Veteran tackle Chris Van Zeyl returns to Ticats in time to face Argos and a defense from Chris Jones
Chris Van Zeyl returns to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats just in time to take on the challenge of a Chris Jones defense.
Van Zeyl (inch) is off the six-game injured list to make just his second start of the season as a right tackle on Monday when Hamilton (4-4) plays host to the Toronto Argonauts (5-3). It will be the third of four meetings between the longtime rivals and the second this year at Tim Hortons Field, where the Ticats won the series opener 32-19 on Labor Day Monday.
But it will be Hamilton’s first game against the Argos since Toronto hired veteran CFL coach Chris Jones as a defensive consultant on September 21. Toronto is 2-0 since Jones’ return, posting a 30-27 win over Montreal on September 24 and a 35-16 win over Ottawa on Wednesday.
Montreal tallied 560 offensive yards – including 178 rushing yards – and held the ball for over 36 minutes, but Toronto forced three turnovers. And against Ottawa, the defense had three interceptions, with Dexter McCoil Sr. and Chris Edwards returning theirs for touchdowns.
Jones is in his 18th season in the CFL, having been on four Gray Cup winning teams, including in 2015 with Edmonton as head coach. He has a well-deserved reputation as a defensive guru and innovative coach when it comes to blitz and cover programs.
“Expect the unexpected,” Van Zeyl said of a Jones defense. “I played this defense every day for several years when I was an Argo and the only thing you should expect is the unexpected.
“You have so many moving parts and so many guys moving around that you really have to stay by your rules and that is going to help you. I have played against him several times and every time I have played against him there has been something different.
Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer also has a history with Jones. Steinauer coached the Toronto defensive backs in 2012 when Jones was the defensive coordinator and Toronto won the 100th Gray Cup game at Rogers Center.
“What I love about Chris Jones is that he is genuinely passionate about football,” said Steinauer. “He’s super competitive and he wants to win and that has never wavered since the day I met him and we were able to train together and be champions together in Toronto.
“It’s kind of the perception I had before I even knew him. I think he’s dedicated a lot of his life to the CFL and I think it’s great to see him back.
And like Van Zeyl, Steinauer said Jones can be unconventional in his defensive approach at times.
“Chris is going to do whatever it takes to win and so if that means he has to put pressure on you, he will put pressure on you,” said Steinauer. “If he has to let people down, he will let people down.
“I think he’s extremely unpredictable at times and has a knack for getting his guys to play hard consistently. That’s an understatement, but it kind of explains to you why I think he did a great job and really stood the test of time as the league has seen multiple infractions.
Veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will make a second straight start for Hamilton. He had 23 of 33 passes for 223 yards in the 30-27 overtime loss to Montreal last week, ending the Ticats’ 11-game winning streak at home.
“I still don’t feel like we can lose at home,” Ticates linebacker Simoni Lawrence said. “I feel like we’re a super confident group and we have a right to be a super confident group when we play at home.
“It’s like that and that’s how it’s going to be when we play at home. We have the advantage on the pitch, we know that and we will play at this level.
Hamilton will be without defensive back / returner Frankie Williams (header, ribs) and wide receiver Brandon Banks (ribs).
Veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson makes a third straight start for Toronto. He threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns against Ottawa, but later head coach Ryan Dinwiddie insisted his offense should play better against Hamilton.
“We weren’t as sharp as I wanted on offense, but I didn’t think that position was why,” Dinwiddie said. “We’re building with Mac right now.
“I thought he did some good things and we will continue to do so for now.”
Nick Arbuckle will serve as a replacement after Antonio Pipkin has done so for the previous two games. Toronto will be without veteran long snapper Jake Reinhart (elbow), rushing winger Shane Ray (hamstrings) and defensive lineman Drake Nevis (back).
However, at least Toronto faces a familiar foe in a cropped week.
“It helps, we kind of know who they are, they’ve had a long week so they might change some things that we haven’t seen and we’ll have to adjust to that on the sidelines,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s difficult, I think they also have a pretty good impression on us.
“More than anything it’s about going out, running and playing physical football, taking care of football. Really, the fundamental aspect of it. I know we are going to be tired, we have to make sure that we are not mentally tired.
Lawrence certainly knows what to expect from Toronto.
“It’s football,” he said. “We’re playing a violent game, so I expect a lot of violence.
“It’s always one game at a time, but I’ll be lying if I say I didn’t know what’s going on, what we need to do and what we need to accomplish. He’s an opponent from the East and right now they’re at the top of the table and that’s where we want to be.