HAMILTON—Once again, Orlondo Steinauer has some shuffling to do.
Defensive end Eric Norwood is doubtful for Sunday when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visit the Ottawa Redblacks in the East Division final.
Norwood reportedly suffered a season-ending knee injury in last weekend’s 25-22 home win over the Toronto Argonauts in the division semi-final.
The loss of Norwood is huge for Hamilton. The 6’1”, 252-pound lineman had seven sacks, one interception, and two fumble returns for TDs this season.
But Steinauer, Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator, has become rather adept at juggling his defensive line.
Canadian defensive linemen Linden Gaydosh, Brian Bulcke, Evan Gill, and Hasan Hazime, along with American Adrian Tracy, all are on the injured list.
“Yeah, that was a big blow, I’m not going to sugar-coat that,” Steinauer admitted.
“But they’re going to kick off so we move on.
“We’ll put a different lineup out there but it won’t affect our hearts and how hard we play,” he stressed.
With Norwood sidelined, sophomore Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, a Montreal native, is expected to start against Ottawa.
Steinauer wouldn’t confirm that but defensive tackle Ted Laurent said the former Laval star has the confidence of his teammates.
“We [defensive line] have been though a lot,” said the burly Laurent, also a Montreal native and Hamilton’s top Canadian award nominee the last two years.
“Wood is down but Gascon-Nadon is going to step up, and I believe will get the job done.”
The Ticats also have Michael Atkinson, a six-foot, 312-pound native of Windsor, Ont., in his third CFL season with Hamilton.
“They [Gascon-Nadon and Atkinson] have a different skill set than the other guys, and it also allows you to play an extra American somewhere else in the defence,” noted Steinauer.
“There’s a lot of flexibility that they bring along with their own individual skill sets.”
Hamilton’s defence faces a stiff challenge trying to contain a high-powered Ottawa offence led by quarterback Henry Burris.
The 40-year-old is a finalist for the CFL’s outstanding player award after registering a league-record 481 completions, league-high 5,703 yards, and a career-best 70.9 completion percentage.
Burris also anchored the CFL’s top aerial attack (322.6 yards per game) and was 28-of-37 passing for 368 yards and six TDs in Ottawa’s season-ending 44-28 home win over Hamilton.
The Redblacks not only swept the season series 2-0, but finished first in the East Division after managing just two wins in their inaugural 2014 campaign.
“He’s having an outstanding season, probably is the MVP of the league,” Steinauer said of Burris.
“He’s in an offence now where he’s comfortable, he’s got the strongest arm, in my opinion.
“His durability speaks for itself and he still can run with the ball if he has to.
“He has it in his mentality right now he’s going to move the sticks anyway he can,” added Steinauer.
“I think the challenges are obvious; they’re the best right now at what they do.”
Laurent said the key for Hamilton’s defence is getting consistent pressure on Burris.
“As far as the front seven [is concerned], we’ve got to get to him,” Laurent stressed. “We can’t let him sit there and let him tear us apart like he did the last game.
“We’ve got to find a way to get to him.”
With both starter Zach Collaros (knee) and back-up Jeff Mathews (concussion) out, Jeremiah Masoli will make just his second career playoff start.
He was 12-of-18 passing for 141 yards with a TD and interception against Toronto in the East semi-final while also running for a touchdown.
Masoli completed 11-of-21 passes for 148 yards and a TD in relief of starter Jacory Harris in the 16-point loss to Ottawa.
But Hamilton does have an edge in overall experience, with 22-of-24 starters back from last year’s squad that lost to Calgary in the Grey Cup.
And then, there’s the matter of redemption.
“Congrats to them for being first, but now that first-round bye doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Laurent said.
“They have to play just like we have to play.
“The past two games they beat us and we just feel we owe them one,” he added.