It might appear a little counterintuitive, given the lack of success so far this season, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will keep their defensive secondary intact for Saturday night’s home opener against the B.C. Lions.
Part of the reason is that Abdul Kanneh, inked in at one of the halfback positions when he was signed out of free agency in the off-season, isn’t recovered enough from injury to start this weekend.
But another part is to give the quintet, which was Kevin Glenn-ed last week, another chance to show whether it was largely game inexperience – together and individually – that led to far-too-easy pickings for the veteran quarterback.
So, even though SAM linebacker Will Hill must sit out the game with suspension, the team is avoiding replacing him with one of the defensive backs who played last week, which was definitely a tempting option.
Keon Lyn, signed in the off-season, will likely step in at SAM and get his first start in an outdoor regular-season game “since my last year of college (at Syracuse in 2013).” Lyn did play the pre-season game against Ottawa at corner, before going on the injured list.
That will leave Ethan Davis and Richard Leonard at the corners, Khalid Wooten and Justin Rogers at halfback and Canadian veteran Courtney Stephen at safety for the second straight game.
“At some point we’ve got to settle in and give guys a chance to develop who haven’t played a lot of football games, ” head coach Kent Austin said after Thursday’s practice. “If we’re going to make some changes and figure things out, we’re going to do it earlier rather than later. We don’t want to wait until week 14 or 15 to find out that the group we have isn’t working. We’d rather iterate through it now, then move it around and settle in a group we can trust.”
It’s highly unlikely that this quintet is the one we’ll see in the defensive backfield once, and if, the 2017 Ticats do find themselves. With two 2016 Eastern all-star halfbacks, Kanneh and Emanuel Davis, on the overall roster but injured – and Stephen deservedly entrenched in the unit – there will probably be only two starting spots really open, as projected when training camp began.
But that will be then and this is definitely now.
It’s imperative to find out who among the others can play long-term, and who can’t. And also, perhaps, to see who could eventually mount a challenge to Kanneh and Davis.
For a team showing a lack of cohesion, and desperately needing a win, if only for self-belief purposes, it’s better to make just one lineup change on defence, than two.
Five days after the Lions game, the Cats come right back to play Edmonton at Tim Hortons Field, so barring injury the secondary might get a third straight game together.
“It always helps to have continuity, in the short-term and the long-term, ” Stephen says. “It’ll be good just to get that chemistry flowing, get one more notch under the belt together.”
Lyn, who played Arena League football for Jacksonville last year, is a self-assured player and doesn’t think his recent dearth of regular-season game-time will prove too high a hurdle.
“You’ll probably be nervous a little bit., ” he concedes. “But after that first play, when you prepare well, there’s nothing to be nervous about.
“It’s the confidence thing that really helps you and boosts you to go out and play like you’ve been out there 10 years.”
The Ticats’ other change – making four starters changed since Opening Night – will be at right tackle. LaMarr Holmes, who started 19 games for the NFL Atlanta Falcons, but hasn’t played a regular-season game in more than two years, steps up for the injured Jordan Swindle.
He’s the heaviest player on the team at 333 pounds, and is just an inch shorter than Swindle’s team-high six-foot-seven. He was signed just three weeks ago.
“Coach (line coach Mike Markuson) and the offensive line, they’re been more than welcoming and are helping me a lot, ” Holmes said.
NOTES: The Ticats have signed international offensive lineman Quinterrius Eatmon, out of South Florida University, to a practice-roster contract. … Linebacker Will Hill will miss Saturday’s game to serve his one-game suspension, which he is not appealing.
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