Steven Dunbar Jr. enjoyed a breakout 2022 season in a black and gold Hamilton Tiger-Cats jersey, catching 72 passes for 1,000 yards.
Now wearing the Edmonton Elks’ green and gold, Dunbar will face his former team for the first time Thursday at Commonwealth Stadium.
Dunbar was one of the Elks’ marquee free-agent signings in the off-season. When asked about playing the Ticats, Dunbar was careful not to give them anything they could post on the dressing room wall.
“I’ve got a lot of love for Hamilton and what they’ve done for my career,” Dunbar said. “But it’s going to be fun, seeing them. I know they’re excited to see me, too.”
Neither Dunbar’s new team nor his old squad can brag about much going into the game. The Ticats beat Ottawa 21-13 last weekend, but it only raised their record to 1-3.
The Elks went to 0-5 after a bizarre 12-11 loss in Saskatchewan, decided by a last-minute rouge surrendered by kick returner CJ Sims, who had forgotten that in Canada, if you take a knee in the end zone, you surrender a point.
Dunbar leads the Elks in receiving yards. But on a team that’s scored just 62 points in five games, all he’s needed is 245 yards to be the top dog on receiving corps that was supposed to be improved this season with the additions of Dunbar, Geno Lewis (who is out with a knee injury) and Kyran Moore.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Dunbar said. “Obviously, we’re losing, but I think the biggest thing right now is for us to move forward. There’s not much you can do but move forward and try to control what you can control. Let things happen. Be learning lessons and just build from it — try to stay positive and don’t let it seep in.
“It’s a long season, we’re still in this thing if we can turn the ship around.”
Elks general manager and head coach Chris Jones said his team has to understand that it’s going to take time to turn things around. This is a franchise that has not won a home game since 2019 and is at risk of missing the playoffs for a third straight season.
And, no, it’s not too early to talk about missing the post-season — that’s how dire things are for the Elks at the moment.
“We’ve talked about it, and we’ve got to take it one week at a time,” said Jones. “We didn’t get here in one week, so we’re not going to get out of here in one week. So, we’re just going to keep chopping wood.”
Jones noted Hamilton and Ottawa have just one win each, and Calgary is another one-win team. And the Elks could have two wins had things gone their way.
Their defence was excellent in the loss to the Riders last week, and, had the Elks been able to convert any of the three red zone short-yardage attempts in the fourth quarter of their home-opener loss to Saskatchewan, there’s another victory there.
The Elks’ early-season short yardage futility led to the release of quarterback/receiver Kai Locksley. He had been the third-and-short specialist in Edmonton but is now a member of the Ticats.
Jones is aware that Locksley is familiar with the Elks’ playbook.
“That’s great that he got a job,” said Jones. “It’s a tough business, so as long as guys can go and get another job, we’re happy for them.
“But I am sure they are going to dig as much as they can, to gather what they can, in terms of intel. We would. That’s just commonplace in pro football.”
The Ticats went into the game saying what so many other clubs have said before playing Edmonton — that the Elks are better than their record suggests.
“I know Chris really well,” said Ticats coach and president of football operations Orlondo Steinauer. “Despite their record, if you do turn the tape on you see people playing hard. They were in some ball games, they’ve had some struggles and setbacks of their own… We’re not looking at their record. We’re focused on ourselves and it’s going to be a tough opponent in their house.”
Ticats linebacker Jameer Thurman, who had two sacks and nine total tackles in Saturday’s win over Ottawa, said his team is also “hungry.”
“We’ve got one win, but we’re not satisfied with anything at all,” he said. “We know there’s a standard. We made a lot of plays, but we still didn’t play up to the standard that we wanted to across the board.”