ASU alum Darren Toney hoping to earn roster spot with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

HAMILTON, ONTARIO ( - In a passing dominated league, defensive back play has become ever so important. The Ticats secondary will be a key to the team's success this season because of the aggressive nature of defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin's scheme.

Chamblin and the defensive staff will be looking to send more heat at opposing offences and in turn, that will leave the defensive backs locked up in a lot of man-to-man coverage. Training camp should provide ample time for the defensive backs to get used to playing on an island.

In what should likely be the most competitive position battle in camp, roster spots in the defensive secondary will be hard earned as the coaching staff will be looking to boast physical, aggressive defensive backs.

In centre field, former first overall draft pick, Dylan Barker earned the starting nod at safety in week five of last year and went on to have his best season as a pro. Barker made 34 defensive stops in 2010, while snagging three interceptions and he will be looking to lock down his starting spot during training camp and build on his solid effort from a season ago.

Returning veterans Jason Shivers and Jerome Dennis made up a reliable tandem at the weak and strong halfback positions respectively a season ago, but will be pushed by a plethora of free agent acquisitions.

Shivers started 12 games during the 2010 season, missing six weeks due to an elbow injury, but he still managed to post 50 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries last year.

Dennis had by far his best season as a CFLer in 2010. He posted 54 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery, while suiting up in every single game last season for the Ticats.

One loss in the defensive backfield is the versatile Geoff Tisdale, who defected to Calgary via free agency.  Tisdale played mostly at the boundary corner spot last season.

Bo Smith returns, and will look to bounce back from a season-ending achilles injury suffered at the end of last season.  Smith played a handful of games with the Black and Gold in 2010 after a stint with the NFL's New York Jets.

At the field corner position, the Ticats possess a non-import ratio buster, Ryan Hinds.  Starting Canadian cornerbacks are hard to come by, but the New Hampshire product started in the final seven games -- including the Eastern Semi-Final loss -- in 2010 and showed that he has the ability to be productive regardless of his non-import tag.

2010 fourth round draft pick Chris Rwabukamba will to be in attendance for training camp after completing his senior year at Duke university. The Windsor native was productive in his final season at Duke, recording 51 total tackles, one forced fumble and one interception while starting 12 games for the Blue Devils at corner. Rwabukamba will be looking to continue his productivity during training camp with the Ticats and make himself a legitimate contender to be a contributor in the Ticats defensive backfield.

Marc Beswick, Jonathan Hood and Ray Wladichuk – who should be fully healthy after missing the final 12 weeks last season due to injury -- should provide some Canadian secondary depth. The Canadian defensive backs will be counted on to keep up their solid contributions on special teams -- Beswick was fourth in the CFL in 2010 with 21 special teams tackles.

Daniel Francis inked a free agent contract with the Cats in after a breakout 2010 campaign with Saskatchewan. He registered 53 tackles, 1 sack and 1 fumble recovery with the Rough Riders, which caught the eye of the Ticats brass. The LSU alumnus will be looking to catch the attention of the coaching staff and earn a role on the Ticats defence.

Three other off-season acquisitions will be battling for a roster spot of their own.

Derek Douglas attended training camp in 2010 with the Ticats, where he suffered a season ending knee injury. After missing all of last season, one can bet Douglas is eager to get back on the field and show his skills.  Darren Toney, along with Carlos Thomas -- acquired via trade with Edmonton on March, 21 2011 -- have an eye on winning a roster spot with their play in training camp.

Recent free agent import signees, Francis Adjei, John Destin, Terrence Lee, Marcell Young and Pierre Singfield will provide competition for the returning Ticats defensive backs.

Local product and former Hamilton Hurricane Jamal George will also suit up at camp in an attempt to attract the attention of the Ticats coaches.

The battle for positions in the defensive backfield could produce some surprising results and should be the most fierce competition at camp.