Ticats enter first pre-season game concerned about injuries

Having lost three key players in the first week of training camp, don’t be surprised if the Ticats take to Tim Hortons Field for Monday’s exhibition game in a new, limited edition bubble wrap jersey.

Running back C.J. Gable, defensive tackle Brian Bulcke and defensive Rico Murray are all questionable to start the regular season, never mind the pre-season, and the injuries have head coach Kent Austin feeling nervous ahead of the meaningless matchup with the Redblacks.

“There’s an urge to protect everybody right now after what’s happened in camp. At this point I’d rather not even play a pre-season game,” Austin said, before starting to chuckle. “I’m not being serious about that. But I kinda am. But I’m kinda not.

“You get antsy when key guys go down.”

Gable has a hand injury that could sideline him for up to four weeks, while the team is still waiting for further information on Bulcke’s banged up left knee. Murray had his hamstring tighten up and that’s an ailment with an uncertain recovery time.

The first pre-season game is typically used to evaluate players scrambling for a roster spot. A number of well-known Ticats won’t play, including starting quarterback Zach Collaros, receiver Brandon Banks, linebacker Simoni Lawrence, as well as key Canadians Andy Fantuz and Ted Laurent.

With Collaros sitting out, rookie Jeff Mathews will get the start at quarterback behind the team’s new-look offensive line, which needs playing time to develop some chemistry. Mathews has looked great in training camp, having played three years under Austin and offensive co-ordinator Tommy Condell at Cornell.

“He’s done really well. He understands conceptually what we do,” Austin said. “He just needs to transfer it to what we do up here, especially when it comes to the recognition of defences.”

Mathews signed with the Ticats in January after bouncing around with three different NFL teams in 2014. He spent time in Buffalo this off-season with good friend Luke Tasker working out, discussing CFL concepts while helping his college teammate work on his new house.

But the 23-year-old says it was his relationship with Austin that brought him to Hamilton.

“He’s been my coach at a couple of different levels and I really respect him,” Mathews said. “He’ll tell you ‘good job’ and then the next play he’ll tell you ‘that wasn’t good enough.’ That’s what you want.”

Mathews says he hasn’t watched any game film on the Redblacks and there is no game plan to speak of.

“These pre-season games are a little bit different in that you’re thinking about yourself and your team more than you are the opponent,” Mathews said. “It’s fun to do — just go out there and execute.”

Jacory Harris will likely be the next man up behind Mathews as Austin gets a look at the two quarterbacks on his roster without significant CFL playing time. The No. 2 spot behind Collaros is still up for grabs and Austin said the pre-season games will be a key element in determining who gets the job.

“It matters more,” Austin said. “You have to make plays, have a command of the offence, put the ball in the end zone.”

Notes: More than 5,000 fans came out to the open house at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, which featured an on-field autograph session with Ticat players, half-price concessions and a free concert … former Ticat quarterback Henry Burris will start for the Redblacks against his old club … other Ticat players to watch in Monday’s game: rookie receivers Tiquan Underwood and Terence Tolliver, both of whom are having strong training camps, first-year defensive tackle Drake Nevis and veteran linebacker Johnny Sears, who was a free agent pick up from Winnipeg … former Ticat receiver Chris Williams, now with the Redblacks, won’t play on Monday.

Drew Edwards is the founder of 3DownNation but has since wandered off. Beard in the photo not exactly as shown.