‘We’re fortunate’: Ticats in good hands with backup QB Matthew Shiltz scheduled to start in place of injured Dane Evans

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will officially be without starting quarterback Dane Evans for their Week 10 rematch with the Toronto Argonauts but head coach Orlondo Steinauer is not concerned.

Evans was not able to practice this week while nursing a shoulder injury, forcing the Ticats to place backup Matthew Shiltz on top of the depth chart. While it is never ideal to be without your starter, this is exactly why Shiltz was brought in to begin with.

“I think the team believes in Matt the same way they do in Dane,” Steinauer told assembled media following the team’s walk-through on Thursday. “We’re fortunate; that’s kind of the reason we went and got Matt in the offseason, and we weren’t the only suitor for him. I think that speaks to how other people may view him.”

Shiltz signed with Hamilton as a free agent following a four-year stint with the Montreal Alouettes during which he served as a backup behind several different quarterbacks. He has dressed for 58 career CFL games, completing 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,991 yards, eight touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He started three games for the Als in 2021, posting a 2-1 record with wins over Ottawa and Toronto.

That experience was viewed as valuable insurance behind Evans, who was entering his first season as the team’s undisputed starting quarterback. He has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 2,229 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in eight games so far in 2022. He has also carried the ball 27 times for 115 yards, leading the team to a 2-6 record.

Steinauer emphasized that the team was not looking for Shiltz to imitate Evans, but rather play his own game.

“We just want Matt to go out and be Matt,” the coach stressed. “That’s it. It’s not about replacing Dane or the skill set, because they’re not the same quarterback.”

That has been made crystal clear by the Ticats’ recent use of a two-quarterback system, allowing Shiltz to take on an increased role with the team. His production through the air has been limited — he’s completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 125 yards and one interception — but Shiltz has run the ball well, carrying it 22 times for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Asked if expected to make use of his legs more often due to Evans’ absence, the 29-year-old downplayed the importance of that aspect of his game.

“I’m not going to really think too much on that. I’m just going to play my game. If it means that I have to make plays with my legs, then so be it,” he said at the podium. “Obviously, whenever I’m out there, I’m going to try and protect myself when I run the football and slide or go out of bounds, don’t take unnecessary hits.”

Steinauer was equally nonchalant about his new pivot’s rushing ability, refusing to reveal what changes it might have made to offensive coordinator Tommy Condell’s game-plan.

“We’ll hold that to ourselves. The game plan will unfold; there’s always the game within the game also,” he deflected. “We have some things that we want to hit, some areas we want to exploit but sometimes they show a different look than we anticipate from what we’ve seen on tape.”

Keeping things close to the vest is understandable in such a pivotal rivalry matchup. After a 34-20 defeat at their hands in Toronto last week, the Ticats are rapidly falling behind the 4-3 Argos in the standings.

“I think every game is a must-win for us,” Shiltz admitted of the 2-6 team. “Every game of the season, not just where we are right now.