Veteran defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis returns to Tiger-Cats lineup vs. Bombers

Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end Ja'Gared Davis. (Nathan Denette/CP)

The long wait is over for Ja’Gared Davis.

The veteran defensive lineman will dress Saturday for Hamilton’s home game versus the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-3). It will mark Davis’s first action since July 13 when the Tiger-Cats (5-7) earned a 37-29 victory over the Edmonton Elks.

“Man, I’m thankful just being able to get back on the field with the guys,” Davis said. “Running around yelling and screaming and doing what we love to do.

“It’s always a pride thing when you get to put on the black and gold … it’s a great feeling.”

The 2023 season has certainly been a challenging one for Davis. The 33-year-old Texan played in Hamilton’s first five games before going on the injured list with a knee ailment.

Hamilton dealt Davis to Calgary in July but the deal was voided after the six-foot-one, 238-pound Davis failed his physical. Davis had re-signed with the Ticats in February — he’d been with them in 2019 and 2021 — as a free agent after helping the Toronto Argonauts win a Grey Cup last season.

“It’s been a roller-coaster but for me, all of the roller-coasters I’ve been on the ending is always the best part,” he said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, twists and turns but I know what the end result is going to be.

“Sure, it started off rocky but the end goal is the same and that’s to get to the Grey Cup.”

Davis certainly knows all about that. He has appeared in the Grey Cup in all six of his previous CFL seasons, winning also with Calgary in 2018.

Davis said having a short memory is always crucial for a player.

“This game is a short-lived game,” he said. “So you have to focus on being in the moment and not dwell upon the past and all of the things that didn’t go your way. 

“At the end of the day you’ve got to make the most of the opportunity you have out there, regardless of wherever you are. When you’re here, make the most of it and make it count because what you’re going to remember is what you did and who you did it with.”

Davis is listed behind defensive end Malik Carney on Hamilton’s depth chart but head coach Orlondo Steinauer expects Davis to see action against Winnipeg.

“I know he’s chomping at the bit,” Steinauer said. “We just want Ja’Gared to be Ja’Gared.

“Come out there and be disruptive, make his plays when they come to him, wreak havoc when he can. It’s a team game and so he’ll go as our interior goes and as we cover.”

Hamilton will feature a new look on the strong side of its secondary with starters Richard Leonard (one-game injured list, head) and Canadian Tunde Adeleke (six-game list, hamstring) both out. Rookie Dexter Lawson Jr. will start at halfback while sophomore Lawrence Woods III steps in at cornerback.

The right side of Winnipeg’s offence features wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky (32 catches, 451 yards, five TDs) and slotbacks Nic Demski (50 catches, 794 yards, five TDs) and Dalton Schoen (52 catches, 925 yards, 10 TDs).

“For sure, they’re going to get tested,” Steinauer said. “That’s expected but it’s a team game so we’ll be able to support.

“They’re here for a reason and when they’re given opportunity, that’s all you can really ask for in life and this game. When it arises, we simply ask people to make their play.”

Winnipeg’s receiving corps also includes Kenny Lawler (26 catches. 579 yards, five TDs) and while Canadian Brady Oliveira leads the CFL in rushing (1,144 yards), he’s also registered 27 receptions for 368 yards and three TDs. Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, the league’s outstanding player the last two seasons, is second overall in passing (3,136) but tops in touchdown passes (27).

And Winnipeg leads the CFL in offensive points scored (31.4 per game), offensive TDs (46) and net yards (405.4).

“You’ve got to limit the explosion plays,” said Hamilton linebacker Jameer Thurman. “That offence feeds off of those big passes to their receivers.

“That offence has been together for a very long time and so they know where they need to be, they know exactly where (Collaros) is going to put the ball. With us as a defence, we have to limit those big plays and give yourself a chance to make plays as well.”

Winnipeg is coming off a convincing 51-6 home win over Saskatchewan. Last year, after downing the Riders 54-20, the Bombers suffered a 48-30 setback in Hamilton.

“Actually, that was awesome for last year,” Steinauer said. “We don’t mind talking about it, we’re proud of the effort we put forth, it did help catapult us a little bit … but is there any carry-over for this year?

“Absolutely not.”

Hamilton is coming off a 27-24 road win over Ottawa that came just four days after its Labour Day loss to Toronto. Rookie quarterback Taylor Powell had a career-high 326 passing yards and three TDs with Tim White registering seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

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