Brandon Isaac will make his Hamilton Tiger-Cats debut with a huge chip on his shoulder.
The veteran linebacker will be in Hamilton’s lineup Saturday versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-0) in Guelph, Ont. The game will be a shot at redemption for the Ticats following a lopsided 37-0 road decision to the Riders on Sunday, but for Isaac it’s a much-needed chance to take out his frustration at being released Tuesday by the Toronto Argonauts.
“I know I’m going to be pissed off,” Isaac said Friday. “I don’t like the situation I’m in, however I’m learning to deal with it.
“I don’t want to talk about it because it’s not going to make the situation any better. Good luck to them … it is what it is. A lot of people don’t know what it is, I kind of still don’t know what it is, but at the same time they released me, I’m a Ticat, I’m happy to be here and I can’t wait till [Saturday] to get some of this frustration off my chest.”
Isaac, 28, helped Toronto win the 100th Grey Cup last November and was chosen a team captain heading into the 2013 campaign. He had 16 tackles and one sack in four games before being surprisingly cut four days after the Argos’ 35-19 road win in Winnipeg.
Kent Austin, Hamilton’s head coach, GM and football operations director, has simple expectations of Isaac.
“I expect him to play in certain situations and personnel groupings,” Austin said. “We just get back to work and prepare the way we know how to … correct our mistakes, which were many, and play a team game with more effort and better preparation.”
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Isaac hasn’t had much time in his new surroundings after signing with Hamilton (1-3) on Wednesday. Fortunately, he has a history with Ticats defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer, who was Toronto’s secondary coach last year.
“It’s basically the same defence Toronto runs, but the terminology is a lot different,” Isaac said. “Once I learn the terminology, I’ve already learned about 80 per cent of the calls … . I’ll feel just right.
“It is weird [wearing Hamilton colours] however the Ticats have given me the opportunity to play football again and I’m so grateful and honoured to be here. I’m going to continue to show this league I’m a good player, I’m reliable, responsible for my actions and I’m going to do things the right way.”
Isaac won’t be the only one making a debut Saturday.
Slotback Dave Stala, 33, entering his 11th CFL season, comes off the nine-game injured list to play after undergoing off-season knee surgery.
“The surgery wasn’t as bad as I thought and I healed quicker than I thought,” Stala said. “I’m pretty excited because I mean Saskatchewan is 4-0 now so they’ve got the bull’s eye on them.
“I don’t think I’m coming back too early. Two weeks ago I still had some swelling in the knee, but right now it’s fine. I’m full go and I’m going to go out there and make plays.”
With slotback Andy Fantuz (hamstring) out, Stala will be counted on to provide veteran leadership for Hamilton’s young receiving corps.
“It’s great to have Dave back,” Ticats quarterback Henry Burris said. “You build a rapport, that trust and continuity with certain guys and it helps you relax more because you understand those guys have been there.”
It’s unclear which quarterback Hamilton’s defence will face. Starter Darian Durant – who passed for 347 yards and four TDs last week – is a game-time decision with a foot injury. If Durant can’t play, sophomore Drew Willy would make his second career CFL start.
But what Isaac and the Ticats know for sure is a key cog in Saskatchewan’s offence is running back Kory Sheets, the CFL rushing leader with 572 yards who ran for 130 yards last week.
Sheets’s rushing total is the highest ever through four games to start a season. He needs just 75 yards to break the league mark for five games of 646 yards set in 1975 by Calgary’s Willie Burden.
“The key to this team is the running back,” Isaac said. “They’re a team that runs the ball a lot and once you get the running game going then you can do anything.
“If you can stop the run, then they become one-dimensional and it plays in our favour. I just think they’re going to try [to] come in and hand the ball off and pound us.”
Sheets won’t feel any extra pressure to perform should Durant not play.
“I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and trust everybody in front of me,” he said. “There’s really no pressure because there’s a lot of guys around me that help out.”
Sheets is on pace to smash Mike Pringle’s single-season rushing record of 2,065 yards. The Riders back hasn’t been shy about saying he has that mark in his sights, which doesn’t bother Isaac.