It might not be the most complete version of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but it’s certainly the healthiest head coach Orlondo Steinauer has had this season.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and receivers Brandon Banks and Bralon Addison will all be in the starting lineup Saturday when Hamilton (4-3) hosts the Montreal Alouettes (2-4) on Saturday. Masoli will make his first start since Aug. 14 when he suffered a rib injury in a 30-8 road loss against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Masoli returns under centre after backing up David Watford in Hamilton’s last two games. Watford, who helped the Ticats win both of his starts, will serve as Masoli’s backup.
Banks (ribs) returns after missing three games while Addison (knee) makes his 2021 debut. The two formed an impressive 1-2 punch in 2019 when Banks (112 catches, 1,549 yards, 13 TDs) was the league’s outstanding player and Addison (95 catches, 1,236 yards, seven TDs) claimed CFL all-star honours.
Rookie punter Joel Whitford, veteran safety Mike Daly and linebacker Chris Frey Jr. will also return for Hamilton.
“Complete? I don’t know,” Steinauer said during a video conference Friday. “We’re always going to be a work in progress from week to week.
“But I think without a doubt this is the healthiest we’ve been.”
Hamilton also announced Friday that American receivers DeVier Posey and Marcus Tucker had been released. Posey, 31, the 2017 Grey Cup MVP with Toronto, re-signed with Hamilton last February but never played due to injury.
Hamilton has won its last two games versus Montreal – including a 27-10 decision at Molson Stadium on Aug. 27 – and nine of its last 12 meetings overall. The Ticats have also won 11 straight contests at Tim Hortons Field.
Montreal has lost its last two, including a 30-27 decision in Toronto last week that came despite the Als rolling up 560 yards of offence.
Montreal currently leads the CFL in offensive points (24.3 a game), offensive yards (413.2), time of possession (32 minutes, 39 seconds), rushing yards (154.2) and is tied with Calgary for fewest sacks allowed (seven). Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. has thrown a league-high 11 TD passes while running back William Stanback (618 yards, 6.4-yard average) is its rushing leader.
“I haven’t really seen anyone shut them down statistically yardage-wise up to this point,” Steinauer said. “They do put points on the board along with the yardage, they’ve got a great balanced attack so it’s a great variable to see where we’re at against statistically what is the best.”
In the first meeting, Hamilton had the ball for over 30 minutes and held a decided edge in rushing (144 yards to 70 for Montreal). Stanback ran for 40 yards on 12 carries.
“You’re not going to stop a guy like that,” Steinauer said of Stanback. “I just think the way the flow of the game went, there was probably a little bit more emphasis on the pass and maybe how they wanted to attack us that week.
“I think if they want him to run the ball, he’s going to get yards. He’s the type of guy who falls forward after contact so if you hit him at five he’s probably going to get eight and if you hit him at the line of scrimmage he’s probably going to get three. We’ve got a tall task ahead of us but looking forward to it, though.”
The contest is an important one for both teams given it’s an East Division clash. But while the Ticats could move ahead of idle Toronto atop the conference standings with a win, they’d also open up a six-point gap on Montreal and Ottawa (2-5).
“We know we have to win, we know what we have to do,” Montreal head coach Khari Jones told reporters. “I feel good about our team right now, even despite our record.
“Teams have gone through tough times and come out the other side and I plan to be one of those teams.”
Jones said perseverance is the key to Montreal reversing its fortunes.
“[The] proof is in the work you put in,” he said. “You know when things are just really close.
“You just have to wait for the next game and wait for your next opportunity to go win.”
Steinauer had stated all week that Masoli’s return was dependent upon the veteran not suffering a setback with the added workload.
“He hasn’t really had any setbacks,” Steinauer said. “It has maintained and that’s the important thing.”
Steinauer figures both Banks and Addison will have to adjust to playing on the fly.
“They’re both going to be challenged when it comes to their wind,” Steinauer said. “There’s nothing like playing in a game even if you’re already conditioned.
“But we’re confident, more importantly, they’re confident in where they’re at and the direction they’re headed. I’m excited to see. There’s a lot of things that we need to see this week and looking forward to it.”
Hamilton has held its last five opponents less than 20 points, a first since 1985. By comparison, Montreal has allowed its last five opponents 27 or more points.