Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Kent Austin talked to the media in Calgary on Thursday in advance of Friday nights game against the Calgary Stampeders.
Photograph by: Colleen De Neve Colleen De Neve, Calgary Herald
C.J. Gable seems to intuitively, instinctively, feel the presence of danger. When threatened in the open field by a closing DB or a linebacker bent on annihilation, his Spidey sense ignites into tingle overdrive.
And then the former USC tailback leaps into action. Literally. Without benefit of any webslinging, either. Up, up and away. Corkscrewing in the air like a marlin hooked off Key West to evade a frantic clawing tackle attempt.
At times, at liftoff, he resembles Edwin Moses attacking a hurdle or Jordan soaring to the rim.
“We are trying to keep him on the ground more,’’ sighed Hamilton coach Kent Austin on Thursday, after the Ticats had landed in town for tonight’s date against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium. “I told him this week ‘Do you ever watch alpine skiing? Keep the skis ON the snow and you’ll go faster.’
“He kind of looked at me with a knitted eyebrow. I don’t think he watches much skiing. He’s a southern California boy.’’
Austin laughs, shrugs resignedly.
“That probably wasn’t the best analogy, now that I think about it.’’
Well, no matter. C.J. Gable has taken flight.
His Tabbies, too.
After a dispiriting 1-4 start that included an embarrassing 37-0 strip-search in Austin’s old haunt of Regina, the surging Tiger Cats have executed a complete about-face, winning four of their last five, punctuated by an impressive ‘home’ slapdown of the B.C. Lions last week in Guelph.
Their remarkable 180 is the talk of the CFL. Simply a growing acclimatization time to the new boss, perhaps?
“That,’’ replies Austin, “may be a bit simplistic. Every team dynamic has deficiencies, right? Different levels of dysfunctionality that have to be corrected.
“We took a look. We looked at where we thought we had holes that needed to be filled. From personnel, from the top down. We didn’t let any area go unnoticed. And we challenged our coaches in every area to really dig deep and figure out a way to get this team to a championship level.’’
Offensively, the ‘Cats are a handful and then some. Old Stampeder ally Henry Burris, on the verge of joining the career 50,000-yard passing club, is leading all throwers with 3,181 yards through 10 starts. The receiving corps of first-year phenom Greg Ellingson (48 catches, 743 yards), Bakari Grant (45 and 610), Samuel Giguere (26 for 391) and a now-healthy Andy Fantuz (30 for 432) can be considered as lethal as any in the country.
Gable, meanwhile, has been a revelation lined up in the backfield, contributing 355 yards rushing and 344 receiving. Last week versus the Leos, he out-Andrew-Harrised Andrew Harris, going over 100 yards in both areas.
“I’ve described C.J.,’’ says Austin, “as a complete back. Those are the runningbacks that I have always looked for, we have always looked for, in our offence. In the offence that I run, we need a complete back. He needs to be able to protect the quarterback first and foremost. He needs to be an excellent runner and an excellent receiver.
“He has a lot to learn. He has a lot on his plate because we move him around quite a bit. And like I said, with the three different roles we give him, he has to be proficient in all three. C.J.’s done that. He has pretty high football intelligence. He’s a great kid. He plays really, really hard. every time he touches the ball in practice he runs all the way to the end zone.
“I’m trying to get him to limit that a little bit. To try and save his legs.
“But that’s just the way he’s wired. He’s a pro and he wants to be great.’’
Burris, as the numbers show, already is.
“Henry,’’ lauds his boss, “is easy to coach. He cares, which is the biggest part of it, right? He really wants to be good. He really wants to do everything he can to help the football team. He prepares really hard. I’m very demanding. He takes hard coaching well. He’s just a great guy. He’s a true pro.
“There’s always growing pains when you start a new relationship. You’ve got a guy that coaches the quarterback, it’s kind of a unique relationship. They’ve got to put in a lot of time. But he’s easy to develop a relationship with because he’s a really good person.’’
Defensively, the Tiger-Cats are also beginning to come into their own.
“Like any area of our football team,’’ says Austin, “there was a lot to learn. New coaching staff, new terminology, new expectations. How we expect them to play, we needed to develop some level of continuity in the lineup after going through many changes. And I think we just have a better idea as staff what our players do well and what we don’t do well.
“Orlondo (defensive co-ordinator Steinhauer) has done a great job with those guys. They’re growing together. They’re having a lot more fun together. They’ve developed relationships that are trusting and meaningful, and you need that.
“They’ve always played hard but now they’ve playing better as a unit.
“We’re playing faster because we know what do to, more than we did just trying to remember how to line up earlier in the season.’’
The sense of collective belief, instilled by Austin, is growing. The snarl is back in Tabbietown. Only one game out of the East lead currently held by the Toronto Argonauts. And another statement game against a Western power awaiting them Friday night at McMahon.
“I mean, initially when Kent and his staff came in and we all met each other in mini-camp back in April, they pretty much set the foundation for what our team was gonna be,’’ says Burris.
“He talked about this scenario, as far as being in close games. Early on, he said we might get blown out — which happened in Saskatchewan. Mostly, though, we’re going to be in close games. And we’re going to get to the point where those close games turn into victories.
“And that’s all about staying focused through adverse times.
“And that’s what happened with this team.
“Now whenever we go out onto each and every surface, regardless of who we’re playing, where we’re playing, we know in our minds that as long as we prepare properly and execute properly we can beat anybody.’’
Up, up and away. Ready to soar.
Higher, even, than C.J. Gable.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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