Ticats rookies not 'new' guys
TIger-Cats receiver Terrence Toliver has been doing well at training camp. (JACOB DEARLOVE PHOTO)
There’s a dorm room on the campus of McMaster University that may hold a number of answers to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats coming season.
Residing there for the time being are Tiquan Underwood and Terrence Toliver — or Ti and TT, if you want to keep it informal.
Both are CFL rookies, both are wide receivers and both have been around the block more than once, just not in this league.
That would be the NFL block and now both are in Hamilton trying to land full-time employment in the game they both love.
Underwood is a 28-year-old former Rutgers standout whose claim to fame was a 4.31 40-yard dash at the 2009 Draft combine.
Some six years later and following stints with Jacksonville, New England, Tampa Bay and finally Carolina that included being cut nine different times, including once on the eve of the Super Bowl by the Patriots, Underwood finds himself in Hamilton alongside Toliver, who has similarly appeared to have exhausted his NFL opportunities.
The pairing has been good for both.
Toliver is a year younger than Underwood and, at 6-foot-5, a big target who runs good routes.
They hooked up in mini camp and have been helping each other since.
“We help each other study,” Underwood said of himself and his dorm mate. “We came in together as rookies and we’re just trying to learn the offence and be guys the coaches and the quarterback can depend on.”
While it’s still extremely early in the main camp, the initial reviews have been very good for both.
Both are working with the No. 1 offence on opposite sides of the field and both are getting positive feedback from head coach Kent Austin and starting quarterback Zach Collaros.
“They are talented kids,” Austin said. “They have size, speed, ball skills. They know how to run routes. Terrence has really good feet for his size and they understand body positioning as well, how to protect the ball when it is in the air, or as we call it ‘command their space.’
“They are smart and that’s what is helping those two in particular right now,” Austin said. “They are bright so they have been able to pick up the offence quicker than what is normally seen with the receivers.”
Collaros has also noticed this pair separating themselves from the other options early on.
“First and foremost, they have both done a great job with the playbook,” Collaros offered. “They are both guys who want to be here and be on the field. They have done a good job with a very heavy install. We have installed a lot of plays these first two, three days and they have done a good job not just with the playbook, but with the signals too. I’m definitely excited about that ... They are both smart guys. They have a pretty good understanding (already) of what we want from them so they are only going to get better and better, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Underwood, who wears No. 1 for the Ticats and is immediately recognizable by his high-top fade (think Will Smith in his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days) as soon as the helmet comes off, may be older than most rookies in camp, but he knows there’s plenty to learn and isn’t shy asking for help.
During practice Tuesday at McMaster’s Ron Joyce Stadium, Underwood could be seen going to receiver Luke Tasker any time he was unsure of a play call.
Even before he arrived in Hamilton he was already doing his prep work.
“I went to my cousin Patrick Brown, who played for Saskatchewan, and Tyron Brackenridge, who I played with in Jacksonville,” Underwood said. “He would send me the YouTube clips and tell me to watch the receivers and the waggle and just help me with little things so when I got up here it wasn’t so foreign to me.”
The mini-camp which preceded the main camp which opened Sunday was tough on both Underwood and Toliver, but it has them better prepared and put them in a good position now.
Underwood has been on the Ticats’ radar for a while now according to director of football operations Shawn Burke. Underwood said he had been told he had been on the team’s negotiation list for a while before he decided to make the jump and bring his talents to the CFL.
It’s far too early in the process to say with any certainly what roles the two will wind up playing, but the foundation both are laying appears to be solid.
COLLAROS NOT RESTING ON LAURELS
There’s no question Zach Collaros has found a home with the Ticats.
But no one will ever accuse him of getting too comfortable.
Well established as the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback, Collaros went home in the off-season and worked on his game to come back even better. To a former quarterback like head coach Kent Austin, the improvements were immediately obvious.
“He is more disciplined with his base,” Austin said breaking down the improvement. “His base isn’t as wide as it used to be. He tended at times to bring his feet together which caused him to over stride. Over striders sail the ball. We like the wide base, short step, 4-6 inch step.
And he also worked on his hips. He’s keeping his left shoulder open to his left more which is helping him to throw his outs and some of the tougher angle throws to his opposite side a little better.”
All of which sound like small things to the average football fan, but Austin knows just how much better such a small change can make.
“He’s a coachable guy and it doesn’t surprise me he worked in the off-season on the things he knew he was a little deficient at fundamentally,” Austin said.
Austin believes we have not seen the best of Collaros yet.
“He can still get lot better,” the head coach said. “I’ve said before I think his best football is still in front of him.”