Ticats hope Chewy can help defeat the Eskimo Empire

His teammates call Mathieu Girard “Chewy” so maybe he’ll be good at space travel.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman is likely to make his first CFL start this Saturday against the Edmonton Eskimos, filling in for injured centre Mike Filer. While that would be daunting enough the unique demands of the position make it even more challenging.

“It’s like an astronaut going up for the first time. Stuff is flying by, you can’t see anything, it’s a little bit scary,” Filer said. “But the second or third time you go up, you’re like ‘well, I’ve done this before, I know what to expect and it slows down.'”

Filer is trying to expedite that process for the sophomore Mathieu Girard, who is slated to fill in while Filer recovers from an ankle injury suffered late in last week’s win over the Montreal Alouettes. Though Girard has appeared in 21 games since being selected by Hamilton in the sixth round of the 2014 CFL Draft, Friday’s game against the Eskimos would be his first career start.

On any given offensive play Girard must identify the defence, make protection calls, remember the snap count, manage the play clock, snap the ball effectively and then handle his assignment (which on Friday will likely include a heavy dose of Edmonton defensive tackle Almondo Sewell, a 2015 CFL all-star.)

Filer says the predictable things – a solid week in practice, film study, listening to the sage wisdom of his veteran teammates – will help, but only up to a certain point.

“There’s nothing that prepares a player for football – not practice, not training camp, not watching film – like playing football,” Filer said. “We can get mentally prepared and get him comfortable but the rest is on him.”

One key sign that things aren’t going well: a deterioration in the quality of Girard’s snaps. Simple as it sounds, the centre’s primary job on every play is to provide the quarterback with the football in a safe and timely matter and a failure to do so inevitably leads to chaos.

“Typically what happens is that you have so much going on in your mind that your fundamentals start to break down,” Filer said. “Once that happens, you have a hole in the boat.”

Girard is just 25, and the first in a long line of Ticat centres without a naturally outsized personality (Carl Coulter begat Marwan Hage who begat Filer.) But that even keel might come in handy when the rockets start to rumble under his seat on Friday.

“I just need to keep working and stay focussed on the game, not get too stressed out by all the stuff going on around me,” Girard said. “Snapping the football is the most important thing I have to do. After that I can just play football.”

And help defeat the Empire.

Notes: Head coach Kent Austin said x-rays on Filer’s ankle came back negative. “He’s got some more testing to do but it looks like he dodged a bullet on a much more serious injury. Hopefully he won’t be out too long.”… Austin said quarterback Zach Collaros is making progress in his comeback from a knee injury but it’s “extremely unlikely” he’ll play Friday. “He’s on schedule according to what the doctors have told us and he’s doing well in practice,” Austin said. “We’re increasing his reps and waiting to see if there are any complications.”… Ticat defensive end Adrian Tracy was named a CFL top performer of the week after registering career highs in tackles (11), sacks (2) and forced fumbles (2) in the win over Montreal. “Any time you have a game like that it gets the monkey off your back, especially for me – I didn’t have a sack yet,” Tracy said. “I was joking with the guys that I have to step up to the plate.”