You want the good news, the bad news or the really bad news on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats injury front?
Given that the Ticats are 0-4 and heading to the Western slaughterhouse that is Calgary, let’s start with the really bad: all-star linebacker Simoni Lawrence won’t play Saturday against the Calgary Stampeders.
The all-star linebacker has been slowed by a nagging lower body injury the last few weeks and hasn’t posted his usual numbers this season. Case in point: after finishing fourth in the CFL with 90 tackles in 2016, Lawrence has just 12 takedowns so far this season. Four Ticats have more.
“He’s not 100 per cent so we’re going to rest him,” said head coach Kent Austin. “We need him to be able to play at his peak capacity. He’s been hobbling around and trying to fight through it, but we don’t want to risk it going from bad to really bad.”
Larry Dean will move from middle linebacker to Lawrence’s spot on the weak side, while first-year Ticat Kavell Conner will take over for Dean. Calgary will hardly be Conner’s first rodeo, however. He played 78 games at linebacker over six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, after being selected in the seventh round of 2010 NFL Draft. He has 328 career defensive tackles and is also a solid special teams player.
Still, Austin acknowledged that Lawrence would prefer to play against the Stampeders if given the choice.
“Most players that are wired like Simoni aren’t going to want to sit down. But we’re doing it for his benefit and for ours,” Austin said.
Injury has necessitated another key roster change as well. Offensive tackle Xavier Fulton is banged up and Austin confirmed he won’t play against Calgary, either. That means Lamar Holmes, who has started two career CFL games, will move to left tackle, while Quinterrius Eatmon will make his Ticats’ debut on the right side.
With Calgary defensive lineman Charleston Hughes and Micah Johnson tied for second in the CFL with four sacks apiece — Hughes led the league last season — Austin has brought running back C.J. Gable off the bench to provide some reinforcements up front.
“C.J. protects the quarterback well,” Austin said. “Some of the things we’re doing schematically better suit his skill set and we feel that, for this game, it’s a stronger line up for us.”
Gable was replaced by Ross Scheuerman after the week two loss to Saskatchewan, and after a tough couple of days he found a way to make peace with the demotion.
“It was hard at first, but I prayed on it and I know it’s not in my hands,” Gable said.
“Why get mad. Why be down? This is my opportunity and whatever happens next game, I’m not going to be mad about it, not going to be bitter about it.”
Finally, the good news. Halfback Abdul Kanneh practised all three days this week and looks set to start at boundary halfback. A key free agent acquisition in the off-season, he’ll finally make his Ticat debut.
That should help a Ticat secondary that showed some signs of life against Edmonton, but still gave up the game-winning drive late in the contest. But Kanneh isn’t the only new piece. Khalid Wooten will move boundary corner for the injured Keon Lyn and it appears veteran Dominique Ellis, re-signed this week, will be the extra defensive back.
The worst news of all? Hamilton hasn’t won in Calgary since the 2004 season — Danny McManus was the Ticat quarterback and Matt Dunigan was the Calgary coach. The Stampeders have won 10 straight regular-season meetings against Hamilton since a loss in the 2011 Touchdown Atlantic game.
Notes: After sitting out the last three weeks, receiver Kevin Elliott will return to the starting lineup in place of Junior Collins. … And Canadian running back Sean Thomas-Erlington, who had a strong training camp, will be added to the roster in place of injured linebacker Nick Shortill, who has a foot injury.