Don Landry, CFL.ca Staff
The Hamilton Ticats like to think of themselves more as a brotherhood than a team and if that is true, there exists within them a micro-brotherhood, one that has been cast in the blast furnace of the line of scrimmage, where tight quarters make for fierce battles.
When the Ticats tangle with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Sunday, in the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, they will face a team that has a fairly balanced attack, the air game bolstered with the addition of quarterback Zach Collaros just a few weeks ago.
But there is little doubt that the strength of this Winnipeg team remains their ability to break off big chunks of yardage via the run, a good portion of those yards coming when they have their offensive line surge forward, the likes of running back Andrew Harris and quarterback Chris Streveler barging through even the smallest of holes.
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Inside a Hamilton line that features rush ends Ja’Gared Davis and Julian Howsare – who will need to corral any Winnipeg intentions when it comes to a perimeter running game – you find Wynn and Laurent, two veterans who have a kind of peanut butter and jelly thing going, clogging up the interior with great regularity.
“Yeah, we work really well together,” said Wynn, following the Ticats Friday practice at McMahon Stadium. “And I think that’s just our whole D line and that’s a credit to our coach (defensive line assistant Randy Melvin) and, really, the mentality of our defence. And that’s probably why we’ve had so much success this year.”
There are great, great interior linemen in the CFL, but with Laurent and Wynn, the Ticats might well possess the best duo in the league.
Some of that success is owed to the persistent nature of Wynn, the outgoing native of Concord, California, in his third CFL season but first in Hamilton. Way back at the beginning of training camp, the gregarious Wynn, Laurent said, went out of his way to sidle up to his new partner, breaking through Laurent’s more cautious, quiet nature.
Wynn did what he and Laurent attempt to keep running backs from doing on the field. He barged right in.
“What he did this year, was the first day of training camp, he sat next to me wanted to build a bond,” said Laurent of the day he met Wynn. “And nobody, I don’t think, previously did that, so I knew that right then I’m like, okay, it’s a possibility that we could be special.”
“I definitely forced the issue,” said an amused Wynn, asked to remember his first experience as Laurent’s teammate.
“First day, I think when I sat next to him, he gave me a weird look and said, ‘why are you sitting so close to me?’ I said ‘Ted, you and I are going to be best friends and we’re gonna make it to the Grey Cup.’ Honest.”
“That helped loosen him up a little bit,” continued Wynn. “It took him a little while, but I’d keep asking him random questions, stuff like that. And really got to know him as a person.”
Wynn, it is well-known, needs no loosening up. From his gyrating sack dances to his propensity to light up a room when he enters, he’s an energetic, open book. He says things like “they’re both gonna go down so it’s fine,” when asked whether Streveler or Harris is harder to tackle. He’s an extrovert.
“FIRST DAY, I THINK WHEN I SAT NEXT TO HIM, HE GAVE ME A WEIRD LOOK AND SAID, ‘WHY ARE YOU SITTING SO CLOSE TO ME?’ I SAID ‘TED, YOU AND I ARE GOING TO BE BEST FRIENDS AND WE’RE GONNA MAKE IT TO THE GREY CUP.’ HONEST.”
DYLAN WYNN ON WHEN HE MET TED LAURENT
Laurent is reserved, politely cutting off an interviewer who wondered if he had made even the most rudimentary plans for what he’d do with the Grey Cup, should he and his mates win on Sunday. He’s friendly, but his cards are close to the vest.
Laurent and Wynn may have different natures, but they’ve become tight friends, nonetheless.
“I appreciate him for that,” Laurent said of Wynn’s insistence that they form a bond as quickly as possible. “And you know, we’re really great friends off the field. We go out to eat together, we play video games together, we talk football together. It really helps, bonding outside of football, really helps our chemistry on the football field.”
Wynn agrees, wholeheartedly. “I’ve always said that I believe chemistry is the strength to a good team and I try to build that chemistry as fast as possible,” he said.
The two might be different in how much of themselves they let out, but they are similar in nature on the field, plugging gaps, destroying double teams and either getting to the quarterback or crushing running lanes.
In his ninth season in the CFL, sixth with the Ticats, Laurent finished the 2019 regular season with 16 tackles and 5 sacks, adding a couple more tackles and a sack in Hamilton’s Eastern Final win over Edmonton.
Wynn, in his third CFL season after two in Toronto and some time in the ill-fated Alliance of American Football, enjoyed his best season in 2019, with 44 tackles, ranking fourth in sacks, with eleven. In the Eastern Final, he tallied five tackles and forced a fumble.
His improvement, in part, can be traced to his desire to bond with Laurent, way back on that first day of training camp.
“Ted’s a good guy, man,” said Wynn. “He’s probably one of my best friends on the team.”
“Being able to work with somebody like that, especially in the middle, a vested vet, somebody who’s been in the CFL for a long time and knows how to do it correctly both on and off the field, it’s a blessing to be able to play with him.”
When the Blue Bombers attempt to burst the dam on a ground game on Sunday, Laurent and Wynn will man the barricades on the interior and for Wynn, at least, it isn’t about concerning himself with what Harris, Streveler or occasional running back Nic Demski will attempt to do.
That’s in keeping with the Ticat way of doing business this season, something that comes from the top on down, from head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
“When you break it down to X’s and O’s things aren’t really that complicated,” said Wynn, dismissing, at least publicly, the idea that the Blue Bombers present some kind of special challenge with their run game.
“The difference when you get to the professional level is the margin of error is so much smaller. And so we do need to detail what we do to execute the way that we need to be successful. So we just need to focus on our base fundamentals and really playing our defence and Ticat defence.”
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, you can be fairly certain that the Ticats’ dynamic duo in the middle of the line will be obviously observable factors, the way they have been most of the season.
And it all began on the day that the outgoing young guy sat down next to the quiet vet, and insisted that they get to know each other better.