Als defence aims to step up

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

The ever-changing face of the Als defence may be without one of its key cogs.

Anwar Stewart, the CFL's most outstanding defensive player last year, flew to Toronto yesterday, accompanied the Als to their hotel, but his status for today's East final against the Argos remains uncertain in the wake of what team officials are describing as a "personal matter."

Als coach Don Matthews says the odds of Stewart not playing are "less than 10%."

Als linebacker Timothy Strickland made reference to Stewart's brother when Strickland met the media yesterday.

"It will hurt us if Anwar can't play, but honestly I expect him to play,'' Strickland said. "He might play with a heavy heart, but he'll be there (today).

"He may have to take off after the game. If he feels he needs to be home with his family, I totally understand that. He may come out and play great and be inspired."

In the event Stewart is unable to play, the Als say they will activate Grant Steen, who appeared in one regular-season game.

The Alouettes were arranging yesterday to have Steen fly to Toronto just in case he is needed to line up at defensive end.

STOPPING ALLEN

Regardless of Stewart's status, Strickland knows the Als defence has to step up.

Argos quarterback Damon Allen has shredded the Als defence when the MVP finalist was allowed to throw down field.

When the Argos clinched home field last month, Allen threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-23 win.

The Als have tried to change the look of their defence by using bigger linemen.

In the past, the Als have been known as a blitz-happy defence that features quick, undersized players who can cover the field and chase down quarterbacks.

Strickland says the philosophy heading into today's matchup is to disrupt Allen, who was knocked out of the East final two years ago in Montreal.

"We have to get him out of that comfort zone,'' Strickland said. "We have to force him into doing things he's not used to doing. If we get a shot at him, we have to take it."

Strickland dismissed some crazy notion that the Als have placed bounty on Allen's head.

"Football is a contact sport,'' Strickland said. "I got hurt last year and there was no bounty on me."


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