HAMILTON — In the space of a week, American rookie offensive lineman Tyrone Riley has been promoted to the starting lineup from the Hamilton Tiger-Cat’s practice squad.
The six-foot-tall, 290-pound Riley will make his first CFL start in the left tackle on Saturday when Hamilton hosts the Calgary Stampeders. Riley didn’t get dressed for the Ticats’ 30-13 season-opening away loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week.
“There’s a reason we kept him,” said Orlondo Steinauer, Hamilton’s head coach/president of football operations. “We think he can play but as I always say there is a test at the end of every week.
“In this league teams have pass rushers every week so you have to prove yourself.”
Riley replaces second-year American Travis Vornkahl, who moves to right guard to take on Canadian Jesse Gibbon. Gibbon will play at center in place of Canuck Alex Fontana, last week’s starter who moved up to the six-game injury list.
Canadians Brandon Revenberg (left guard) and Chris Van Zeyl (right guard) will remain. Canadian Kay Okafor will be the lone backup offensive lineman.
“We changed the name from the training plan to the waiting room because we believe that eventually everyone will see each other,” said Steinauer. “It’s just a mindset change, we don’t want anyone to think they’re just a practice player.
“We all practice. Unfortunately there are only so many that you can adjust and we just think the wait can be long at times, you will eventually be seen.
Hamilton needs to see improved play on his offensive line on Saturday. The Ticats allowed eight sacks and were held for 26 yards against Saskatchewan.
“Obviously we weren’t good enough up front. Point,” said Steinauer. “The details are for inside walls, but the bottom line is we didn’t protect the quarterback well enough to win, consistently anyway.
“We’ve made a few adjustments, some of them due to injuries. . . but yeah, we need to get better at that. We addressed the elephant in the room, but we also moved on.”
Riley played collegiately at North Carolina State University, starting there as a defensive end before switching to offense. With Hamilton, he had to adjust to a different game, one where defenders stand a yard from the ball.
“I think that makes a difference,” said Steinauer. “But in the end it’s football.
“Can you stay in front of someone, understand the protection calls and how consistently can you execute them? Each individual adapts differently. I know there’s an adjustment, but I think it varies from player to player.”
Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans was sacked seven times against Saskatchewan. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 222 yards with a TD and two interceptions, while backup Matt Shiltz completed six of seven passes for 48 yards.
“We have to line up more first downs and that’s a collective, that’s not just a thing for the Danes,” said Steinauer. “If it’s just specific to Dane, we’d like to see him, just protect the ball.
“You can’t predict if a protection will be broken or someone will be better than our player at a certain game? But if that happens it doesn’t mean we can’t give them the football and Dane will be the first to tell you that. This is the area that we can control immediately.”
Evans, who became a father for the first time this week, said Calgary’s defense was a daunting challenge.
“There’s no one who takes a playoff, there’s no one who has any sort of weakness or anything,” Evans said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good offense, they’ve got a pretty good defence, so it’s going to be fun to see us play against each other.”
Defensively, American tackle Dylan Wynn will not play for Hamilton after being placed on the one-game injured list. American Lee Autry II is taken off the injured list to replace Wynn.
“That’s more precautionary,” said Steinauer. “If you know Dylan you know if that was a different kind of football game, not that that wasn’t important, things could be different.”
US running back Don Jackson will not play for Hamilton either. The former Stampeder ran just one yard in five carries against Saskatchewan.
Steianuer said the Ticats aren’t necessarily looking to establish the run against Calgary.
“I hired several coordinators,” Steinauer said. “We have to do what it takes every week to win. So if a team wants to take the run away, we have to throw the ball 60 times and win.
“If they play loose and want to charge three, we have to run the ball 25 times and win. That’s what I mean by multiple. You have to be flexible. You can always let the ball go, absolutely, but if a team wants to take it away, they can do that.”
Veteran quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell will start for Calgary after suffering an ankle injury in last week’s 30-27 home win over Montreal. Mitchell completed 21 of 34 passes for 199 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but it was backup Jake Maier who put the Stampeders on the drive that set up Rene Paredes’ game-winning 38-yard field goal.
“It’s always good to be able to play a quarterback like Bo,” said Hamilton defensive tackle Micah Johnson, another former Stampeder. “You know he’s the ultimate contender, someone who wants to make a play downfield so you know you have a chance against him.
“You just have to keep hurrying.”
Calgary hasn’t won at Hamilton since 2018 but was 16-2 in their last 18 encounters with the Ticats, including Gray Cup ’14 in Vancouver. Hamilton will be aiming for a fourth straight home win.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 17, 2022.