O’Leary: Shiltz gets a golden opportunity in ESF
MONTREAL — You won’t get the specifics out of Orlondo Steinauer on why Matthew Shiltz is starting in Saturday’s Eastern Semi-Final. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ head coach has been verbally poked and prodded on the topic of his quarterbacks and their usage for a week now and what’s it gotten us?
Answer: A Friday morning depth chart that confirmed what practice reps had hinted at late this week and the coach wasn’t saying much more with that bit of news forced out there.
Shiltz will get the start on Saturday, picking up from where he left off at the end of last year’s Eastern Semi-Final when the Ticats went away from Dane Evans. A year later he has the start over Bo Levi Mitchell. The reasons? They’re in-house.
“That’s all for internal,” Steinauer said after the team arrived in Montreal on Friday.
“The reasons why are for us. I can just tell you that what’s important is that it’s very clear inside the building of how we’re going to handle the situation.”
When the Ticats signed Mitchell in the off-season, they did so eying playing at Tim Hortons Field in the 110th Grey Cup. The Hall of Fame-bound pivot has been saddled by injuries through the year, though. A fractured leg sent him to the six-game injured list in Week 8. The team had eased him back into action over its last three games, splitting Mitchell’s reps with Shiltz and then with Taylor Powell in Week 21.
Shiltz, who came off of the injured list himself and returned in Week 17, sat out the regular season finale after going a combined 41-57 for 676 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in three games. As Mitchell was ramped up in his final three games, he went 22-35 for 317 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“We’re just fortunate that he chose to come back here knowing that we were going after Bo,” Steinauer said of Shiltz. “That’s a tough thing and that just speaks to his character.
Steinauer hasn’t seen a recent drastic change with Shiltz, who played a backup role with the Als the first four years of his career before signing with the Ticats in 2022.
“He’s always in the building early. He’s prepared. He’s the consummate teammate. That’s just how he’s built. That’s just an authentic version of himself,” the coach said.
“All I’ve seen is, when the man’s been given the opportunity he’s made the most of it.”
So let’s look at that opportunity. Shiltz has spent six seasons in the CFL. The 30-year-old is back in the city where he started his career and will be back on the field where he saw the Ticats’ season end; this time he seems to have the full 60 minutes in front of him, even if Mitchell is worked into the game in some capacity.
Seated next to his favourite target, in receiver Tim White, Shiltz was straight-laced on Friday and focused on the task at hand.
“It feels great, but not trying to let this moment get bigger than what it is,” he said of being named the starter.
“We know the stakes are a little bit higher, a little bit more energy. But as a team, we’ve been playing football our whole lives. At the end of the day, you go through the details the same way, you handle your preparation the same way, talk with the guys the same way, go through it and go out there and put your best foot forward on the football field to go out and win. That’s my approach to it and I think that’s kind of the approach the team’s had, which is great. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Although the Ticats haven’t beaten the Alouettes in three tries this season, Shiltz had his biggest passing game of the year against them back in Week 3, after Mitchell had gone down with a groin injury. Shiltz made 25-47 passes for 345 yards, although he wasn’t able to find the end zone and threw a pair of interceptions in a 38-12 loss. White was the primary beneficiary in that game, as he pulled in seven catches for 143 yards.
“They’re a physical bunch. They’re fast,” Shiltz said of an Als’ defence that has been very productive this season.
“They go after the football and they’re well-coached and disciplined. They’re going to play physical. I think they’ve evolved a little bit from who they were earlier in the season. Looking at them holistically, I think you see things that they do well, and you’ve got to try and find a way to to attack those certain things that they may or may struggle with. It’s been a great week of preparation and we’re just looking forward to going out there with the guys and taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Shiltz and the Ticats will take the field tomorrow with a great opportunity in front of them, as they try to solve an Alouettes puzzle that has stumped them to this point in the season. If the organization’s hopes of getting back to Tim Horton’s Field in two weeks’ time are to come true, it’ll have to start with a win in Montreal.