In this tale of two cities, it was the worst of times, and the worst of times.
The Edmonton Elks visit the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Canada Day, and, the way these teams are going, offensive fireworks might not be on the menu. Both are 0-3, and both are struggling to move the football.
With the Elks, we expected there to be pains under new general manager and coach Chris Jones. He inherited a team that finished 3-11 last season and wasn’t expected to be a contender in 2022. But the Ticats reached the Grey Cup final in 2021, and big things were expected for them.
“Nobody would have expected them to be 0-3,” Jones said of the Ticats before the Elks left for the Steel City. “They have an awfully good football team, they have a lot of experienced players, they have a tremendous coaching staff and personnel department. They haven’t been to as many Grey Cups and won as many games as they have without being a great program.
“We’ve got our hands full, we’ve got to get on the airplane with the right mindset.”
“You don’t expect to start your season off 0-3, but you get to see the resilience that your teammates have, right away,” said Ticats receiver Tim White, who has caught 19 passes for 216 yards so far this season. “I think the mood right now is a willingness to get better.
“I think a lot of guys are open to learning and just sitting back and seeing what the coaches have to say, and just looking to get on the field and improve upon that.”
Despite the different expectations going into the season, there are so many ways these teams mirror each other. The two teams lead the league in interceptions thrown, Edmonton with seven, Hamilton with six. The Elks are last in offence, at just 303.7 yards per game. The Ticats rank just marginally better, in seventh, at 319 yds per game.
And here’s another one for the mirror, mirror department. The Ticats have been outscored 46-16 in the fourth quarters of the three games they’ve played so far. More than half of the points the Ticats have surrendered all season have been scored in the final quarter. The Elks imploded in the fourth quarters in their two most recent defeats; they held a slim, late lead over Saskatchewan in Week 2 and couldn’t hold it. In last week’s 30-23 loss at Calgary, the Elks led late into the third quarter.
When it gets late, these teams have struggled. So maybe the advantage is to go into the fourth quarter, trailing?
“We’ve got to learn how to protect a lead, we’ve got to learn how to finish the game,” Jones said. “It’s all three phases (offence, defence, special teams), it’s not just one phase. Special teams have played good, but, in the fourth quarter, we haven’t played our best football. We’ve got to play three-phase football for four quarters. If we do that, we can learn how to win games.”
“We can’t get too comfortable, and never be surprised,” said Elks veteran receiver Manny Arceneaux, who racked up 100 reception yards and a touchdown in last week’s 30-23 loss to Calgary. “We’ve got to continue putting the foot on the gas and trending upwards.”
Arceneaux said the Elks can’t panic.
“You can’t really look in the past and look what teams have done, or even look at records, because each game is a new game. For me, personally, I couldn’t care less what’s going on over there (in Hamilton). My focus is how are we going to win this next game,” he said.
“Going through the motions causes someone to be a locker-room casualty.”
In terms of casualties, the Elks traded American offensive lineman Colin Kelly to Hamilton earlier this week, getting a seventh-round draft pick in return. Jones said the next draft is a deep one, and adding a pick is a move the Elks had to make. The Ticats will likely move Kelly from the right side of the line to the left.
“The good news is that I played against that Edmonton defence a few times at practice,” Kelly said. “I’m just excited to play again, regardless of who it is.
“I’m switching positions, but that’s just reps, and making sure you stay focused.”