After a long and physical season several players will be playing through pain this week in order to participate in the CFL Division finals.
Which players are healthy, which can withstand and play through the pain and which players sit out will be a major factor in determining who advances to the Grey Cup.
As you read about various injuries, some background on how the week is structured will shed some light on the issue.
Coaches like to have three good preparation work days each week. Even veteran players need reps through the week in order to appropriately react to game situations.
The biggest question all season long for the Lions has been the health of their offensive line. Both starting guards were injured coming out of training camp, which forced the Lions to start rookie Matt Norman and go shopping for replacements. Thankfully for head coach Mike Benevides, Norman turned out to be a pleasant surprise and B.C. was able to secure Patrick Kabongo.
Dean Valli has practised all week, and although Norman chose to put his education plans on hold and made the flight to Vancouver Tuesday, it appears that Valli will be playing Sunday.
The play of rookie Jabar Westerman has helped the Lions most through their string of injuries. He's been so stellar he was nominated for an Outstanding Rookie award this year and, as a non-import, has enabled Benevides to inset import Kabongo at left tackle without further disruption to the roster to support the Canadian ratio.
The Lions welcome back Travis Lulay and Arland Bruce to their roster this week. The most obvious concern will be whether they are rusty from sitting out. You can't simulate game pace in practice.
I understand that Bruce is a veteran player who has a knack for making the big play, but I would have been tempted to start either Taylor or Jackson as they were both playing extremely well the last five weeks of the season.
Lulay has been battling a head cold this week. Although this seems to be pretty insignificant, it will be interesting to see if he is sluggish Sunday and whether or not he is able to effectively communicate on the field with a hoarse throat in a very loud stadium.
The advantage for the Lions this week is that their defence is rested and healthy. It has held opponents to 19.6 points per game and only 76.4 yards rushing this season. Oh yeah...and they can pressure the quarterback better than anyone else in the league.
The Calgary Stampeders are coming into the game against the Lions banged up.
The biggest shock this week was hearing that Drew Tate will sit due to a fracture in his arm. Some have suggested that this is a tactic by head coach John Hufnagel to get the Lions off their game by having Tate fake an injury. Come on man! Tate stood on the sideline with his arm in a cast Thursday.
Hufnagel is not about to take valuable preparation reps away from Tate just to play with the Lions' minds.
Kevin Glenn has been given another shot to get to the Grey Cup as a starting quarterback. What an irony considering what happened to him in 2007.
Glenn has been an adequate replacement for Tate this season. However, I don't believe that Glenn is the quarterback that Calgary needs to get past B.C.
Tate has enough athleticism to extend plays and the ability to instinctually create offensive production under pressure.
If Glenn insists on being a pocket passer and Calgary is not able to establish the run, Bo Levi Mitchell may be taking some snaps.
Calgary's secondary is limping into this game. Although Brandon Smith and Keon Raymond practised Thursday, the fact that they sat out Wednesday indicates that they are playing through pain.
On the other hand, safety Eric Fraser and middle linebacker Juan Simpson did not practice Thursday which indicates that both may not start Sunday. If they do play, they could be limping through the game.
Prediction: BC Lions
Alouettes have battled injuries
Like Calgary, Montreal has battled through injuries all season.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo welcomes back receiver SJ Green to the line-up this week. Not only is Green a talented veteran presence, he also stands six-foot-two, 216 lbs. This is significant because the Argos love to play tight, physical, bump-and-run, man-to-man coverage.
Both of the Argos' halfbacks are under six feet tall.
The size of Green and Jamal Richardson (6'3',' 207 lbs.) creates an interesting match-up, especially with Pat Watkins recovering from an ankle injury and is still questionable for Sunday.
Calvillo may simply toss the ball up and allow his big receivers make plays. Argo defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones may want to mix a little cover 2 man into his game plan. This defence would put two safeties down field to eliminate the deep ball.
The biggest concern this week for the Als is the ankle injury that has sidelined safety Kyries Hebert. Hebert was still limping Thursday which indicates that it is still pretty sore.
Hebert is an extremely versatile player who can support the run and the pass. His increased involvement of to stop the run and pressure the quarterback the second half of the season has improved the effectiveness of their defence. I would anticipate that Hebert plays, but I question his ability to play at the level that the Als need from him.
Other than a question mark around Pat Watkins, Toronto comes into this game on a roll and healthy. Even Andre Durie is healthy for a change.
Prediction: Toronto Argonauts
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