Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Fish In, Manson Out

The bewildering moves continue. The Ti-Cats announced today that they have released DB/KR Martin Manson and signed WR/KR Reggie Fish.

Fish suffered a concussion in the first pre-season game and was released, re-signed and released again. Now he's back, and I know my friend Richard will be happy (I'm sure a Reggie Fish jersey is in his future).

Manson was one of a couple of guys to return kicks in the second pre-season game, and he looked awesome. He was very impressive, and I was a bit surprised to see him go to the practice squad when rosters were announced last week.

His release this week is even more surprising. I like Fish and I like Manson. I don't want to take anything away from Fish, but Manson looked the better of the two when each did play. It would seem to me that Manson was caught up in a numbers game. There were about 4,566 DBs on the Ti-Cats' roster, and a few had to go. Yesterday, it was Will Poole; today it's Martin Manson.

I'm hoping that this won't be the last we Ti-Cat fans see of Martin Manson.

Blogskee Wee Wee's 2010 CFL Preview

I gotta do it, don't I? I have offered opinions and news for the better part of 6 months, and now with the season about to start, I suppose I must stick my neck out and predict how the 2010 CFL Season will unfold. Without further ado, here is how I believe the 2010 CFL Season will play out.

2010 CFL Regular Season
(Links provided to each team's individual preview)






1) Montreal Alouettes
2) Hamilton Tiger-Cats
3) Winnipeg Blue Bombers
4) Toronto Argonauts

Until proven otherwise the Alouettes are the team to beat in the East and in the CFL. The Ti-Cats made great strides last year and look to be in a position to do some great things in 2010. The Blue Bombers and Argonauts both made changes at key positions (Head Coach, Quarterback) and look to be in a bit of a rebuilding mode. I think both teams will be competitive, but the Bombers are probably a year away from being a legitimate threat, and the Argos are probably two years away. That said, I'm sure people thought the same, or less, about Hamilton going into 2009.







1) Saskatchewan Roughriders
2) British Columbia Lions
3) Edmonton Eskimos
4) Calgary Stampeders

The 13th man will live on in infamy in Saskatchewan. It is because of that that the Riders will not be going into the 2010 season as the defending Grey Cup Champions. That said, they are still the best team in the West. The rest of the teams are so tightly packed together that to distinguish one from the other is very difficult. I think that if Casey Printers is healthy all season he gives BC the advantage over the Eskimos and Stampeders. I've flip-flopped on the Stamps and Esks more times than a Liberal politician does on party policy. Right now, I'll take the Esks by a nose for no real reason other than a gut feeling.

2010 CFL Playoffs
East Division Semi-Final
Winnipeg at Hamilton

No crossover this season. Winnipeg will come together just in time to hold off Calgary for the sixth and final playoff spot. Their reward: a date with the Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne. The Cats, who finished just behind Montreal, will take care of business on their home turf, earning the right to head to Montreal for the East Division Final.

Winner: Hamilton

West Division Semi-Final
Edmonton at BC

Edmonton will edge out the Stamps as well, sending Henry Burris and Co. home for the playoffs. Edmonton and BC will stage a very tight contest, but with the Esks wanting to play the Grey Cup at home, they pull off the upset, heading to Saskatchewan with just one win separating them from playing for the Grey Cup.

Winner: Edmonton

East Division Final
Hamilton at Montreal

All season, this will be the game that the Tiger-Cats want. Simply making the playoffs will not be enough for the Tabbies in 2010. Going in, the Cats will be viewed as underdogs, but after a hard-fought game, the Cats will emerge victorious, thanks to a Sandro DeAngelis FG in the dying seconds. The Cats will celebrate at "The Big O," sending Montreal into the off-season wondering if this was their last chance with this group of players.

Winner: Hamilton

West Division Final
Edmonton at Saskatchewan

It's so close they can taste it. With only the Riders to vanquish, the Esks can see hosting the Grey Cup on the horizon. One problem: the Riders themselves. After dominating the West Division, the Riders are once again too much for a division rival, and win on home soil to march into their third Grey Cup in four years.

Winner: Saskatchewan









Saskatchewan vs. Hamilton

Did you expect me to pick anyone else? Many will say that this is a homer pick, and you know what? Damn right it is! Objectivity is not something I've ever been good at. Are the Ti-Cats the best team in the CFL? No, but how often does the best team win? The reason I like Hamilton is that the Cats do have a good team, and with Montreal aging and due for a letdown, the East is really a two-horse race – a race I see the Cats winning in the end. Out in the West, I don't see anyone competing with the Riders. I won't say they simply walk through the playoffs, but they are the best team in the West and I see them making it out with relative ease. So in Edmonton in November, we see a repeat of the epic, all-time-classic 1989 Grey Cup; however, this time, with the Riders as the favourites, the Cats come out on top. The Year of the Tiger ends with the Tiger-Cats hoisting the Grey Cup.

Winner: Hamilton

2010 CFL Awards










Most Outstanding Player

West Nominee: Darian Durant (Saskatchewan)
East Nominee: Anthony Calvillo (Montreal)

It's old school versus new school. Calvillo, the reigning two-time MOP, against Durant, the best young QB in the CFL. Calvillo is one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game, and until someone shows otherwise, he's the best player in the CFL. In 2010, Darian Durant will show otherwise by picking up his first MOP.

Winner: Darian Durant

Most Outstanding Canadian
West Nominee: Andy Fantuz (Saskatchewan)
East Nominee: Dave Stala (Hamilton)

Andy Fantuz has all the tools to be the best Receiver, not just best Canadian, in the CFL. Injuries have stopped him from reaching that potential. Dave Stala emerged last year as a sure-handed target for Ti-Cat QB Kevin Glenn. Both players are more than deserving candidates, but when the dust settles, it'll be Fantuz who earns the award.

Winner: Andy Fantuz

Most Outstanding Defensive Player
West Nominee: Mike Labinjo (Calgary)
East Nominee: Jamall Johnson (Hamilton)

In my preview of the Stamps, I stated how I thought Mike Labinjo would be in line for a career year, which will be shown by being the West nominee for MODP. Jamall Johnson led the CFL in tackles in 2009, even though he missed the first game. With a year in Hamilton's system, expect Johnson to blow away his 2009 totals. When all is said and done, Johnson will take home the hardware.

Winner: Jamall Johnson

Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
West Nominee: Patrick Kobango (Edmonton)
East Nominee: Scott Flory (Montreal)

Kobango, considered one of the best Offensive Linemen in the CFL, will finally be given his due with his nomination, whereas Flory is the reigning two-time winner. When the winner is announced, the name they will say is "Patrick Kobango."

Winner: Patrick Kobango

Most Outstanding Rookie
West Nominee: Rob Maver (Calgary)
East Nominee: Ryan Hinds (Hamilton)

This is probably the hardest award to predict. You never know when some player will come out of nowhere and become a star; look no further than Arkee Whitlock and DeAndra' Cobb last season. My reasoning for picking Maver of Calgary and Hinds from Hamilton is because, well, I know who they are. I will probably get this one wrong, but I'll still take Hinds because he looks to be the real deal. (Editor's Note: I know Hinds has been placed on the nine-game injured list, but I did not have enough time to research any prospective replacements. Like I said, I'll probably get this one wrong anyway; now I know I'll get it wrong.)

Winner: Ryan Hinds

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
West Nominee: Tristan Jackson (Edmonton)
East Nominee: Sandro DeAngelis (Hamilton)

I was very tempted to put Jason Arakgi and Dylan Barker up here, but I think they'll both see more time on Defense and less on Special Teams. With those two guys removed, I think "Trismo" will continue the comparisons to Henry "Gizmo" Williams, and that DeAngelis's move to Hamilton will give him even more publicity. When the winner is announced, the Niagara Falls native will do what he rarely does on the field, come up short.

Winner: Tristan Jackson

Coach of the Year
Nominee #1: Marcel Bellefeuille (Hamilton)
Nominee #2: Ken Miller (Saskatchewan)
Nominee #3: Paul LaPolice (Winnipeg)

Last season, I felt that because of what he accomplished in Hamilton in 2009, Marcel Bellefeuille should have won the Coach of the Year Award. Looking back, it may be a blessing in disguise; the last Tiger-Cat coach that won the award after one good season was Greg Marshall, and we all know how his story ended. Ken Miller has been one of the best coaches in the CFL since taking over the reigns of the Green Riders following the 2007 season. It was a toss-up between Marc Trestman and Paul LaPolice for the third nominee. I chose LaPolice because he'll help turn around the Bombers after a disastrous 2009 campaign. I would not be the least bit surprised if Trestman was nominated, and won the award. That said, at this point, I'll take the guy I think will lead his team to the Grey Cup Championship in 2010.

Winner: Marcel Bellefeuille

Gutsy picks? Stupid picks? Have I jinxed the Cats because I'm picking them to win it all? Without even asking, I'm sure you'll either love or loathe these picks. Let me hear what you have to say on the eve of the start of the 2010 CFL Season.

TSN's CFL Crew

I make fun of TSN quite a lot in my daily life. I say that they should just end the charade and change their name to "THN: The Hockey Network," because that seems to be all they care about.

Having said that, their investment in the CFL should be commended. They have done an excellent job with their coverage since they acquired the exclusive rights starting with the 2008 season, and that stellar coverage will continue in 2010, with all 77 games from the opener (Montreal vs. Saskatchewan) to the Grey Cup being broadcast in glorious High Definition.

There are some things I love about their coverage, things I like and things I don't.

Among the things I love are Duane Ford's insight, especially about the CIS. If it wasn't for Duane Ford I would have no idea about many of the CIS players that get drafted. I also really like his colour commentary with Rob Black (more on him later).

Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor are among the best in the business. Cuthbert's play-by-play is second to none, and Glen Suitor might be the best colour man in all of Canadian sports. Each man deserves all the praise they get.

The TSN panel is good as well. The banter between the four guys – host Dave Randorf and analysts Jock Climie, Matt Dunigan and Chris Schultz – is always entertaining. I especially enjoy Schultz's analysis. Climie leaves a bit to be desired, but I don't hate him as much as most people do. Dunigan... well, Matt Dunigan is Matt Dunigan, and Dave Randorf does his best to keep everyone in line, and he does an admirable job. All in all, I like the panel, and I look forward to another season of witty banter and insightful commentary.

The only thing I don't really care for about the CFL on TSN is Rod Black and Milt Stegall. I've never really been a big Rod Black fan, going back to his days of covering the Blue Jays when I was a kid. Milt Stegall, believe it or not, lacks charisma in front of the camera. Maybe this is just newbie jitters, but he doesn't look comfortable when he's on screen.

On the whole, TSN's coverage of the CFL ranks up there with the CBC's coverage of the NHL. I know that may sound like sacrilege to some, but hopefully there are some out there who agree with me. TSN has done a great job, and every year it seems to get better. Here's to TSN having the best year yet.

TSN kicks off its 2010 CFL coverage tonight with a two-hour season preview starting at 7:00PM.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Will Poole Released

Another stunner from the Tiger-Cats as the team announced today that they have released Defensive Back Will Poole.

Poole, along with Jason Shivers, was signed as free a agent this past off-season to help solidify the Ti-Cats' Secondary. I really do not know what to say about this. I was very excited when Poole was signed in February, as I thought he'd be a key player for the Tabbies in 2010. I really do not know what has changed from last week to this week, but Poole is no longer a member of the club.

Some real noodle scratchers have come out of Tigertown in the last week or so. Change is good, but this close to the start of the season, change looks an awful lot like turmoil.

Adam Tafralis

Only in Hamilton could the backup's backup get so much attention and adoration. I guess by writing this I'm just as guilty as anyone.

I guess I have to start by saying that I don't hate Adam Tafralis. I hope that makes my critics happy. In my recaps of the Toronto-Hamilton and Winnipeg-Hamilton pre-season games I was critical of Tafralis's play, and some did not take too kindly to my opinion (check out the comments under the two articles). Fair enough; if you have a different viewpoint, share it. I thought I was plenty clear as to why I viewed both of Tafralis's performances as subpar, but sometimes that's not enough for some people. OK, moving on.

What I see in Adam Tafralis is a kid who has grown a lot in his time here, but who still has plenty left to learn. He's on a CFL roster, so he is not a talentless hack, but he's not the second coming of Doug Flutie either. His claim to fame so far is being the Tiger-Cats' short-yardage QB. Of course there is always the one play people cite when talking about how great Tafralis is: the TD pass to Arland Bruce last season.



Was that a nice pass? Sure was. Was it under-thrown? Sure was. Tafralis threw it where only Bruce could catch it. Of course, Bruce had to adjust to catch it because it was under-thrown, and that point is undeniable.

This is where my criticism of Tafralis comes into play. When his throws are on, they are on. He has a cannon for an arm, and he really trusts it. But he trusts it too much, which is a problem. He either gets Receivers tattooed (see Nicolson, Adam), or under-throws them (see Mann, Maurice) or over-throws them (see McDaniel, Damon). His decision-making leaves a lot to be desired.

The debate right now centres on, "Should Adam Tafralis replace Quinton Porter as the backup to Kevin Glenn?" At this point, I say no. The team has invested two years into the development of Porter, and to demote him now would basically relegate him to the scrap heap. If they are going to demote him, they might as well release him. If Tafralis goes above Porter on the depth chart, Porter is likely never to regain his spot. That said, if Porter does not show marked improvement in 2010 – and really, only the coaches will know if he has, since Glenn is the starter, barring injury – then I will abandon this stance. But let's face it, it's not like people are knocking down walls to get to Tafralis, so a decision on him does not need to be made hastily. At this point in time, I haven't seen enough good stuff out of Tafralis to warrant putting him above Porter on the depth chart. It seems as if Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille and General Manager Bob O'Billovich agree with me.

One last thing I do wonder is if the fans who are now calling for Tafralis to replace Porter are the same fans that were so enamoured with Porter after his gonzo game against the Als in 2008? I was in the stands when fans were calling for Marcus Brady to replace Danny McManus, and then as soon as Brady threw an interception, they started calling for McManus. Ti-Cat fans are among the most fickle in all of professional sports, and while I won't bother hazarding a guess as to whether the "Porter Supporters" are now "Adam Advocates," I think I know the answer.

Now that I've taken a can of gasoline and poured it on myself, feel free to grab a match and light me up.

Ways to Grow the Game: CFL Network

In an ongoing attempt to find ways to make the CFL a larger, more successful professional sports league, I will be looking at ideas that can push the CFL to the forefront of pro sports in Canada and North America. I have titled these articles "Ways to Grow the Game."

We live in a time of instant news, social media, and sports leagues and teams having their own TV stations. The NFL Network is one of the most popular stations in the US, Leafs TV is very successful in Canada, Raptors NBA TV has been a huge hit with basketball fans north of the 49th parallel, and the MLB Network is gaining traction down south after just launching in January, 2009. Heck, even the Big Ten Conference (an NCAA body) has gotten in on the act. This begs the question: when will we be getting a CFL Network?

The CFL is more popular now than it has been in decades. Fans turn out in droves to watch games. The ratings on TSN are through the roof. The annual CFL Canadian Draft is now televised. The Grey Cup is a ratings juggernaut. Merchandise can't be kept in stock. Dare I say it, the CFL is cool. With the league gaining unprecedented success it would seem the time is nearly here to create a dedicated channel for Canadian football. (NOTE: At one time there was a Canadian Football Network, but it only lasted from 1987-1990 and isn't the same as the network that I am proposing here.)

The video library that the CFL has access to is unparalleled. Imagine all the great games that could be rebroadcast on a CFL Network. The league could look at the model that the NFL uses for their network when trying to start their own. Classic games, in-season replays of games, weekly shows dedicated to each team or division and original programing to grow the CFL brand. All the tools are there to make CFL TV or CFL Network a smash success.

With all the money that TSN has sunk into the CFL product, it would only make sense for them to one day try and start a CFL-dedicated channel. The CFL has always been a little behind the other leagues when it comes to change. The league didn't broadcast all its games until very recently. It used to be that CBC would only start showing games from Labour Day to the Grey Cup, with TSN showing some games from opening week to Labour Day. Now every single game is broadcast. In the 1990s the league blacked out games, which cost them an untold number of fans. A generation was lost because of this; fans who could have been, never were. The tables are turning, and clearly the CFL is consistently making the correct decisions.

Under the direction of Commissioner Mark Cohon, the league has seen exponential growth across the board. Like I said before, the CFL is more popular now than it has been in over 30 years, and adding a CFL Network could keep the positive momentum going.

I understand developments like making a channel devoted to a sports league don't happen overnight. I don't expect to see a CFL Network in the next year or two. Maybe five or so years from now is a more realistic goal. I just believe that something like this needs to happen for the CFL to grow as a brand. Hopefully within the next 5 years the league will have a 9th team (Ottawa) and, perhaps, a 10th (Quebec City? Moncton? Halifax?). A CFL Network would be a reasonable extension of the CFL brand, a way for the league to bring in even more revenue and keep the CFL going throughout the off-season, similarly to what the NFL does with the NFL Network. "Out of sight, out of mind" is the old saying. With a channel dedicated wholly to the CFL, the league would never be out of the spotlight. Hopefully, some day soon, we'll all be tuning in to CFL Tonight on a nightly basis for our CFL news all year round.

Monday, 28 June 2010

8 Teams, 8 Days: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Last Season 9-9, 2nd in the East (Lost East Division Semi-Final 34-27 to BC)

Offense

If the offense can pick up where it left off last season, the Ti-Cats will have no problem scoring points. Kevin Glenn is firmly entrenched as the starting Quarterback heading into 2010, whereas last season he was the backup to Quinton Porter until late in the season. With a full season behind centre, Glenn is in a position to have the best season of his career.

At Running Back the Cats have stud-in-the-making DeAndra' Cobb. Cobb broke out last season, his first in the CFL, with over 1,700 total yards. The only thing he needs to do in 2010 is show that 2009 wasn't a flash in the pan. Expect many more "Cobbheads" around Ivor Wynne this summer and fall.

Where the Tabbies have a leg up on almost everyone else is at Receiver. Arland Bruce III, Dave Stala, Marquay McDaniel, Maurice Mann and Drisan James make up a very formidable group. All of those players are in line to see their best statistical seasons, and Bruce could be an MOP candidate again at the end of the season.

The Offensive Line holds over many player from last season, and that continuity could be key to the Cats' success. Marwan Hage, considered by some to be the best Centre in the CFL, returns to anchor a Line mixed with veteran talent and youthful exuberance. The Ti-Cat offense should not have a problem scoring points and could be one of the best offenses in the CFL in 2010.

Player to Watch: Drisan James

Defense

The Tiger-Cat defense has the makings of a dominant unit. The Defensive Line should be a disruptive force in 2010. Last season, the Cats started a lot of younger players, and this season many return to pick up where last season ended. The guy expected to turn the most heads is second-year player Khari Long. Long had 10 sacks in 2009, and it wouldn't be crazy to see that total rise in 2010. I also expect some big things from Garret McIntyre. He was plagued by injury in 2009, but if his health permits, he could be a double-digit sack guy.

There isn't a better trio of Linebackers in the CFL than the ones the Cats trot out week in, week out. 2009 All-Stars Markeith Knowlton and Jamall Johnson return, as does Otis Floyd, who is the heart of the defense. This is an experienced group, and another year together should make them even better.

The Secondary is the one place that the Cats needed to upgrade this season. Being rid of Bo "The Human Turnstile" Smith is a big help (unfortunately he might be back if the New York Jets cut him). Adding two solid players in Will Poole and Jason Shivers also helps. The Cats also have some tremendous depth with Dylan Barker, Sandy Beveridge, Geoff Tisdale, Jykine Bradley and Jerome Dennis. If the Secondary can come together as a more cohesive unit, and cut out some of the big plays that plagued it in 2009, the Cat defense could finish the season as the best in the CFL.

Player to Watch: Khari Long

Overall

Let me begin by saying I am highly biased. I am a life-long Tiger-Cat fan, and I sometimes let that cloud my judgment. That said, this team has a very realistic chance of making a serious run at the Grey Cup in 2010. The offense is loaded with weapons: a QB with the skills to get it done, a RB who is both a threat rushing and receiving and a WR group that is among the top 3 in the CFL. The defense is full of playmakers and difference-makers, with a D-Line that should be able to consistently collapse the pocket, LBs who can create havoc and rack up tackles and DBs who should be better. The Special Teams is even better, with the Cats having signed Kicker Sandro DeAngelis, who is the most accurate Kicker in CFL history. It's been too long since the Cats have been considered a legitimate contender, and if 2009 was the appetizer, then 2010 could be the full course meal.

PREVIOUS: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Sunday, 27 June 2010

More On Summers

As I expressed yesterday, I'm a little surprised that the Tiger-Cats decided to part ways with Running Back Demetris Summers and replace him with Marcus Thigpen. Nothing against Thigpen, as I'm sure he's a great player, but Summers played phenomenally during the pre-season, and I was sure he'd make the team.

Well, Drew Edwards had an interesting take on the situation today. It seems as if Summers was viewed as a Running Back who could return kicks, while Thigpen is viewed as a Kick Returner who can also play Running Back. The latter being more attractive to the Tiger-Cat brass.

Summers was expendable because of how good DeAndra' Cobb is. I understand that "Better is Better" and "In Obie I Trust," but I don't know if I feel entirely comfortable with this move. I mean, Running Back is hardly the most injury-free position, so it would be nice to have a player like Summers who could fill in should – heaven forbid – Cobb get hurt. Who is the primary backup to Cobb now? It's Thigpen, I guess. The team is going to have to bring in another RB, no?

I have no doubt that Thigpen will be a valuable member of the Tiger-Cats in 2010, but I still think that releasing Summers was a mistake. I know Obie isn't infallible (the Zac Carlson situation shows that), and I also know that I am hardly the foremost authority on what players the Cats should keep (my Brian Calhoun adoration showed that), but this move just doesn't sit right with me.

Obviously, I hope this all works out perfectly, but I don't know if this was the correct move to make. Only time will tell.

8 Teams, 8 Days: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Last Season: 7-11, 3rd in the East (Missed Playoffs)

Offense

Last season, the Winnipeg Quarterback carousel started off with Stefan LeFors and ended with Michael Bishop. Not good. This year begins with Buck Pierce and ends with... Steven Jyles? Buck Pierce can be a top-flight QB when healthy, the key being "when healthy." Pierce hasn't exactly been the epitome of durable during his six CFL seasons, enduring a rumoured five concussions over that span. No one can deny that Pierce is one tough SOB, but if Winnipeg are to succeed, he needs to learn to protect himself. Jyles, who came over from Saskatchewan in the off-season, would have to step in and captain the ship. With Pierce being as injury-prone as he is, Jyles should make himself ready when the inevitable call comes.

Running Back is one area that the Blue Bombers seem to be set at. Fred Reid had a phenomenal 2009, setting the Blue Bomber single-game record for rushing yards in a game against BC. With Fred Ex in the fold, the Bombers should have no problem running the football.

The Receiver situation isn't terrible in Winnipeg either. Sure, they still have Brock "Hands of Stone" Ralph, but they also have two good ones in Terrence Edwards and Adarius Bowman. The Bombers also picked up former Tiger-Cat David Ball, who I have been impressed with since he broke some of Jerry Rice's (yes, that Jerry Rice) records in college.

The O-Line, like on many teams, seems to be in a state of flux. The unit will need to come together fast if they are to keep Buck Pierce from getting killed.

Player to Watch: David Ball

Defense

The Bombers have a fairly decent defense, and it could be this defense that keeps the team in games while the offense jells. The D-Line has Doug Brown returning for another season to lead the defense. The team traded Gavin Walls to Montreal, but look for Odell Willis to continue his stellar play from 2009. He could be a Most Outstanding Defensive Player candidate at season's end.

The Linebackers are also nicely comprised, led by Ike Charlton and Joe Lobendahn. The Blue Bombers cut 2009 early-season standout Siddeeq Shabazz this past off-season, but they won't see a huge dropoff in play because of it.

The Secondary also has some talent. Jovon Johnson and Ian Logan are the backbone of a very capable group of DBs. If the team can overcome the loss of players (Shabazz, Walls, Hefney) and the addition of Kavis Reed (who Ti-Cat fans know is a terrible Defensive Coordinator), then the Bombers could have a very dominant defense in 2010.

Player to Watch: Odell Willis

Overall

Winnipeg is probably the most confounding team in the East division this season. There are a lot of 'ifs' with this team. If Buck Pierce stays healthy; if Kavis Reed finds a way to not be, well, Kavis Reed; if Paul LaPolice can deliver in his first chance as a Head Coach; if, if, if. All of these 'ifs' make it hard to judge how well the Bombers will do. A record of 9-9 or 10-8 isn't out of the question if the 'ifs' pan out. However, a record of 7-11 or 6-12 isn't either if Pierce turns to putty and Kavis Reed stays, well, Kavis Reed. This should be a very interesting season in Bomberland. At least they won't have to worry about that moron Mike Kelly making an idiot out of himself again this season.

PREVIOUS: Toronto Argonauts

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Black and Gold Day, Pt. 2

2010: The Year of the Tiger(-Cats)

Despite the weather, a group of us decided to head down to Ivor Wynne for the Black and Gold Day. Not much to report as far as the action is concerned. MacKay made a nice one-handed catch during practice, and the scrimmage portion was mostly dominated by the defense. The offense didn't score a TD (at least not one that counted), but the defense did snag a pick and had a chance at a couple more. Coach Bellefeuille provided a running commentary, and he was fairly engaging. He asked the crowd (which I would estimate to be around 250 people) some questions and seemed very affable and comfortable with the microphone. Once he's done with coaching, a career in broadcasting might not be far behind.

The weather was absolutely atrocious. The rain came down, then went away, then came down again. By the end of the two-hour session, I was soaked, as were the two people who came with me. But that couldn't dampen the day, even if it did dampen our clothes. But we're Ti-Cat fans; we're not afraid of a little rain.

After the scrimmage, the team made their way to the concourse section to sign autographs and pose for pictures. I had my #4 Arland Bruce jersey from last season signed by the man himself, and I had my photo snapped with Bruce, Otis Floyd and Kevin Glenn. All three seemed to be really nice people and were very engaging and more than willing to have their picture taken with this fan. Arland Bruce might be, from our brief conversation, one of the nicest people I've ever met. Not to say that Glenn and Floyd aren't, but Bruce seemed genuinely excited to be interacting with the fans.

A really good afternoon. If the weather had been nicer it probably would have been a great afternoon.

Summers Released

I have to say, I'm dumbfounded. The Tiger-Cats announced today that they have parted ways with Running Back Demetris Summers, while signing Running Back Marcus Thigpen and Offensive Linemen Mark Dewit.

I really do not understand this move. One of the best players in the pre-season for the Cats, in my opinion, was Summers. He had a couple of fumbles, but otherwise looked great. He ran the ball with purpose, he hit the holes hard and he performed very well as a Kick Returner. He didn't have breakaway speed (he was caught from behind in the Toronto game), but I didn't see very many flaws in his game. He was easily one of the three or four best players in the pre-season, and I am completely flabbergasted that he's been let go.

I don't know much about Marcus Thigpen. He was cut by the Roughriders last week, but the scuttlebutt seems to be that he's a quicker player than Summers and will now be the Cats' primary Kick Returner. At the Black and Gold Day scrimmage, Thigpen and Drisan James handled all the Kick Return duties.

Still, all that said, this one is still a grade-A noodle scratcher to me.

8 Teams, 8 Days: Toronto Argonauts

Last Season: 3-15, 4th in the East (Missed Playoffs)

Offense

Uh.... Well, this won't be easy. The Argonauts enter 2010 with a plethora of questions. First, who will start at Quarterback? The team has four QBs on its roster, none of whom have ever played in a CFL regular-season game. Former Miami Dolphin Cleo Lemon will be the Argos' starting QB on opening day, but watch out for Dalton Bell. The former Roughrider looked very sharp in pre-season action, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's starting at some point this season.

Second, who will start at Running Back? The Boatmen let go of their only productive player from 2009, Jamal Robertson, after the season, and enter 2010 with no concrete starter. Jeff Johnson, Brian Crawford and Andre Durie are all vying for the chance to be the Argos' Running Back, but none of them is really the long-term answer. Could Jesse Lumsden or Kenton Keith be getting a call soon?

The one area that doesn't have a lot of questions is Wide Receiver. The Argos aren't as loaded as say Saskatchewan or Hamilton, but the Boatman do possess one of the most productive WRs in the CFL in Jeremaine Copeland. The Argos traded for the former CFL All-Star this past off-season. Reggie McNeal and Chad Lucas are still around, but other than that, the Argos are very young and inexperienced.

The Offensive Line looks like a mess. Last season's big free-agent signing, Rob Murphy, looks to have "bust" written all over him. The Argos did snatch up former Ti-Cat Cedric Gagne-Marcoux, but he's not the answer to their problems. It is going to take a lot of time for this offense to become a consistent unit.

Player to Watch: Dalton Bell

Defense

This is one area where the Argos aren't completely devoid of talent. Former Ti-Cat (and Blogskee Wee Wee Enemy #2, though on second thought he's probably #1) Adriano Belli anchors a Defensive Line that doesn't have a lot going for it, but could develop into a strong unit over time.

The Linebackers, led by Kevin Eiben, remain the strongest part of the team, and Jordan Younger could be in for a massive season. In the Secondary, the team welcomes the return of Byron Parker, who last year was exiled to Edmonton by former Head Coach (and Count Chocula lookalike) Bart Andrus. The Willies return, Middlebrooks and Pile, and expect big things from Toronto's 2009 Most Outstanding Rookie nominee Lin-J Shell.

Player to Watch: Lin-J Shell

Overall

This will more than likely be a very long season for the Argonauts. There was massive upheaval after the 2009 season ended, and it's unlikely that the Argos will be a threat this season, especially early on. You simply cannot dismiss their lack of talent at key positions, namely Quarterback and Running Back. The 2010 season is more than likely a wash for the Boatmen, but it should lay the groundwork for marked improvement in 2011 and beyond. Jim Barker has a proven track record of finding talent, so while the Argos will probably still be the bottom feeders of the CFL, Barker is positioning them for bigger and better things in the years ahead.

PREVIOUS: Montreal Alouettes

Friday, 25 June 2010

Cats Practice Squad Set

A day after the Cats set their active roster for the 2010 season, the team has announced the seven players that will make up the practice squad:
  • Jonathan Hood (LB)
  • Glenn MacKay (WR)
  • Martin Manson (DB)
  • Matt Morencie (OL)
  • Albert Smith (DL)
  • Eddie Steele (DL)
  • Jason Vega (DL)
No real surprises with any of these players. I guess the only real surprise is that some of these players aren't on the active roster, but in any event, the team seems to be set for the 2010 season opener against Winnipeg.

With camp over, and rosters set, it's time to play the games! July 2nd cannot come soon enough.

Black and Gold Day

This used to be called the "Black and Gold Game" but it hasn't been an actual game for years. This season the team is conducting an open practice and then a controlled scrimmage. Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille will be wearing a microphone during the afternoon to let fans in attendance in on what is transpiring on the field. Following the scrimmage, the team will host an autograph session with the entire team. The fun kicks off at 12:00PM tomorrow, and it's free for everyone.

While I lament the loss of the actual game, I have no doubt that this will still be a fun day at the park. This will be my first foray to this event (I may have gone when I was a kid, but I don't remember), so I don't really know what to expect. I do hope that, unlike the season-ticket pickup party, there are refreshments available. It should be a fun afternoon regardless.

8 Teams, 8 Days: Montreal Alouettes

Last Season: 15-3, 1st in the East (Won Grey Cup 28-27 over Saskatchewan)

Offense

Deadly, just deadly. That's the only word that can describe the Montreal Alouette offense. The Als are, and have been for some time, the class of the CFL, and they are led by future Hall Of Fame Quarterback Anthony Calvillo. Calvillo enters 2010 as the two-time reigning MOP, and if he stays healthy, a third consecutive MOP isn't out of the question. At Running Back, the Alouettes rely on Avon Cobourne. Cobourne is a phenomenal dual-threat back, and he should continue his steller play in 2010. The Receiving corps remains intact. Back from 2009 are Ben Cahoon, Kerry Watkins and Jamel Richardson. Those three are as good as any in the CFL. The Offensive Line is where we see the first departure, with the recent retirement of Brian Chiu. Chiu is likely headed to the Hall of Fame, so his presence will be missed. That said, I fully expect Alouette Head Coach Marc Trestman to be able to find a suitable replacement.

Player to Watch: Brain Bratton

Defense

The Alouette defense is back for another solid year. On the Line, Anwar Stewart returns to wreak havoc on opposing QBs. The Linebackers look to continue their stellar play, with the hard-hitting Chip Cox and Shea Emry returning for 2010. The Secondary lost Davis Sanchez, but should still be able to hold its own with players like Matthieu Proulx and √Čtienne Boulay The defense in Montreal doesn't get as much publicity as its counterparts on the other side of the ball, but teams don't win with only offense. The Als defense has been one of the most consistent units during the past couple of seasons.

Player to Watch: Shea Emry

Overall

Until proven otherwise, the Alouettes are the favourites. In the past ten years, they have been to seven Grey Cups, winning two. Sure, the win total is not what it should be, but ask any fan of any other team, and they should tell you that they'd take it. Going into every season knowing your team has a legitimate chance to win the Grey Cup is the dream of every fan. With Calvillo, Cobourne, Richardson, Cahoon, Watkins and Stewart all returning, the Als are loaded and ready to make a run at another championship. The one knock against Montreal is that they are a little long in the tooth. This is a veteran team, and sooner or later these guys are going to retire or break down, and the question persists: are the Als ready for that? We probably won't have to worry about that in 2010, as the Als look poised to contend for their third Grey Cup of the decade.

PREVOUS: Calgary Stampeders

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Roster Moves

The Cats have just made numerous cuts, and some have left me scratching my head:
  • Reggie Fish (WR)
  • Samuel Fournier (FB)
  • Andrew Hamilton (RB)
  • Jonathan Hood (LB)
  • Glenn MacKay (WR)
  • Martin Manson (DB)
  • Matt Morencie (OL)
  • Albert Smith (DL)
  • Matt Spanos (OL)
  • Eddie Steele (DL)
  • Jason Vega (DL)
Now, some of these players will be signed to the practice squad tomorrow, but the release of Fish, Fournier, MacKay, Manson and Steele really surprises me. Fish was just re-signed this week; Fournier and Steele were 2010 draft picks; MacKay played phenomenally in the game against Winnipeg; Manson seemed to have locked up the Kick Returner spot (maybe Demetris Summers will be the team's primary return man). Some of these moves have left me scratching my head. I guess this is why I'm not the one in charge of the club.

The Cats also put Agustin Barrenechea, Jason Boltus and Adam Nicolson on the one-game injured list, and James Hargrave and Jason Jimenez on the nine-game injured list. I guess Jimenez is more hurt than previously thought.

Cats Trade for Ramsay

It was just announced that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have acquired Offensive Lineman Brian Ramsay from the Toronto Argonauts for two draft picks (a 4th in 2011, a conditional in 2013).

With the injury sustained to Jason Jimenez and the release of Zac Carlson, the Cats needed to find some depth for the Offensive Line. Ramsay, who is a Canadian, will give the Cats some flexibility with regards to the Import/Non-Import ratio. It's now likely that the Tabbies will start an all-Canadian Offensive Line, which means that the team can start an American at another position, which would likely be Wide Receiver.

Teams need to be at 46 players by 3:00PM; so expect more roster announcements very soon.

Carlson Cut

There should be roster moves aplenty today as the Cats have until 3:00PM to get down to the league-mandated 46 players on the active roster. Early this morning the Cats announced that they have released three players:
  • Zac Carlson (OL)
  • Yahia Dalloul (DL)
  • Stan van Sichem (DL)
Carlson was the basically the Tiger-Cats' 2010 first-round draft pick. The team picked him in the 2009 Supplemental Draft, which meant the Cats forfeited their 2010 first-round pick.

I think it would be easy to say that this was GM Bob O'Billovich's biggest blunder with the Tabbies. Pretty much everything Obie has done has been the right move. From signing DeAndra' Cobb at a free-agent camp, to trading for Arland Bruce, to signing Kevin Glenn and Dave Stala, Obie has hit a home run on pretty much every player-personnel move he's made. However, even the best make mistakes, and drafting Carlson seems to have been a mistake.

In other news, Reggie Fish has been re-signed. Fish looked good in the first pre-season game, especially in the return game, but he was injured in that game and the team parted ways with him. He's been brought back, which means he must be fully recovered from his injury. I imagine this moves makes my friend Richard very happy.

8 Teams, 8 Days: Calgary Stampeders

Last Season: 10-7-1, 2nd in the West (Lost West Division Final 27-17 to Saskatchewan)

Offense

Before his late-season meltdown, Quarterback Henry Burris was the front runner for MOP. Even with that late-season disappearing act, Burris still tallied massive numbers for a potent offense. He will enter the 2010 season hoping to show that 2008 was the real Burris (when he led Calgary to a Grey Cup Championship). When Burris faltered, Running Back Joffrey Reynolds, who was the West's nominee for MOP, picked up the slack. Reynolds led the league in rushing yards, and even if he's getting up in age, he should still have a couple of years of top-level play left. The Wide Receiver position is in a state of flux entering 2010. Gone are Jeremaine Copeland (traded to Toronto) and Brett Ralph (Retirement); in their place the Stamps see the return of Ken-Yon Rambo, who missed almost the entire 2009 season with a knee injury. Nik Lewis returns, but he only scored one touchdown (yes, ONE) in 2009, and he'll have to up that considerably with Copeland gone and Rambo likely to be rusty. The Offensive Line also saw a shakeup with the unexpected retirement of Jesse Newman.

Player to Watch: Ken-Yon Rambo

Defense

The Defensive Line should post some nice results, led by Mike Labinjo. Labinjo dropped a ton of weight this off-season, and that should help him produce what I think will be his best season in the CFL. The Linebacking corps is a bit of an unknown outside of Calgary, with the only nationally recognized player (Dwaine Carpenter) released this off-season. The Secondary should be strong, with DB Dwight Anderson leading the way. The defense for the Stampeders is a bit of a mystery, and it might take watching a few games before I can accurately rate how this unit will perform.

Player to Watch: Mike Labinjo

Overall

The confounding rash of retirements that came out of Calgary gives this team a little bit of a continuity issue heading into the 2010 season. With veterans like Jeff Pilon hanging up the cleats, the Stamps will have a very different look in 2010. The success of the Stamps hinges on a couple of things. First, Henry Burris must be the Henry Burris of the first half of 2009. Second, Joffrey Reynolds must continue to be the league's best back. Third, Ken-Yon Rambo must return to his former self to make-up for the loss of Jeremaine Copeland. Fourth, the defense must find an identity. This is probably the team in the West that dealt with the most turnover on its roster from 2009 to 2010. It might be a long season in Cowtown if the four things above do not materialize.

PREVIOUS: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

8 Teams, 8 Days: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Last Season: 10-7-1, 1st in the West (Lost Grey Cup 28-27 to Montreal)

Offense

Explosive. That's the only word that I can use to describe the Roughrider offense. They have perhaps the best young starting Quarterback in Darian Durant. The only Running Back not to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing last season was Wes Cates. Cates dealt with injuries in 2009, and if healthy, he would have been well over 1,000 yards. What can be said about the Wide Receivers in Saskatchewan that hasn't already been said? The collection of talent (Fantuz, Dressler, Getzlaf, Bagg and the recently added Prechae Rodriguez) is about as talented a Receiving group as has ever been assembled. The Offensive Line is just as solid, anchored by veteran Gene Makowsky. This is as dangerous as an offense gets in the CFL.

Player to Watch: Weston Dressler

Defense

The defensive side of the ball is where the Riders must deal with big losses. John Chick, Stevie Baggs and Eddie Davis are all gone. These will not be easy players to replace. Chick was last season's Most Outstanding Defensive Player; Baggs was a force, and would have likely won MODP had he not played on the same team as Chick. Davis, while having lost a step, was a stalwart in the Secondary for the Riders, and his veteran presence will be missed. The Riders added some experience when they signed Linebacker Barin Simpson. The Riders also added former Queen's standout Shomari Williams when they made him the first pick in the 2010 CFL Draft. While he won't start right away for the Riders, expect him to make an impact before season's end.

Player to Watch: Shomari Williams

Overall

"The 13th Man" will forever live in infamy in Riderville. Losing the Grey Cup because of a counting error will forever haunt the players from that team. It's a gut-wrenching way to lose, especially when it's for the championship. There might be some lingering effects from that heart-breaking loss, but I expect Ken Miller's squad to still be among the best in the CFL. While the defensive losses suffered in the off-season will be hard at first, I fully expect the Riders to establish themselves as the class of the West. I think Saskatchewan is still the most talented team playing in the West Division, and I fully expect them to be the odds-on favourite to represent the West in the Grey Cup in November.

PREVIOUS: British Columbia Lions

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

8 Teams, 8 Days: British Columbia Lions

Last Season: 8-10, 4th in the West (Lost the East Division Final 56-18 to Montreal)

Offense

Casey Printers is back. Last season, after a slew of QB injuries, Printers was given the starting nod by Head Coach Wally Buono, and he made the most of it. His stats weren't spectacular, but he did lead the Leos to a victory in the East Division Semi-Finals against his former team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Printers will enter the 2010 season as the team's starter, and he looks to find his MOP-winning skills from a few years ago.

Running Back is somewhat of a question mark for the Lions with the departure of last season's Most Outstanding Rookie, Martell Mallet. Mallet signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has been replaced by former Argonaut Jamal Robertson. How Robertson performs will be key to whether BC contends for a home playoff game, or whether they will have to hope to cross over into the East.

The Wide Receivers in BC are as strong as ever. Geroy Simon seems not to age, Paris Jackson seems to never have a bad game, and Emmanuel Arceneaux emerged as a reliable target in 2009. The team also added Derrick Armstrong, which makes BC a very deep and talented bunch.

The line lost veteran Jason Jimenez to Hamilton and still looks to be the weak link in BC's offensive arsenal. For this team to be good, Printers needs time. If the line can give him that time, he can be very dangerous.

Player to Watch: Casey Printers

Defense

Losing Ricky Foley (last season's Most Outstanding Canadian) will hurt, but with Brent Johnson still there, the line should be fine. The Linebackers leave something to be desired, but with time, they could jell. Davis Sanchez left Montreal to finish his career in BC, but he's a little long in the tooth, so to expect him to be the Sanchez of years past would be a mistake. I do expect former McMaster Marauder Jason Arakgi to have a good season. I don't really know why, just a gut feeling. All of that said, this is not a great defense, and the Lions might have to win some games 38-34 or 41-37 to compensate for that.

Player to Watch: Jason Arakgi

Overall

Despite the defensive deficiencies, there is something about BC that I like. Maybe I'm just drinking the Buono Kool-Aid, but his teams always find a way to win. Last year was considered a "down year" for Wally, and yet his team still made the East Division Final! I think if Printers can stay healthy, this BC team could be one scary outfit. I don't know if they'll make it to or win the Grey Cup, but with Wally Buono at the helm, you just never know. Counting BC out would be very foolish.

PREVIOUS: Edmonton Eskimos

Monday, 21 June 2010

Jimenez Out

It looks like new Offensive Tackle Jason Jimenez will be out for at least the season opener at Winnipeg on July 2nd. Apparently, Jimenez injured his knee in yesterday's 38-20 pre-season win over Winnipeg.

Jimenez was one of the big gets of the past off-season. He brings a lot of nastiness to the field when he plays. For the team, and Jimenez's sake, I hope this is only a minor injury.

It will be interesting to see what the Cats do to replace Jimenez. Maybe Rottier, maybe a player cut from another team, maybe a trade (that about covers it all, right?). The route the Ti-Cats take will likely be a tip as to how long Jimenez might be out.

Cat Cuts

It was announced this evening that the Cats have parted ways with 10 players:
  • Cody Balogh (OL)
  • Brian Calhoun (RB)
  • Amarri Jackson (WR)
  • LaRoche Jackson (DB)
  • Shannon James (LB)
  • Damon McDaniel (WR)
  • Burl Toler (WR)
  • Scott Valberg (WR)
  • Rodney Van (DB)
  • Marlon Williams (LB)
Not a lot of surprises here. I had very high hopes for Brian Calhoun when he was signed, but his lack of quality play, and Demetris Summers's phenomenal play, made Calhoun expendable.

Rodney Van seemed to play relatively well, but I think he was simply a victim of the numbers game. There are so many quality DBs in Hamilton that his making the club was always viewed as a long shot.

More cuts will come in the next few days as the Cats try to get down to the roster limit of 46, plus 7 on the practice squad. Stay tuned.

Ways to Grow the Game: CFL Fantasy Football

In an ongoing attempt to find ways to make the CFL a larger, more successful professional sports league, I will be looking at ideas that can push the CFL to the forefront of pro sports in Canada and North America. I have titled these articles "Ways to Grow the Game."

Gambling is a big reason why pro sports, especially football, have taken off. The offshoot of gambling, and something that I have participated in for years, is fantasy sports.

With over 15 million people playing fantasy football in the United States, the game has seen tremendous growth. People are no longer just concerned with "their team," but have branched out and now watch "their players" no matter what team they play for. No doubt this has been a key cog in making the NFL the juggernaut it is today.

Whether we like it or not, the NFL is the sports league by which all other sports leagues get judged. The NFL, for the better part of the last decade, has basically been printing money (Peyton Manning on the $20, Tom Brady on the $50, Brett Favre on the $100). It hasn't had a steroid scandal dog it (see ya, MLB), hasn't had a lockout take away an entire season (goodbye, NHL) and hasn't seen players go fight fans (looking at you, NBA). Yes, the NFL has had some player problems (Exhibit A: Jones, Adam; Exhibit B: Roethlisberger, Ben) but the don't seem to have tainted the league at all. Fans still flock to the games, and spend their entire Sunday huddled around a TV. One of the reasons is the popularity of fantasy football.

It's time the CFL gets in on this action.

Just this season a company has decided to create a CFL fantasy football website. Fantas-Eh Football launched in mid-May to try to meet all the fantasy needs of CFL fans worldwide. I wish them the best of luck.

I don't want to cut anyone off at the knees, but the CFL would be wise to jump on board and use their own website to promote fantasy sports to their fans. Maybe do something in conjunction with Fantas-Eh, but at any rate, the league needs to have started its own fantasy website yesterday.

I've been thinking about CFL fantasy football for a long time. A former co-worker of mine actually brought the idea up back in 2006 after he and I attended a Montreal-Hamilton game. We didn't go through with it because we couldn't get enough people to participate or devote the time to it, but the idea stayed in my mind with the hope that one day it could be a reality. Who wouldn't want to sit around and draft Arland Bruce, Ricky Ray or Henry Burris?

There are problems with a CFL-based fantasy football league that would need to be addressed. With only eight teams, leagues cannot be as large as their American counterparts (which typically have 10-12 teams). The cap for a CFL league would have to be six teams, with maybe as few as four being ideal. It's not a deal killer, but it's not ideal either.

One of the things I love about my NFL fantasy football league is that we can create a schedule and play one opponent each week. Once again, because of the small talent pool it would be hard to create a schedule to play opponents, so therefore it would have to be organized similarly to a playoff hockey pool. Again, not something that should stop anyone, but it's also not perfect.

Even with those problems, the CFL should do everything in its power to get its fans playing CFL fantasy football.

To do my part, I have decided to start the Blogskee Wee Wee Fantasy Football League (BWWFFL). I haven't finalized all the details, but I have convinced three of my friends to participate, and I will use this site to update people on the league. I know one of the dullest things in the world is to hear about someone else's fantasy team, but this is the only platform I have, so I'm going to use it.

As I said, details at this point haven't been completely arranged, but sometime this week a draft will be held, and the BWWFFL will be official. Hopefully someday soon, this will be the norm, not the exception.