Labinjo to watch from sidelines

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

Mike Labinjo wasn't talking Wednesday.

But Calgary Stampeders coach John Hufnagel needed just 10 words to summarize what the burly defensive lineman was so upset about.

“Right now, we’re not going to be changing our lineup,” Hufnagel told reporters.

Sounds like the Grizzly Bear is staying in hibernation.

He won’t have to pay for a ticket or wait in line for the restrooms, but Labinjo will be a spectator when the Stamps host the Edmonton Eskimos in Sunday’s West Division semifinal showdown at McMahon Stadium.

That’s just the latest morsel of bad news in what’s been a miserable campaign for arguably the Stamps’ most dangerous defensive player from a year ago.

The non-import reported to training camp looking a little thicker than last year’s edition of Labinjo and was just finding his form when he suffered a leg fracture that forced him to sit out six consecutive games.

While he was out, the Stamps retooled their defensive front four, welcoming back NFL returnees Charleston Hughes and Tearrius George at the end spots and signing DeVone Claybrooks and former Eskimo Jim Davis to clog up the middle.

Labinjo returned to the rotation as a defensive tackle but hasn’t looked anything like his old self. In fact, his last sack came way back on July 24.

With Justin Phillips and Miguel Robede suiting up as the extra defensive linemen, Labinjo watched the past two games from the sidlines. Barring an injury or a last-minute change-of-heart, he’ll miss his third straight on Sunday.

Labinjo practised Wednesday with the defensive scout team, likely getting closer to Stamps star Henry Burris than he’ll be able to get to Eskimos gunslinger Ricky Ray until sometime next season.

When questioned about Labinjo’s struggles, Hufnagel suggested his switch from defensive end to tackle was at the heart of the matter.

“He’s just not the player that he was last year because he’s not playing the position that he played last year,” Hufnagel said.

Hardly sounds like the same coach that predicted in late September Labinjo could be “a force” at an interior line position, but you can’t argue with the assertion he’s not the same impact player he was last year.

And come crunch time, he likely won’t get a chance to redeem himself.

Labinjo was a one-man wrecking crew in last year’s playoff push. He was a monster in the West Final victory over the B.C. Lions, recording eight defensive tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble, and was just as good two weeks later at Olympic Stadium, racking up three tackles, three pass knockdowns and one sack against the host Montreal Alouettes in the Grey Cup game.

As he prepared to return to the lineup six weeks ago, Labinjo seemed optimistic he was primed for another November to remember.

“When you make the playoffs, it’s not just about winning the Grey Cup. There’s money on the line,” he said. “I’ve always been a performer like that. The six weeks off might be a blessing in disguise. I had to go through the grind of six games.

“I have a fresh start, so hopefully that propels me into the playoff run.”

Not this week.


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