Veteran tackle Chris Van Zeyl returns to Ticats in time to face Chris Jones' defence

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Chris Van Zeyl returns to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats just in time to deal with the challenge that is a Chris Jones defence.

Van Zeyl (thumb) comes off the six-game injured list to make just his second start of the season at right tackle Monday when Hamilton (4-4) hosts the Toronto Argonauts (5-3). It will be the third of four meetings between the longtime rivals and second this year at Tim Hortons Field, where the Ticats won the series opener 32-19 on Labour Day Monday.

But this game will be Hamilton's first against the Argos since Toronto hired veteran CFL coach Chris Jones as a defensive consultant on Sept. 21. Toronto is 2-0 since Jones' return, posting a 30-27 win over Montreal on Sept. 24 and a 35-16 victory over Ottawa on Wednesday.

Montreal had 560 offensive yards — including 178 yards rushing — and possessed the ball for over 36 minutes, but Toronto forced three turnovers. And against Ottawa, the defence had three interceptions, with Dexter McCoil Sr. and Chris Edwards returning theirs for TDs.

Jones is in his 18th CFL season, having been a part of four Grey Cup-winning squads, including in 2015 with Edmonton as head coach. He has a well-earned reputation of being a defensive guru and a coach who's innovative when it comes to blitz and coverage schemes.

"Expect the unexpected," Van Zeyl said of facing a Jones defence. "I played against that defence every day for several years when I was an Argo and the one thing you've got to expect is the unexpected.

"You've got so many moving parts and so many guys moving around that you really have to stay true to your rules and that's going to get you through. I've played against him several times and every time I've played against him there's been something different."

Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer also has a history with Jones. Steinauer served as a defensive backs coach with Toronto in 2012 when Jones was the defensive co-ordinator and Toronto won the 100th Grey Cup game at Rogers Centre.

"What I love about Chris Jones is he's authentically passionate about football," Steinauer said. "He's uber competitive and he wants to win and that's never wavered from the day I met him and we were able to coach together and be champions together in Toronto.

"That's kind of the perception I had even before I knew him. I think he's dedicated a lot of his life to the CFL and I think it's great to have him back."

And like Van Zeyl, Steinauer said Jones can sometimes be unconventional in his defensive approach.

"Chris is going to do whatever it takes to win and so if that means he has to pressure you, he'll pressure you," Steinauer said. "If he has to drop people, he'll drop people.

"I think at times he's extremely unpredictable and he does have a knack for getting his guys to play hard consistently. That's an understatement but it gives you a blanket cover of just kind of why I think he's done a great job and really withstood the test of time as the league has transitioned through multiple offences."

Veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli will make a second straight start for Hamilton. He was 23-of-33 passing for 223 yards in last week's 30-27 overtime loss to Montreal, which snapped the Ticats 11-game home win streak.

"I still don't feel like we can lose at home," said Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence. "I feel like we're a super-confident bunch and we have the right to be a super-confident bunch when we play at home.

"That's just how it is and that's just how it's going to be when we play at home. We've got home-field advantage, we're aware of that, and we're going to play to that level."

Hamilton will be without defensive back/returner Frankie Williams (head, ribs) and receiver Brandon Banks (ribs).

Veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson makes a third straight start for Toronto. He threw for 181 yards and two TDs against Ottawa but afterwards, head coach Ryan Dinwiddie was emphatic his offence must play much better against Hamilton.

“We weren't as sharp as I wanted on offence, but I didn’t think that position was the reason why,’’ said Dinwiddie. "We're building with Mac right now.

"I thought he did some good things and we’ll continue to do that for now.”

Nick Arbuckle will serve as the backup after Antonio Pipkin did so for the previous two games. Toronto will be without veteran long-snapper Jake Reinhart (elbow), rush end Shane Ray (hamstring) and defensive lineman Drake Nevis (back).

However, at least Toronto faces a familiar foe in a shortened 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're going to have to adjust to that on the sidelines," Dinwiddie said. "It's tough, I think they have a pretty good feel for us as well.

"More than anything it's going out and executing and playing physical football, take care of the football. Really, the fundamental aspect of it. I know we're going to be tired going into it, we have to make sure we're not mentally tired."

Lawrence definitely knows what to expect from Toronto.

"It's football," he said. "We play a game that's violent so I expect a lot of violence.

"It's always one game at a time but I'll be lying if I said I wasn't aware of what's going on, what we need to do and what we need to accomplish. They're an East opponent and right now they're sitting at the top of rankings and that's where we want to be."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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