A rash of injuries have forced the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to use four different left tackles in the past five weeks — and it’s led head coach Kent Austin to wonder if there’s a little pre-Halloween sorcery going on in the bowels of some nefarious opposing stadium.
“Somebody’s got a voodoo doll on us at left tackle and they’re are sticking needles into us,” Austin said.
The run of injuries began with Jake Olson, who was having a solid sophomore season before tearing his patella in a week 12 matchup against the Edmonton Eskimos (the same game that saw quarterback Zach Collaros lost for the year with a torn ACL.) Joel Figueroa took over for Olson the following week, but was hurt (again) in the loss to Calgary.
Rookie Cord Howard was up next, starting in the Oct. 19 win over Montreal and again last week vs. the Lions. But he was forced from the game with a lower body injury in the first half, only to be replaced by Canadian guard Ryan Bomben — who then suffered an arm injury that will likely cost him the rest of the season.
So now the Ticats are in need of a starting guard and another left tackle.
“It’s tough, because you want to put the most competitive group up front, because it starts there,” Austin said.
Veteran Tim O’Neill will step in at guard, while Figueroa looks set to return to the tackle spot on Sunday against the Redblacks. A talented and athletic player, Figueroa has missed 21 games over the past three seasons due to injury and has made just four starts this season.
“Figs hasn’t played a lot this year, but the good news is he’s been with us, so we trust that he’ll play well,” Austin said.
In addition to Figueroa, the Ticats could also see the return of veteran receiver Bakari Grant, who has been plagued by injuries. They have forced him to miss eight of the last 10 games. He has 30 catches and 447 yards and also brings a physical dimension to the receiving corps.
“It’s looking good for Bakari, so that’s real positive for us,” Austin said.
The Redblacks are having their injury issues as well. Quarterback Henry Burris missed his second straight practice on Thursday with a knee injury, though head coach Rick Campbell told Ottawa media that he was “very confident,” Burris would play Sunday.
If Burris can’t go, Thomas DeMarco would get the nod for Ottawa. Burris has 219 career starts, DeMarco six and Austin was cagey on how a change at quarterback might alter Hamilton’s defensive game plan.
“We might tailor it a little bit,” he said, smiling.
And what does a tailor use to get the job done?