Canadian Football League

*** 2013 CFL Eastern Preview - Hamilton Tiger-Cats ***

From The Sports Network

By Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - When you look back at the Tiger-Cats 2012 season, two numbers jump out at you: 538 and 576.

The former is the number of points scored by the Tiger-Cats, which led the league.

The latter is the number of points allowed, which also led the league.

A total of 102 of those 538 points came from Chris Williams, the 5-foot-8, 175 pound native of Fort Worth, Texas. After a sensational debut in 2011, when he was named the CFL's rookie of the year, Williams had a better season in 2012, with 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs. In addition, he led the CFL in punt returns with 78 for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns while adding five missed field goal returns for 256 yards and a TD.

However, Williams is not at training camp, after he tried to have the final year of his contract voided. An arbitrator ruled that Williams' contract was binding, even though, in a violation of the CFL's collective bargaining agreement, the contract was negotiated by an unregistered agent.

Williams has still not indicated if he'll return to the Tiger-Cats this season, or sit out, so he can try and make an NFL team in 2014.

Kent Austin, the new head coach and general manager of the Tiger-Cats, clearly is a little irked by the situation, especially when asked if he'd welcome Williams back.

"Everything has to be evaluated," said Austin. "Every player will be evaluated in relation to his ability to play this game and desire to fit on this football team.

"It's no different than any of these guys that are out here right now. Chris will be evaluated the same way, if in fact he wants to come back."

And, if Williams does return, Austin said Williams owes the team an apology.

"I'd hope he'd bring that forward on his own and have enough wisdom to figure that out on his own. If he didn't, then it would be requested [by the team]."

While Williams was a big part of the Tiger-Cats' offensive success last season, a lot of it also came from quarterback Henry Burris. The 38 year-old is heading into his 14th CFL season, and in 2012, he started all 18 games during his first season in Hamilton. He completed 391-of-604 pass attempts for 5,367 yards and 43 touchdowns and set new team records for passing yards and touchdowns.

He'll be throwing the ball to a veteran group of receivers: slotbacks Andy Fantuz (72 catches for 971 yards and 8 majors) and Dave Stala (42 catches for 655 yards and 4 TDs) as well as Sam Giguere (41 receptions for 541 yards and one TD), Bakari Grant (38 catches, 476 yards and 5 TDs), and Onrea Jones (32-464 yards and 4 TDs).

But, what about that defense?

New defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer admitted at the start of camp, "the secondary is a challenge. We will succeed as a team, not as a secondary, not as a front four, not as a linebacking corps. We'll succeed as a group."

That means they have a lot of work to do, in order to smell success. In 2012, the Tiger-Cat defense gave up 305.7 yards passing per game, the most in the CFL. A big reason for that was a lack of pass rush, just 31 sacks in 18 games, seventh best in the league.

The secondary is already being revamped, with just two DBs back from the crew that started in the final game last year -- Dee Webb and Ryan Hinds. Former Saskatchewan Roughrider James Patrick appears to be the starter at safety. Evan McCollough, a free agent signing who played with the Argos, will also add some veteran savvy.

The linebacking corps will be a work in progress. Jamall Johnson, has moved from weak side to the middle, while Markeith Knowlton has been shifted from strong to weak.

In addition, this season the Tiger-Cats will play eight of their nine "home" games at Alumni Stadium in Guelph, a 40-minute drive from Hamilton. Ivor Wynne Stadium has been torn down, and a new stadium is being built in its place, due to open in June 2014.

How will the team respond to having to travel up Highway 6 for every home game? How will they respond to having to be bused to and from every practice (from their corporate offices in downtown Hamilton to McMaster University, a 10-15 minute drive each way? Will the crowds in Guelph give them a home-field advantage?

Football players are creatures of habit. If the Tiger-Cats hit the skids at any point this season, there's a danger of players starting to complain, and in turn, dreading coming to work. That will make the head coach's job even tougher. The Tiger-Cats have to get to at least the .500 level. Question is... will their defense allow them to get there?

FACTS & FIGURES: Division - East. 2012 record - 6-12, 4th place in East. Playoff result: missed playoffs. Stadium - Alumni Stadium, Guelph (for 2013 season only). Capacity - 14,000 Colors - Black and Gold.

06/10 15:40:39 ET