HAMILTON — The expectation is receiver Brandon Banks will return to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lineup this week and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli couldn’t be happier.
Banks, the CFL’s outstanding player in 2019, has missed four of Hamilton’s past five games with a rib injury. But he resumed practising this week and the plan is for Banks to return in time to face the Ottawa Redblacks (2-8) on Saturday afternoon at Tim Hortons Field.
“I’m like Speedy’s No. 1 fan since he got here,” Masoli said of Banks during a video conference Thursday. “We’ve had a nice connection.
“He’s definitely a comfort out there to have. He’s been raising his mojo too getting the younger guys going around. Very hyped and excited to see him out there.”
Banks, 33, has registered 22 receptions for 172 yards this season. He had 112 catches for 1,550 yards and 13 TDs in 2019 when he captured the CFL’s outstanding player award.
But for the first time this season, Masoli had a chance to practise with Banks, veteran Bralon Addison and sophomore Jaelon Acklin all at the same time. Addison missed the first half of Hamilton’s season recovering from a knee ailment.
“It’s just good to have them all out there,” Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “You envision certain things and certain lineups but it doesn’t mean it comes to fruition due to injuries and other things.
“We’ve been without both of those guys (Banks and Addison) for the majority of the year and so now that they’re back we’ll see. There’s no expectations except for them to be themselves.”
Acklin is Hamilton’s leading receiver this season with 34 catches for 443 yards and two TDs.
Masoli will make a third straight start Saturday for Hamilton (4-5) and is still searching for his first win of the season. The Ticats are also looking to register their first victory in three home contests after having their 11-game win streak at Tim Hortons Field snapped with a 23-20 overtime loss to Montreal on Oct. 2.
That was followed by a 24-23 home loss to archrival Toronto on Oct. 11. In both defeats, Hamilton held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter.
Masoli was the starter in both losses. And although quarterback Dane Evans — who led Hamilton to a 2019 Grey Cup berth after Masoli suffered a season-ending knee injury — came off the six-game injured list this week, Steinauer opted to remain with Masoli under centre.
“We’re confident in Jeremiah to go out and give us a great chance to win the football game,” Steinauer said. “As we’re just as confident with Dane out there.”
The good news for Hamilton is Masoli was 24-of-33 passing for 361 yards and two TDs against Toronto. Masoli said being able to make a third straight start allows him to develop more continuity within the Ticats’ offence.
“I definitely settle down a lot better this second game and felt a lot more comfortable,” he said. “It was a lot slower out there for me.
“Everything is coming together, hopefully at the right time here and we can go on a good streak here down the homestretch.”
Hamilton’s offence rolled up 470 net yards against Toronto and Masoli said the unit came very close to hitting on more big plays. Fixing that has been the goal this week during practice.
“It was a kick in the butt this week in terms of making sure we get all that stuff and hit those plays,” he said.
Toronto (6-3) and Montreal (5-4) square off Friday night. That makes Saturday’s contest an important one for the Ticats to keep pace with the two teams ahead of them in the East Division standings.
“It’s big for us but we have to make sure we stay laser focused on executing,” Masoli said.