CALGARY - In gridiron speak, the Calgary Stampeders linebackers are separated into the MIKE, SAM and WILL positions.
Collectively, they could best be described as a M*A*S*H unit.
It’s been a hard-luck campaign for the Stamps’ linebackers, with a seemingly non-stop roster shuffle due to all sorts of injuries.
“We’ve had a cycle of guys get hurt,” said all-star middle linebacker Juwan Simpson. “Everybody has had an opportunity to play, so I guess that’s the bright side of it.”
Almost everybody has had an opportunity to watch, too.
After Wednesday’s practice session, Stamps head coach John Hufnagel expressed optimism that Simpson will be ready to return for Saturday’s home date with the B.C. Lions at McMahon Stadium (5 p.m., TSN, QR77).
Linebackers Karl McCartney and Daren Stone also participated in Wednesday’s workout and are likely to be activated for the showdown with the suddenly streaking Lions, who’ve won three in a row.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is Brandon Isaac — the regular starter at the strong-side linebacker spot — is bothered by a groin injury and will likely miss Saturday’s date. According to Hufnagel, receiver Jabari Arthur (thigh) and defensive end Charleston Hughes (shoulder) are also doubtful.
Isaac is just the latest Stamps’ linebacker forced to the sidelines.
In fact, the starting trio — Simpson in the middle (MIKE), Malik Jackson on the wide-side (WILL) and Isaac in the coverage spot (SAM) — have only been together for parts of four games so far.
Simpson has missed four of the past five games due to a sore knee. His replacement, former military man and sometimes-defensive lineman Robert McCune, suffered a knee injury of his own in last week’s win over the Edmonton Eskimos and will now be out for several weeks.
Jackson missed one outing near the beginning of the season with a concussion.
McCartney has watched five games from afar due to hamstring issues, while a variety of aches and pains have limited Stone to just three appearances in his first CFL campaign.
The Stamps will experiment with defensive back Johnnie Dixon at Isaac’s usual spot this week and have also signed former Carolina Panthers reserve Sean Ware to the practice roster to bolster the depth in the heart of their defence.
“Yeah, we’ve had the injury bug in the linebacking crew this year. Each week, there seems to be someone down,” Stone said. “We joke about (the injuries) and we notice it, but we have a good group of linebackers. When one guy goes down, another is ready to go.”
If Isaac — as expected — misses Saturday’s meeting with the Lions, rookie Akwasi Antwi will become the only Stamps linebacker to suit up for every contest so far this season.
Antwi was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 CFL Draft and wasn’t projected to see much defensive playing time in his rookie campaign, but he’s earned his stripes as an injury replacement.
While the Stamps would prefer to have a healthy linebacking unit, the early-season adversity certainly can’t hurt come playoff time.
“These guys have experienced game-time,” Simpson said. “I can’t tell you how many stories I have seen or heard — and everybody else, as well — where a ‘big-time’ player gets hurt and you have a young guy who hasn’t played all year. Well, we don’t have that.”