HAMILTON — It looks like a key member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ defence is set to make his return.
Defensive end Stevie Baggs will most likely be in the lineup when the Ticats take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL Eastern Final on Sunday.
“I can say it’s a high probability,” head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said when asked if Baggs would play. “We don’t know 100 per cent until we see how (cornerback) Ryan (Hinds) did after practice and make sure he came out OK.”
Baggs, a popular player and team leader, was a victim of the import ratio rule last week.
He had to watch his team back home on television as they defeated the Montreal Alouettes 52-44 in overtime in the Eastern Semi-Final. The Ticats wanted to make room for all-star linebacker Jamall Johnson, who was returning from injury. Baggs was the last import out and Canadian Luc Mullinder took his place.
But Baggs was on the practice field Wednesday along with Hinds, a Canadian who had missed eight games with an ankle injury. Hinds now looks ready to return, which would open up one more spot for an import player.
“I’m just excited that the guys played well enough to get a win and that’s all that matters, truly,” Baggs said. “Because at the end of the day – at the beginning of the day – it’s about opportunity and we have the opportunity to move forward and to really achieve our ultimate goal and that’s to win a Grey Cup.”
Baggs, 29, is adamant he has nothing to prove.
“I’ve just got to go do my job,” he said. “I play the same every game. I play with the same passion, emotion and energy every game. There’s no extra incentive.”
Baggs was an all-star in 2009 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before coming to Hamilton in the middle of last season after being released by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. This season, the veteran from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has recorded 50 tackles and five sacks, but has played in the shadow of defensive end Justin Hickman, who was named a 2011 CFL all-star on Wednesday.
Bellefeuille said adding Baggs to the roster adds more than just a playmaker.
“You put another guy (on the field) with a great motor and intensity and enthusiasm,” Bellefeuille said. “I asked the other guys, especially Justin Hickman, before the game (against Montreal) to ramp it up in the pre-game and bring that energy that we were going to be missing from him.”
While making room for Johnson proved to be a smart move – he was named the CFL’s defensive player of the week – and the team was victorious, the defensive unit and the coaching staff still have wrinkles to iron out. Namely, the 44 points they gave up to the Als.
“The No. 1 thing for us is just to get back to doing our technique properly,” said Bellefeuille. “When we’ve played well, we’ve turned the proper way or we’ve found the ball in the air. A lot of the things that happened to us were just a breakdown of (not) finding the ball in the air, or (not) turning the right way, having the proper technique. But our coverage was excellent.”
Linebacker Rey Williams agreed it was the little things, especially technique, that they’ll have to watch on the weekend.
While he’s happy to hear Baggs could return, he’s also mindful that the unit should be ready to play no matter who lines up.
“Stevie is a productive player on defence,” Williams said.
“He’s a high energy guy and he’s a leader on the defence, so he’s definitely missed. But this game, it’s going to go on regardless of me, Stevie, J.J. (Johnson), K.G. (quarterback Kevin Glenn).
“Football goes on and you’ve got to play regardless of who you line up with out there.”