Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg had the moment every CFL rookie knows is coming in the Oct. 28 game against the Edmonton Eskimos.
Lined up at guard, Revenberg squared off against all-star defensive tackle Almondo Sewell, who promptly got his hands inside, then used his size and recently-obtained leverage to put Revenberg flat on his back.
“I went to the sideline and (teammate) Mike Filer just looked at me and said ‘welcome to the CFL, ‘” Revenberg said.
It was one of the few missteps for the 23-year-old, who was named the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie after appearing in every game this season. He made six starts, mostly at guard, but will line up at right tackle when the Ticats take on the Esks in the East semifinal on Sunday.
No pressure, kid.
But Revenberg’s insertion in the lineup, along with the return of national safety Courtney Stephen, will give the Ticats some desperately needed ratio flexibility after a rash of devastating injuries – a list that includes top Canadian Andy Fantuz.
The moves will allow the club to dress four American receivers instead of the usual three, a virtual necessity with injuries to Canadian starters Fantuz and Mike Jones. Hamilton will also line up with an American defensive tackle – they’ve used two Canadians recently – with international Drake Nevis lining up beside all-star Ted Laurent.
Nevis was a ratio casualty the last three weeks but has quietly become a dominant force on the inside, combining five sacks with exceptional run defence. Defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer calls him an impact player.
Steinauer was always pleased with the return of Stephen, who missed the last six games with a knee injury. He has a pair of interceptions this season and, despite his absence, is tied sixth on the team in tackles with 38.
“He brings a different skill set, he’s rangy, he’ll hit you. He’s been in the system for four years and he’s a communicator, ” Steinauer said. “He’s played in big games.”
That last element is key. With the Ticats expected to field a lineup that feature plenty of inexperience on both sides of the ball, Stephen is a guy who has been with the club through its recent playoff success, a run that includes two Grey Cup appearances in the last three seasons.
“I think you have to bring the young guys along and let them know how serious the preparation is, ” Stephen said. “This is where experience pays off and you want to share your experience and make sure the lights don’t shine too bright.”
Revenberg, despite his relative youth, is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the moment. He’ll face a tough challenge against Edmonton defensive ends Odell Willis and Marcus Howard but his mindset is the right one.
This was how he responded to getting flattened by Sewell.
“I was pissed off, ” Revenberg said. “I just wanted to get back out there. I was like ‘let’s go.'”