williams, who was named an East Division All-Star, was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie and led the team in receiving yards, Aaron Kelly, Chris Williams and Bakari Grant, and it's no wonder Burris is looking forward to the season.

He also loves the hiring of the new Tabbies receivers coach, a former teammate in Calgary, Jeremaine Copeland.

During his collegiate career at Tennessee, Copeland initially suited up as a quarterback, backing up Peyton Manning, before he transitioned to receiver. Copeland helped Tennessee capture a national championship in 1998.

In 188 games over 11 seasons, Copeland registered 622 receptions, 75 touchdowns and became just the 15th player in CFL history to total over 10,000 receiving yards. He was named a divisional all-star three times and a CFL all- star twice during his career.

"When Jeremaine was in Calgary, you saw the makings of a great coach," Burris said. "He can relate both as a player and as a person. He's been there and has done it. He understands the fundamentals. He can relate to the younger players and he has their respect."

Burris couldn't contain his excitement when he found out that he'd be throwing passes to Fantuz, who established himself as one of the league's top receivers during his six seasons (2006-11) with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

In 77 regular-season games, Fantuz had 289 receptions for 4,311 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Fantuz was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian that season after catching 87 passes for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns.

"When Andy was signed, I was just as excited as anybody else was," Burris said. "He brings a lot of excitement and play-making ability."

Burris also emphasized the Hamilton offence won't be one-dimensional, with the signing of running back Martel Mallett, formerly of Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

Mallett started 16 games in his debut season with the B.C. Lions in 2009. He had 214 carries for 1,280 yards (5.8-yard average) and six touchdowns, and caught 43 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. He set a Lions record with 213 rushing yards against the Montreal Alouettes on Sept. 4. He earned the CFL Most Outstanding Rookie Award and was named a West Division All-Star.

Mallett spent some time with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns in 2010, and last season was in Philadelphia again as well spending time in the New York Giants' camp.

Head coach George Cortez and his staff have over 60 players taking part in meetings and practices.

The organization adds players may be released after the mini-camp if they don't perform well, which could mean more free-agent signings before training camp begins.

Rookies report on May 30, while the veterans start camp on June 3.

TIGER-CATS FAVORED

The early line has the Tiger-Cats the favorites to win the 100th Grey Cup at 4-1, followed by the B.C. Lions at 9-2, Calgary Stampeders at 5-1, Montreal Alouettes at 5-1 and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at 11-2.

CFL RULES

The Board of Governors unanimously approved the rule changes as proposed by the Rules Committee, including that all scoring plays be subject to review by the replay official in the Command Centre. This would include all touchdowns, field goals, converts, singles and safety touches.

They also approved two rules that specifically address the safety concern of players helmets coming off during play:

If a ball carrier's helmet comes off, the play shall be blown dead immediately. The line of scrimmage for the next play will be where the player's helmet came off.

If a non-ball carrier's helmet comes off, that player can no longer participate in the play. If he does, the player will be penalized 10 yards for illegal participation. If a player hits an opposing player who isn't participating because he lost his helmet, he will be penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.


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