Alden Darby has ‘no extra motivation’ playing against his former team and what the Tiger-Cats must do to get in the win column

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

The signing of defensive back Alden Darby was just one of many headline-grabbing moves the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ made this past winter.

The Long Beach, California native came to the Ticats after spending the 2021 season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he played a key role in the Blue Bombers’ successful attempt to defend their championship.

Friday night will be the first time Darby will go up against his former club but if you think going against the team he helped win a championship a season ago will provide the Arizona State University product with any extra juice, you would be mistaken.

“There is no extra motivation,” the five-foot-11, 194-pound ballhawk said earlier this week.

“If you look at a game as extra motivation, it tells me you’re holding back previous weeks.”

The sturdy defensive back has held nothing back in his first two games in Black and Gold. While his stats don’t pop off the page — just seven defensive tackles — he has been solid in coverage while playing primarily as the team’s boundary halfback.

The former Sun Devil has been defined by his versatility since entering CFL with the Toronto Argonauts in 2017, playing all over the secondary during his five-year career.

Darby has experienced a lot of success in a short period of time, winning the Grey Cup as a rookie with the Argos. However, despite playing eight games for the team that year, he did not dress in the championship matchup that saw the underdogs from Ontario’s capital defeat the heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders on a snowy November night in Ottawa.

The 29-year-old spent his first three seasons in Double Blue before being traded to the Bombers last July. Darby suited up in 11 games for Winnipeg last season, mostly as the team’s strong-side linebacker, and was a key defensive piece in the Bombers’ successful run to a repeat championship.

Darby came to Hamilton hoping to help the Ticats reach the same heights he did with the Blue and Gold a season ago, but things have not gotten off to a strong start in his new environment.

The Ticats began the season with back-to-back losses to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders, with last Saturday’s home-opening loss being especially excruciating.

Hamilton needs one thing right now and that is a win. Who the opponent is simply doesn’t matter to Darby.

“It’s never about who we play or the team or the logos or the colours,” the two-time Grey Cup champion said. “The goal, the mission, is the same.”

That mission is a simple one for the Tiger-Cats: win in any way possible.

Combo blocks

In other Tiger-Cats news, the team will be starting their third different offensive line combination of the season as three-time CFL all-star Brandon Revenberg will miss Friday night’s game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The two-time East Division Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman was not listed on the team’s injury report at all throughout the week so his absence for Friday’s Grey Cup rematch is surprising. Taking his place in the starting lineup will be fellow Canadian Kay Okafor.

Okafor started eight games at tackle for the Ticats last season and has dressed for 37 games since being selected by Hamilton in the third round, 21st overall, in the 2017 CFL Draft.

The former St. Francis Xavier University defensive lineman was converted to the offensive line upon entering the CFL and despite numerous chances, has not yet found a way to make one of the starting offensive line positions one of his own.

The six-foot-three, 295-pounder has a tall task ahead of him, not just in taking over for one of the league’s best offensive linemen but also because he will be doing so against one of the Canadian Football League’s most ferocious defensive fronts.

For a team like the Tiger-Cats that have given up a league-high nine sacks after the first two weeks of the season, another change along the offensive line is less than ideal.

Surprise decision

Tiger-Cats’ receiver Bralon Addison has also been listed as a game-time decision on the team’s official depth chart. Like Revenberg, Addison was not listed on the team’s injury report all week making his uncertain status for Friday’s contest a little mystifying.

If the former all-star cannot go for the Ticats on Friday, the team might be forced to promote American rookie Emmanuel Butler from the practice roster to the active roster.

Additionally, the Ticats have added Canadian offensive linemen Alex Fontana and Kyle Saxelid to the six-game injury list. Both missed last week’s contest against the Stampeders.

Wynn-ing in the run game

It is not all bad news on the roster front for the Tiger-Cats however, as three-time East Division all-star defensive lineman Dylan Wynn draws back into the lineup against the Bombers after missing last week’s game against the Calgary Stampeders with a calf injury.

Wynn is one of the league’s most disruptive interior defensive linemen and a major reason why the Tiger-Cats have been one of the league’s top rushing defences since his arrival in Steeltown back in 2019.

The Ticats’ run defence has picked up where they left off last season. The Black and Gold are allowing the second-fewest total rushing yards of any team that has played multiple games — the B.C. Lions have allowed fewer rushing yards but have only played a single game — and the second-lowest yards-per-carry behind only the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Hamilton was good against the run without Wynn versus the Stampeders, allowing 65 yards on 16 carries, but they were exceptional against the run in their game against the Riders, allowing just 3.1-yards per carry against the league’s top rushing offence.

The difference in those two games was the presence of Dylan Wynn.

Stopping the run will be critical for the Tiger-Cats against the Bombers as Winnipeg’s offensive identity over the last two seasons has revolved around their ability to pound the rock, an identity that has not changed even with the departure of future Canadian Football Hall of Fame running back Andrew Harris to the Toronto Argonauts this past February.

The Bombers are currently second in the league in rushing attempts but that has not led to a robust rushing attack from the men tasked with replacing Harris, the Canadian tailback duo of Brady Oliviera and Johnny Augustine

Winnipeg has the second-lowest yards-per-carry average in the CFL after two weeks at 3.7-yards, just 0.4-yards above the Ticats, who have the league’s worst rushing offence and have rushed the ball 15 fewer times than the Bombers have so far this year.

Winnipeg’s offence has been fairly stagnant to start the season, failing to crack the 20-point mark in either of the games they have played so far. A big reason for that has been their lack of success in the run game.

Going up against one of the best rushing defences in the CFL who are also getting back one of the league’s top run stuffers is not going to do the Bombers any favours in their quest to get their underachieving rushing attack back on track.

Tyler the Terror

The Tiger-Cats will also welcome back Canadian receiver Tyler Ternowski to the lineup against Winnipeg.

Ternowksi missed the first two games of the season and the last week of training camp dealing with an AC joint injury in his shoulder.

For his part, the former University of Waterloo Warrior is ready to get back out on the field.

“I hate watching practice. I hate just standing there and not being able to go out on the field,” Ternowski said.

Ternowski had a typical rookie campaign for a Canadian player, carving out a role for himself on special teams. Given how the Hamilton native performed during the early days of training camp, it looked like he was ready to carve out a role for himself on offence in 2022.

The second year is where we typically see players take the next step in their careers and it certainly looked that way for Ternowski prior to the injury.

Back at full health, the six-foot, 185-pound Canadian pass-catcher now has a chance to show us that what was seen in May can be replicated in June and beyond.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.