HAMILTON — Jeff Mathews has Jeremiah Masoli's back, even if they're competing for the same job.
Mathews came to his fellow quarterback's defence Thursday, touching off a melee during the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' training camp at Ron Joyce Stadium. While camp scuffles are routine as the competition for jobs intensifies under the hot summer sun, ones involving two quarterbacks are rare.
"It's camp, man, that stuff happens all the time across the football world," Masoli said afterwards. "I've been in plenty of camps with fights way worse than that.
"I think we just bonded together a little bit more with the quarterbacks and offensive line so it was great for us. No hard feelings."
The incident started innocently enough with an interception during a 12-man drill. As defensive players celebrated the turnover, others on offence took exception to the festivities so the five-foot-11, 221-pound Masoli stepped in as a peacekeeper to help calm things down.
But Delano Johnson, a six-foot-four, 290-pound defensive lineman, shoved Masoli, prompting the six-foot-four, 221-pound Mathews to come to Masoli's defence. Mathews was thrown to the turf, touching off the skirmish.
"That's going to happen every year at every camp," Mathews said. "Guys are just competing, we're out here all day, it's a little hot and guys get a little touchy."
Once everything cooled down, Ticats head coach/GM Kent Austin gathered the players and spoke to them briefly before action resumed.
"Things happen, especially at about this time in camp," Austin said. "Things get out of control, we bring it back under control, we keep focused on understanding that this is your teammate and this is your team and to get back and practise the proper way and move on."
Masoli and Mathews both have a lot riding on camp. Incumbent Zach Collaros won't be ready to start the 2016 campaign as he continues to recover from season-ending knee surgery.
That means Masoli and Mathews are battling to be Hamilton's No. 1 quarterback when it kicks off the 2016 season June 23 in Toronto. But Mathews said the competition is hardly cut-throat.
"We're both just focused on getting better," he said. "I just want to be the best player I can be but that doesn't mean I'm not going to help him if I see something or that he won't help me if he sees something.
"He's a great guy. We're just trying to win football games and the best way to do that is have everybody compete regardless of where you are on the depth chart."
Hamilton was cruising with an 8-3 record last season before Collaros suffered a season-ending tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a 25-18 home loss to Edmonton.
Collaros was leading the CFL in passing yards (3,376), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (113.7) with an impressive 70.2 completion percentage at the time of his injury.
Mathews, Masoli and Jacory Harris all started in Collaros's absence as Hamilton (10-8) finished second in the East. Masoli, 27, made his first career playoff start in the East semifinal, leading the Ticats past Toronto 25-22 before passing for 349 yards in a wild 35-28 loss to Ottawa in the division final.
Masoli, entering his fifth CFL season, said last year's experience has helped him in training camp.
"Any experience, good or bad, can help you if you want to learn from it," he said. "I definitely feel a lot more comfortable coming into this season."
Mathews played for Austin at Cornell but last year was his first in the CFL. He too is feeling more comfortable this time around.
"You know what we're going to run . . . you understand it a little bit better," he said. "You go through last year and you're kind of getting the first look at different defences.
"Now I feel like I've seen a lot more and am better prepared for what we're doing in camp."
But Austin wouldn't tip his hand regarding which of his young quarterbacks had moved atop the depth chart.
"I'm pleased with all three of them, they're all doing very well," Austin said. "The defence is throwing a lot of stuff at us right now, a lot of pressure looks, a lot of movement.
"I think our guys are handling it real well."
Hamilton visits Toronto on June 11 in the first CFL exhibition game for both teams.