The unbeaten Calgary Stampeders appear to have a favourable matchup this Friday when they host a winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats team missing its starting quarterback, but middle linebacker Juwan Simpson is taking nothing for granted.
"Everybody asks us if we're going to take this game lightly and we can't because it's the field of unknown," said Simpson in regards to the Ticats (0-2), who will be without several key starters, including quarterback Zach Collaros.
Jeremiah Masoli will make his first career CFL start at quarterback for the Ticats in place of Collaros, who's out of the lineup with head and back injuries after being flattened by a helmet hit to the chin by Eskimos linebacker Odell Willis in the second quarter of Hamilton's 28-24 road loss to Edmonton on July 4.
"I don't feel like I'm just being thrown in there," said Masoli, who's in his second CFL season. "I've been preparing for this for a while now. I feel prepared and confident."
Hamilton coach Kent Austin has confidence that Masoli can get the job done.
"He's excited," Austin said. "We have really high expectations for our quarterbacks like other teams do, and Jeremiah knows that and understands that and he embraces that. It's not like he hasn't been in big situations before. He's a pretty laid back player and has a great perspective. He's very endearing to his teammates."
Masoli took over for Collaros in Edmonton and completed 5-of-15 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown to go with three turnovers – an interception and two fumbles.
"He had a tough outing, but he's a very accurate thrower, can move in the pocket, has good vision down the field, can extend plays – all the things you want in a quarterback," said Calgary coach and general manager John Hufnagel. "They do have changes especially at the quarterback position, but they have done creative things with their quarterbacks in the past and they've substituted in and out."
Hufnagel praised his defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler for doing his homework to prepare the Stamps (2-0) for whatever the Ticats will throw at them.
"He's tried to prepare the football team defensively to see all kinds of things," Hufnagel said. "You just have to play your scheme and react to what they present to you."
Both teams have key injuries as Hamilton will be without linebackers Simoni Lawrence and Rico Murray, along with left tackle Joel Figueroa (all lower body). Running back Jon Cornish is still out of Calgary's lineup with a concussion, along with linebacker Deron Mayo (groin strain), defensive back Keon Raymond (thigh bruise) and receiver Maurice Price (broken hand).
"You just fill in and reload," Simpson said. "When you get to this level, everybody's capable no matter how deep you go on the depth chart. It's not like high school where if one player goes down, that's it for the team. We're very fortunate to have depth."
Due to the injuries to Raymond and Mayo, Lin-J Shell and Glenn Love will be elevated to starter status for the Stamps.
"I expect good things from both of them," Simpson said. "They're both smart guys and good football players."
Receiver Jeff Fuller is coming off his best outing with Stamps during Calgary's 34-15 win over the Argonauts in Toronto and he's looking forward to continuing his progress against Hamilton.
"It was a good win, but we've just got to keep building on it," said Fuller, who hauled in a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell against the Argos. "I'm looking forward to a big game this week. I felt like we had a good week of preparation, even though it was a short week."
Mitchell commended offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson for getting the Stamps ready to take on the Ticats.
"Dicky is one of those guys who's not going to hold anything back," said Mitchell, who had an impressive outing in Toronto when he threw four TD passes. "He makes sure that we're all ready to do anything that we can do on offence. We have a lot of things that we can do – a lot of misdirection. We have a lot of guys to throw to. We don't ever focus on one person."
For the Ticats to be successful against the Stamps, they'll have to concentrate on stopping Mitchell, who completed 16-of-24 passes for 267 yards against the Argos.
"Bo definitely brings some energy to the field," said Hamilton nose tackle Brian Bulcke, who played two years for the Stamps before signing with the Ticats prior to last season. "That's something I noted my years here. As a defensive line, having guys like (Eric] Norwood and (Brandon) Boudreaux on the edge to chase him down I think is really important, so we're just trying to get those guys fired up."