The 26-year-old Hoffman-Ellis will start in place of injured linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the 2014 CFL Most Outstanding Player and Defensive Player of the Year, as the B.C. Lions host the Montreal Alouettes on Thursday.
“It’s bittersweet, because Solly is not only a great football player and a great leader, but a great guy,” said Hoffman-Ellis. “The only sweet part out of it is, I get to showcase (myself). Guys play football to get out on the field.”
Hoffman-Ellis has platooned at linebacker and played on special teams this season after only getting into one game in his 2014 rookie season. Elimimian is sidelined six to eight weeks and possibly longer after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in a 52-22 loss in Hamilton last Saturday.
The Lions (3-4) are looking to redeem themselves after that humiliating setback, while the Als hope to end a three-game losing streak after dropping each game by three points.
“We do need to respond with a lot of urgency, and we need to show what we’re capable of doing and just be consistent,” said Lions linebacker Adam Bighill. “If we have another soft game, it starts becoming who are, and that’s not who we want to be and that’s not what we want to accomplish. So we’ve gotta get on the right track and the right road to where we want to go.
“Solly being gone is unfortunate, but it is next man up and (Hoffman-Ellis) is a great player. He’s been learning a lot and he’s ready to play. So I don’t expect there to be too much fall-off at all.”
The Lions are looking to get off to a strong start after allowing Hamilton to get out to an early 21-0 lead from which they could not recover. Bighill, who likens his team’s plight to a season-long climb up a mountain, wants the Lions to show that they can handle adversity.
“You can visualize whatever mountain you want,” he said. “But the thing is, every mountain’s going to have an upward battle that you’re going to crawl, run (or) walk up the whole year.”
Lions coach Jeff Tedford does not believe the defence has a long climb back to respectability. He noted that Hamilton’s touchdowns included a return off an Andrew Harris fumble and a Bakari Grant punt return.
“It wasn’t like they were giving up 80-yard drives or anything,” said Tedford of his defence. “So it was just a culmination of everything, really.”
While the Lions look to avoid giving up another touchdown on special teams, Als returner Stefan Logan will attempt to show that B.C. made a “bad decision” by releasing him in the off-season. Logan, 34, whose two stints with B.C. sandwiched an NFL tenure, has racked up 880 all-purpose yards this season, and his total return yardage (797) already exceeds his 2014 mark.
Als coach Tom Higgins is not concerned about his team’s struggles in Vancouver. He just wants to make sure they don’t beat themselves.
The same goes for Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, who will be supported by a new-look offensive line. Josh Aladenoye will make his CFL debut at the critical left tackle spot due to Tommie Draheim’s ankle injury. Lulay says he’s comfortable with the newcomer watching his blind side.
“He has been here,” said Lulay. “He’s not completely off of the street. He’s been talking our language. He’s been in our system.”
Ironically, Aladenoye, a 25-year-old Mesquite, Tex., native, gets the start after he was released from the practice roster following an on-field confrontation with Tedford but kept his apartment near the Lions practice facility. The Dallas Cowboys castoff was quickly re-signed after Draheim went down.
“It means a lot to me,” Aladenoye said of the second chance. “I just want to come out here and help the team win in any way I can.”
Lions backup linebacker Bo Lokombo, who grew up in the Vancouver area, is expected to get more action as a result of Elimimian’s injury.