Veteran Canadian receiver Durant to make Hamilton debut versus Alouettes

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HAMILTON — The wait is finally over for Lemar Durant.

The veteran slotback will make his 2022 debut Thursday night when Hamilton (1-5) hosts the Montreal Alouettes (2-4). The six-foot-two, 218-pound Vancouver native joined the Tiger-Cats as a free agent in January but missed their first six games with a hand injury.

"I'm excited to play football again, it's been a while," Durant said Wednesday. "It was a frustrating time but now I'm back and ready to start something special here."

Durant, 29, is in his seventh CFL season, having played previously with Calgary (2015-18) and the B.C. Lions (2019, '21). He was the top Canadian in the Stampeders' 2018 Grey Cup victory and has registered 183 catches for 2,353 yards and 13 touchdowns in 74 career regular-season contests.

"You're always going to be a little bit rusty, like a step off or something," Durant said. "But I feel like overall I can just come in and be able to play, I've done it for a long time now.

"That's something I take pride in, just making sure I stayed in the playbook so when my number was called I was ready to get back in and we're not missing a beat."

Durant admits he'll have to deal with pre-game nerves.

"There's that excitement, that nervous energy," he said. "I'm not even setting expectations for myself.

"I'm just making sure I don't make mistakes, know all the plays we're doing and just let the game play out. We're just trying to come out with a 'W' no matter what."

Thursday's game will have some added significance for Khari Jones, Hamilton's offensive consultant, and backup quarterback Matt Shiltz. Jones was fired as Montreal's head coach July 8 while Shiltz spent his first four CFL campaigns with the Als before signing with the Ticats in free agency.

"Obviously Matt and Khari have been pretty fired up about it . . . but I think everyone wants it," Hamilton starter Dane Evans said. "It's an East opponent."

Thursday's contest will be the first of six straight (and seven of eight overall) against East Division competition for Hamilton. Four will be against first-place Toronto (3-2) and three versus Montreal.

On Sept. 17, Hamilton will host the defending Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-0).

"We know everything that's happened is in the past and now it really is a new season for us," Evans said. "We know everything we want to do is still in front of us and this is the time to go do it."

And Evans can't wait to get into a game with Durant.

"Just another big body out there, a guy who has been around," Evans said. "I'm just glad to get him back healthy.

"He's super smart. In the huddle he's locked in . . . it's not just his position, he knows multiple positions and around here we like guys like that. I'm really excited to have him."

Hamilton coach Orlondo Steinauer said the only expectation on Durant is to simply do his job.

"We just want him to be himself," Steinauer said. "The expectation is if we have a play designed for him that he makes the play.

"If he's supposed to clear out, he clears out. If he's supposed to make a key block, he makes the key block. That's it. Not like anybody else or in place of somebody else, just come in and be yourself and that's the expectation. And then possibly give a little more."

Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence (groin) will miss a second straight game while veteran Canadian tackle Chris Van Zeyl (lower body) goes on the six-game injured list. American Travis Vornkahl will play left tackle with compatriot Colin Kelly shifting to right tackle in place of Van Zeyl.

American defensive back Cariel Brooks also makes his first start of the season for Hamilton after suffering a back injury during training camp.

Harris said while Lawrence's absence is notable, Hamilton's defence will still be formidable.

"They play great defence, look no further than last week (17-12 road loss to B.C. Lions)," Harris said. "B.C. (is) probably the hottest offence in the league and they (held Lions) to 17 points.

"We know they're going to bring their 'A' game. We have our work cut out for us but we also know if we play our game we'll be just fine."

Montreal earned a 40-33 victory over Ottawa last week to improve to 1-1 under GM/interim head coach Danny Maciocia. Harris was solid, completing 25-of-31 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns with quarterback coach Anthony Calvillo again calling offensive plays.

"Trevor is an efficient passer, he's been in big games and he's the guy they're going with," Steinauer said. "At the same time, they have a proven backup also (Dominique Davis) and yeah, they're coming off a win.

"They'll be ready to play and that's about all the focus we're going to put on them. The rest is about (Ticats) and execution and ultimately coming out with a win."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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