Monday, June 24, 2024

Scott Milanovich embarks upon first season as Ticats head coach

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HAMILTON — Scott Milanovich is back on a CFL sideline.

The 51-year-old American enters his first full season as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach. He takes over from Orlondo Steinauer, who’s now focusing full-time on his duties as the team’s president of football operations.

Milanovich joined Hamilton last season as a senior assistant coach but assumed play-calling duties when the club and offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell mutually parted ways following its 3-5 start.

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The Ticats (8-10) finished third in the East Division before losing 27-12 to eventual Grey Cup-champion Montreal in the conference semifinal.

Milanovich, from Butler, Pa., has over 20 years coaching experience and is entering his 12th season in the CFL, having also spent time with the Calgary Stampeders (2003), Montreal Alouettes (2007-11) and Toronto Argonauts (2012-16 as head coach).

He is a three-time Grey Cup champion (2009-10, ’12) and was the CFL’s coach of the year in 2012. He also spent time as a quarterback coach in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts (2021-22) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2017-19).

He keeps getting drawn back to Canada.

“It’s still the most fun I’ve ever had coaching,” said Milanovich. “Nobody is getting rich and so there’s a certain love of the game that is a part of the CFL.

“It’s a very unique family-type atmosphere, close-knit and for me it’s just a lot of fun.

Bo Levi Mitchell enters his second season as Hamilton’s starting quarterback. Mitchell’s first campaign was limited to just six starts (2-4) as he battled an adductor ailment and right leg fracture that required surgery.

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The 34-year-old Texan completed 78-of-132 passes (59.1 per cent) for 1,031 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mitchell joined the Ticats following a stellar tenure in Calgary (2012-19, 2021-22), leading the franchise to a pair of Grey Cups while twice being named the CFL’s outstanding player. On Friday night, Mitchell returns to Alberta for the first time when Hamilton opens the ’24 season facing the Stampeders at McMahon Stadium.

Injuries to Mitchell and veteran Matt Shiltz (now with Calgary) resulted in rookie Taylor Powell making nine starts last season. The 25-year-old American responded well, completing 197-of-292 passes (67.4 per cent) for 2,283 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing 28 times for 196 yards (seven-yard average) and a TD.

Hamilton signed Powell to an extension through 2025 last month.

Tim White anchors Hamilton’s receiving corps. The five-foot-10, 195-pound veteran had 75 catches for a CFL-high 1,269 yards and eight TDs, his second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign.

Steven Dunbar Jr. returns after spending ’23 with Edmonton. He had 72 catches for 1,000 yards and six TDs with Hamilton in 2022.

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Left guard Brandon Revenberg, a four-time CFL all-star, enters his eighth season with Hamilton and will anchor the offensive line. But Milanovich has also asked centre David Beard and right guard Coulter Woodmansey to join Revenberg as vocal leaders on the squad.

“I feel good about where we’re at on the offensive line,” Milanovich said. “Particularly the interior three, and the Canadian depth we’ve got behind them.

“That is definitely a comfort level.”

Canadian tackle Chris Van Zeyl, the CFLs top lineman in 1999, retired after 15 seasons, the last four with Hamilton.

Running back James Butler rushed for a career-best 1,116 yards last season, becoming Hamilton’s first 1,000-yard runner since 2009-10 when DeAndra’ Cobb had 1,207 and 1,173 yards, respectively. It also marked Butler’s second straight thousand-yard season as he had 1,060 with B.C. in 2022.

American defensive lineman Casey Sayles (team-high seven sacks) returns for his second season in Hamilton. The club also added defensive linemen DeWayne Hendrix and Brandon Barlow and Canadian David Menard as well as cornerback Jamal Peters as free agents.

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Safety Stavros Katsantonis was Hamilton’s top Canadian last season after making 15 starts. Other returnees to the secondary include cornerback Dexter Lawson Jr. and defensive backs Richard Leonard and Kenneth George Jr.

But the unit will be minus stalwart linebacker Simoni Lawrence and Canadian tackle Ted Laurent, both of whom retired. Hamilton acquired Canadian linebacker Jordan Williams from Toronto in the off-season, but he also retied before the start of camp.

Earlier this week, Hamilton signed American defensive back Jonathan Moxley, who spent the last four seasons with Calgary.

Canadian Marc Liegghio will again handle kicking duties while global Nik Constantinou enters his first season as the punter.

After visiting Calgary, Hamilton will return for its home opener June 16 versus Saskatchewan.

2023 record: 8-10, third in East Division, lost 27-12 to Montreal Alouettes in conference semifinal.

Did you know? The Ticats last won the Grey Cup in 1999, the CFLs longest championship drought.

Key additions: WR Steven Dunbar Jr., DL David Menard, DeWayne Hendrix and Reggie Barlow, CB Jamal Peters.

Key losses: LBs Jordan Williams and Simoni Lawrence (both retired), DL Ted Laurent (retired) and Dylan Wynn (Montreal), QB Matt Shiltz (Calgary), DB Tunde Adeleke (Toronto).

Players to watch: QB Bo Levi Mitchell, WR Tim White, RB James Butler, DL Casey Sayles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

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