Numbers game claims Als' Philips, but benefits newcomer Stewart

Numbers game claims Als' Philips, but benefits newcomer Stewart
Numbers game claims Als' Philips, but benefits newcomer Stewart

Alouettes' Tyrell Sutton (20) celebrates a touchdown against the Calgary Stampeders in Montreal on Friday, July 14, 2017. Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ryan Phillips and Brandon Stewart have been inexorably linked before. They were teammates last season in British Columbia. And both import defensive backs call Seattle home.

And now, Phillips is on the unemployment line — directly or indirectly because of the play of Stewart last Friday against Calgary.

Phillips, the 34-year-old veteran, was released by the Alouettes on Sunday. Signed as a free agent last winter, he suffered a hamstring injury at training camp and played only two games for Montreal. But he practiced with the starting unit last week before being made a healthy scratch against the Stampeders.

Instead, the Als decided to utilize Stewart at field cornerback. The 31-year-old, now in his 11th Canadian Football League season, joined the team only last Monday and played after only three full practices. It marked Stewart’s first game since last November’s West Division final.

“Brandon did well for himself. At the end of the day, that’s the nature of this business. The competitive aspect’s constant and Brandon did well in the game,” head coach Jacques Chapdelaine said following Sunday afternoon’s practice at Olympic Stadium.

“He does give us something (defensive co-ordinator Noel) Thorpe likes — a bit of speed, physicality and some reaction Ryan showed us some good things, but in the world of competition that we have, Brandon probably pulled up a little ahead.”

Phillips spent 12 seasons with the Lions. But his production slipped in 2016, prompting B.C. general manager and head coach Wally Buono to want him to take a cut in salary. Phillips balked and asked for his release. He signed three days later with the Als, the initial thought being he would play safety.

But Phillips wasn’t at safety and didn’t practice with the starters before going down early at camp. He produced eight defensive tackles and knocked down two passes in his two games. The Lions, in particular, seemed determined to try and exploit him when the teams met, working to his side of the field.

Contacted Sunday by the Montreal Gazette, Phillips expressed surprise but not shock, figuring something was cooking when he failed to dress against Calgary. Phillips, who said he’ll remain in Montreal for several days to see whether he’s claimed by another East Division team, didn’t go quietly, either, intimating there might have been a personality clash with Thorpe.

“When I was healthy, I performed very well. For the opportunities I was given, I performed well,” he said. “The film speaks for itself. That’s how I look at it. You evaluate players based off performance. You cut and release guys based on that, too. I think my performance spoke for itself.

“I feel like some things are personal. I don’t think it has anything to do with play. No one can watch the film and say the play doesn’t speak for itself. If I showed I couldn’t play, if I’m giving up deep balls and getting beat for touchdowns, I can totally understand. That hasn’t been the case.

“To be a healthy scratch the day before the game,” Phillips added, “there had to be something more to it. There’s something else to the story. But that’s all observation.”

Asked whether he and Thorpe got along, Phillips refused to comment.

Stewart, meanwhile, was coming off a torn meniscus and learned, only in April, he no longer fit in Buono’s plans. He signed as a free agent with B.C. in February 2016 following two seasons in Hamilton. The 6-foot, 205 pounder broke into the CFL with Calgary in 2007 before spending five seasons with Winnipeg. He has 13 career interceptions and three touchdowns. Stewart also has produced three sacks, four forced fumbles and has five fumble returns.

He had four defensive tackles along with a tackle for a loss against Calgary. Other than getting beat for a 30-yard play by DaVaris Daniels, Stewart seemingly played a sound game.

“I got an opportunity to come up here. I’m just trying to make the best of every opportunity. I leave all the decisions to the coaching staff and upper management. I just have to focus and try to play football,” said Stewart, not eager to wade into any potential controversy.

“I’m just going day by day, one week at a time,” he added. “I’m out here just like a rookie. I might be 31, 10 years in, but nothing’s guaranteed. Tomorrow’s not promised.”

Defensive-back Jonathon Mincy, who has been on the six-game injured list with a concussion, was on the field Sunday, but is unlikely to play Wednesday, when the Als travel to Ottawa. And GM Kavis Reed maintained Raymon Taylor, who has been on the disabled list all season, is expected back shortly.

With the Als getting healthier in the secondary, Phillips was a victim of the number’s game, according to Reed. Although the GM denied this was a salary dump, Phillips did receive a nominal signing bonus last February.

In other news, tailback Brandon Rutley, as expected, will start for the first time this season against the Redblacks. Chapdelaine was going to make the move regardless, based on the short week, but it became academic when Tyrell Sutton suffered a calf contusion against Calgary.

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