As the Ticats watched another key contributor go down to injury on Sunday, it begs a simple question: why are all these players getting hurt?
The latest victim is receiver Luke Tasker, who suffered what appeared to be a lower body injury midway through Sunday’s training camp session at McMaster University. Tasker went to the locker-room and did not return.
Head coach Kent Austin did not have an update on Tasker’s status after practice but his loss would be a significant blow. The 24-year-old was the team’s leading receiver in 2014 and signed a contract extension in the off-season.
Tasker joins a long list of Ticats who have been sidelined by injury this spring, including running backs C.J. Gable, Mossis Madu and Nic Grigsby, offensive tackle Joel Figueroa, defensive tackle Brian Bulcke as well defensive backs Rico Murray and Johnny Sears. A pair of prominent Canadians, defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh and receiver Spencer Watt, both tore their Achilles while training in the off-season and are done for the year.
Even kicker Justin Medlock sat out Saturday’s practice with a fatigued kicking leg, though he was back in action on Sunday.
Injuries also played a role in the team’s roster moves on Sunday. Offensive lineman Stephane Milhim, linebacker Larry King and defensive back Cleshawn Page were all hurt during camp and were released, along with receiver Deon Anthony, offensive lineman Kevin Henry and Canadian linebacker Chris Johnson.
In order to get down to the league-mandated 65 players, plus non-counters (which include draft picks and other exempt Canadians), the Ticats moved Bulcke, who is out for the season with a knee injury, to the six-game injured list while suspending Gable, Murray and defensive end Antonio Coleman, who is rehabbing from off-season surgery. All three are expected to return to the roster when healthy.
Austin said he’s mystified by the rash of injuries, especially after the team made changes to try to stem the tide. The Ticats shortened Sunday’s on-field session by two hours, something they’ve done several times since camp opened.
“We’ve pulled off practice, we’re not doing two-a-days, we don’t run the guys — we don’t do any of that,” a clearly frustrated Austin said Sunday. “We don’t do anything that puts our players at further risk. We do less.”
The team employs active stretching before each practice session — thought to be more effective than the traditional stationary technique — and has been monitoring the biometrics of several players during each training camp practice. It involves placing a small tracking device under a player’s pads to measure speed and distance travelled during practice.
Some of it appears to be just bad luck. Gaydosh and Watt were injured during off-season training, when players are not under direct team supervision. Bulcke was hurt during a one-on-one drill while Gable suffered a hand injury when he caught his finger on a defender’s jersey. Even Tasker’s injury happened during a seemingly innocent play on Sunday.
Nor do the Ticats appear to be doing more contact work than usual: several players said the workload has been similar — or even less — than previous CFL camps they’ve attended.
One other possible factor was also beyond the team’s control: the speed in which they played their first pre-season game. The Ticats were forced to get ready for live action just seven days after training camp opened, giving them precious little time to get their bodies ready for full contact.
With less than two weeks before the start of the regular season — and another pre-season game still to play — the Ticats will need to get healthy and, more importantly, hope their bad luck finally comes to an end.