Friday, 23 December 2011

Dickenson Withdraws; Time to Hire Burke

Looks like the Ti-Cats are down to one coaching candidate, as word is that Dave Dickenson has withdrawn his name from consideration for the Ti-Cats Head Coaching vacancy.

The news that Dickenson will return to Calgary should not come as a surprise. He is a West Division guy, and he is probably the guy that will take over for John Hufnagel when he decides to hang up the headset.

With Dickenson out of the running, that leaves Winnipeg Defensive Coordinator Tim Burke as the lone candidate left. If the Tabbies do not sign Burke either tomorrow (which is highly unlikely since it is Christmas Eve) or early next week, it could lend credence to the idea that they are after Buffalo Bills Quarterbacks Coach George Cortez.

It's been no secret that Burke has always been the preferred candidate of yours truly, so hopefully the Ti-Cats can get his name on a contract sooner rather than later. Unlike some, I'm not too worried that the Cats have yet to select their Head Coach, but the team does need to pick someone soon or this could get farcical.

Forget Cortez; it is time to get Burke and get on with other business. Burke is an excellent choice; everywhere he has gone he has experienced success. It's time for the Ti-Cats to make a decision, and Dave Dickenson's decision made Hamilton's that much easier.

So Obie, Caretaker, if you are reading this: it's time to hire Tim Burke.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Hinds Signs Extension

The Tiger-Cats made their first significant player move today, signing Defensive Back Ryan Hinds to a contract extension. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Hinds is one of Hamilton's best Defensive Backs, but his 2011 season was marred by injury. His absence clearly hurt the Tiger-Cats, and a healthy Hinds in 2012 could make a big difference.

Hinds's passport cannot be overlooked either. The fact that he is a Canadian playing a position that is typically manned by an American, Hinds allows the Tabbies to play an American at another position. The rapid development of Hinds has been a boon to the team, and his second-round selection in the 2009 CFL Draft might go down as one of the best ones the team has made in the last five years.

While the Cats are no doubt grooming Chris Rwabukamba to be Hinds primary backup, it is never a bad thing to have another Canadian that could fill in. The recently released Tamon George might be worth a look.

It is nice to have Hinds locked up, as he is an important cog on Defense.

Three Question: Canadian Football League

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Canadian Football League.

1. Will we see any rule changes?
The CFL is one of the few leagues that has no problems tweaking their rules for the betterment of the game. I expect the league will make some changes, but one that needs to happen is one I've talked about before: automatic replay on all potential scoring plays. Scoring plays, above all others, need to be correct as close to 100 per cent of the time as possible. If the league makes no other rule changes this off-season, they must at least make this one.

2. Will the league address the reffing issue?
People complaining about officiating is nothing new, but even the most ardent supporters of the league's officials must admit that the officiating in 2011 was worse than normal. There were a ton of bad calls that cost teams dearly. There is no single solution; it's not like the league can just wave a wand and magically make the refs better. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, so the league needs to step up and do something to ensure a repeat of 2011 does not happen.

3. Will we finally get a date for Ottawa's return?
This has been a question that has hovered over the league since the city was given a conditional franchise back in 2008. It looks like all the hurdles put forth by single-minded buffoons have been swept aside and construction will begin at Lansdowne Park soon. That means we are that much closer to the stadium being ready. We might not get a firm date, but it looks like we could have a more secure tentative date in the next six months.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Three Questions: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

1. Can a new coach get them over the hump?
The Cats fired Marcel Bellefeuille because the front office felt that he wasn't the right guy to get the team to the Grey Cup. That means the next coach will have very high expectations. His sole job will be to win the championship that eluded Bellefeuille during his three-plus-year stint. A new coach can get the Ti-Cats over the hump, because the team as currently constituted is very talented. It might not be Grey Cup or Bust, but the team will need to show marked improvement in the win column for the coaching change to be justified.

2. Will the young Receivers take the next step?
The reason the Tiger-Cats traded Arland Bruce back in August was because they wanted to get their young Receivers some playing time. Chris Williams ended up being named the league's Most Outstanding Rookie, Bakari Grant had a breakout game in the East Division Semi-Final, Aaron Kelly also showed flashes of being a big-time player, and don't forget about the gargantuan Jeremy Kelley. The sometimes painful moments that the Tiger-Cats put up with in 2011 could pay big dividends in 2012.

3. Will the Cats fix the problems on Defense?
With Corey Chamblin off to Regina, the Tiger-Cats will have a new man calling the plays for the Defense. Who that man will be is unknown, and depending on who it is will decide what defensive scheme the Cats will run. It is pretty clear that Chamblin's scheme did not match the players he had. For example, Stevie Baggs in coverage is a waste of his immense talents. The Cats will have to find someone who can maximize their personnel. It will probably be one the most important decisions the next Head Coach makes. If the Cats can be a better team defensively, they will be a better team overall.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Three Questions: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

1. Chris Garrett or Fred Reid?
When Reid (and Carl Volny) went down with injuries late in the season, Garrett stepped in and proved he belonged. He had 576 yards and four rushing touchdowns in just six games. Extrapolating that is silly, but those numbers, and his ridiculous 190 yards in the East Division Final, show that Garrett deserves to play. Reid is only one season removed from leading the CFL in rushing, but Running Backs break down faster than any other player. It would be wise for Winnipeg to ride Garrett's younger legs for all their worth, which means Reid is either looking at a reduced role or a new role on another team.

2. Buck Pierce, Joey Elliott or Alex Brink?
Rarely does a team get to a championship game and then have questions at the most important position, but that's exactly what is happening in Winnipeg. All three Quarterbacks are eligible for free agency, and the Bombers will have to decide who to keep. Buck Pierce stayed relatively healthy in 2011, but put up the worst numbers of any starting Quarterback in the CFL outside Toronto; Joey Elliott is coming off major knee surgery, but played well in his very limited time on the field; and Alex Brink filled in more than admirably when Pierce and Elliott went down. It's a tough decision for Winnipeg. All three should be brought back, but that might not be possible. Pierce has earned the right to get at least one more chance to lead the Bombers, but it cannot come at the expense of losing Brink and Elliott. One is probably gone, but Winnipeg must try to bring the other one back. Which one that will be is anyone's guess.

3. How big of a void has Doug Brown's departure left?
For the first time in over a decade, Doug Brown will not be patrolling the middle of the Winnipeg Defensive Line in 2012. Brown's Hall-of-Fame career ended when the Bombers lost the Grey Cup. Players like Brown don't come around often, so Winnipeg will have a huge hole to fill. Brown will not be replaced – you don't simply replace talented Canadians such as Brown – but someone will need to step up and take his spot. Winnipeg had the best Defense in 2011, and they had a very talented Defensive Line. They will find someone, but they won't be of the same calibre as Doug Brown, at least not right away.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Three Questions: Toronto Argonauts

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Toronto Argonauts.

1. Will Scott Milanovich make a difference?
There has been a lot of buzz around Milanovich the past couple of seasons, and now we get to see if the hype can be matched by results. Milanovich was surrounded by star talent in Montreal, with Anthony Calvillo, Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green, Ben Cahoon, Brandon Whitaker and Avon Cobourne playing for him during his time as the Als' Offensive Coordinator. He inherits a Toronto team that doesn't have anywhere near the calibre of players that he had in Montreal. Cory Boyd is a very good Running Back, Andre Durie has the makings of a good Receiver, and the team traded for Ricky Ray to shore up the Quarterback position, but other than that, the cupboard is pretty bare. But he has his shot, and we're going to find out if Montreal made Milanovich or not.

2. Who will Ricky Ray throw to?
The biggest move of the off-season so far is the Argos trading for Ricky Ray. Ray is one of the top Quarterbacks in the CFL and instantly makes Toronto a better team. But a Quarterback is only as good as his Receivers, and Toronto is lacking in that department. Ray will likely have Andre Durie, Chad Owens, Maurice Mann, Spencer Watt and Jeremaine Copeland as his receiving corps. A murderers' row they are not. It's possible that Ray could get out of these guys what Cleo Lemon and Steven Jyles could not – Ray is, after all, a much better player than either of those two – but it will take some work. Results should be better, but it's far from a lock that the Argos' Offense, even with Ray, will be that much better. Now, if they break the bank to sign Andy Fantuz...

3. Will they pull a BC Lions?
Everything Toronto has done since the 2011 season ended was to try to ensure that they can do what BC did and win the Grey Cup at home. It's unlikely they accomplish their goal. This type of massive overhaul – new Head Coach, new Coordinators, new Quarterback – would have been better last off-season. That way, the team could have had a year to work out any kinks and made a few minor, but important, acquisitions this off-season. This much change in one off-season rarely leads to a championship. The Argos will be better, but they won't be a 14-win team or a Grey Cup champion in 2012. Maybe in 2013, but not 2012.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Three Questions: Montreal Alouettes

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Montreal Alouettes.

1. Will 2012 be Anthony Calvillo's last season?
He has said he is returning for another season, and he has made not-so-veiled hints that he still hopes to even his Grey Cup record (which sits at 3-5), so it sounds like 2012 will not be Calvillo's final CFL season. But I think it will be. The East Division is no longer Calvillo's play thing with Winnipeg and Hamilton getting further in the playoffs in 2011 and Toronto making major moves to ensure they don't finish in last again in 2012. The road to a fourth (and fifth) Grey Cup title will not be as easy the road to the first three. Montreal is still a good team and could still win it all, but I don't think they will, and the inability to get number four in 2012 will make Calvillo change course and hang up his cleats at season's end.

2. Will 2012 be Marc Trestman's last season?
Most of the talk in Montreal centres around Calvillo, but Trestman's contract is up following next season and it is possible, probable even, that he won't return. Trestman is a highly valued and respected coach on both sides of the border, and he could be tempted to take an NFL or NCAA job when his contract expires. If Calvillo retires, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Trestman leaves with him.

3. Was 2011 the beginning of the end?
For the first time since 2007, the Montreal Alouettes did not win the East. For the first time since 2007, they lost in the East Division Semi-Final. For the first time since 2004, they lost a playoff game in Montreal. Teams no longer fear the Als. They finished 2011 on a four-game losing streak (including the playoffs), with two of those losses coming in Montreal. The aura around Montreal has faded, and the run that saw them go to eight Grey Cups in 12 seasons is over. Montreal is still a good team, but they are no longer the Beast of the East.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Why I'd Keep Kevin Glenn

Yesterday, I stated why I don't think bringing in Henry Burris is the right move, even if it seems inevitable that Burris will be piloting the Tiger-Cats' Offense in 2012.

So what I am going to do now, even though most fans will probably disagree with me, is give my reason why I'd keep Kevin Glenn.

I'll start by saying that I am a fan of Kevin Glenn and I make no apologies for that. I try my best to provide an objective voice, but I am still a fan, and as a fan there are certain players I find myself liking. One of those players is Kevin Glenn.

My appreciation for Glenn goes back to his days in Winnipeg, and only intensified when he signed with the Tiger-Cats back in 2009. I am, to put it bluntly, a Kevin Glenn fan. Even if the team decides he's not for them, I will remain a Kevin Glenn fan.

So my stumping for Glenn to get another season with the Ti-Cats is partially biased because I like the guy. Objectively, he has done some good things while wearing the Black & Gold, but not enough to guarantee a return in 2012. But equally as objectively, he hasn't done so little that he doesn't deserve to come back.

During his time in Hamilton, Glenn has had one statistically amazing year (2010), one statistically mediocre year (2011) and one year that is too difficult to judge (2009). It's a trend that Glenn has followed his entire career, but more on that later.

One stat that most Glenn detractors like to bring up is his winning percentage (which hovers around .500), but I think judging players on wins in football – which, in my opinion, is the ultimate team sports – is pointless. Anthony Calvillo threw for over 500 yards against the Tiger-Cats in the 2011 East Division Semi-Final. And lost. Kevin Glenn threw for over 500 yards against the Montreal Alouettes in 2009. And lost. Steven Jyles threw for less than 100 yards against Winnipeg in 2011. And won. Those are just three examples where Quarterback play did not decide the winner or the loser, so judging a Quarterback based on wins and losses is useless, and I am not the only one who holds that opinion.

But in looking for reasons to justify a fourth season in Steeltown for Glenn, you need look no further than his stats to see why 2012 might be the wrong year to get rid of Glenn.

An interesting pattern develops if you look at his year-to-year stats. Glenn, it seems, likes to follow statistically mediocre seasons with statistically great ones.

Indisputably, Glenn's three best seasons as a starting Quarterback were 2005, 2007 and 2010.

In 2005, which was his first full season as a starter, Glenn passed for over 3,500 yards and 27 touchdowns with only 17 interceptions. For a first-year starter (he became the starter midway through 2004 when the Bombers traded Khari Jones), those are very good numbers.

In 2007, Glenn had probably his best year. He threw for 5,117 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and was a finalist for Most Outstanding Players. He also guided Winnipeg to the Grey Cup, but a broken arm in the East Final in Toronto kept him from playing in it. Had Glenn played in that game, we all might view him differently.

In 2010, Glenn became Hamilton's starting Quarterback and had one of the best seasons a Tiger-Cat QB has ever had. He finished second in the league in passing yards with 5,100, set the Ti-Cat record for touchdown passes with 33 and threw 17 interceptions.

Clearly, the three above years show Glenn can perform at a high level. But Glenn has been far from a model of consistency. In between those great years lies three not-so-good years in 2006, 2008 and 2011.

In 2006, Glenn regressed, throwing for less yards and touchdowns, despite playing in more games. He threw less interceptions, but his TD-to-INT ratio was 17:13, while it was 27:17 the year before. It was a typical sophomore slump, and has been pointed out, he rebounded in 2007.

His 2008 season could be dismissed because he was coming off an injury and was bound to regress following a stellar campaign the year before. But the regression was steep and ended up costing him his job in Winnipeg. He landed in Hamilton in 2009, had a good year as a backup and sometime starter, but he really took off in 2010.

Then 2011 came and Glenn fell back down to Earth once again. His numbers fell across the board and he was platooned with backup Quinton Porter at the end of the season. That explains the lower number of yards and touchdowns (as does a more efficient red zone offense that saw Quinton Porter score nine rushing touchdowns), but if he had played like he did in 2010, there never would have been a platoon in the first place.

So what does this mean? Well, if the past is any indication, Glenn is due to follow up an unspectacular 2011 with a great 2012. If Glenn is given another chance to lead the Tiger-Cats, his personal performance history shows that the team and its fans should expect something akin to 2005, 2007 or 2010 as opposed to 2006, 2008 or 2011.

Kevin Glenn is not the best Quarterback and he is clearly not the most consistent, but his history shows that he follows up bad years with good ones and good ones with bad ones. Since 2011 was a bad year, 2012 should be a good one.

This might be something the Tiger-Cats should think about before they decide to part ways with Glenn.

While I will admit that I am probably fighting a losing battle and Glenn will be replaced and probably by Henry Burris. I still think a case can be made – and I believe I made it – as to why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should keep Kevin Glenn for 2012.

Chamblin Off to Saskatchewan

The Tiger-Cats are now in the market for a new Defensive Coordinator as Cory Chamblin will be named the next Head Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders later today.

Chamblin was Saskatchewan General Manager Brendan Taman's first choice last season, but he was overruled by his superiors. This season, with the decision being all Taman's, he grabbed the man he wanted all along.

This also takes another name off the Tiger-Cats coaching list, which is growing shorter by the day. Kent Austin decided to stay at Cornell, Mike Benevides took the BC job, Jacques Chapdelaine is expected to become Head Coach at Bishop's and now Chamblin is off to Regina. That's a majority of the names that were mentioned just after Hamilton fired Marcel Bellefeuille.

From the outside looking in, it seems like this is a two-horse race between Dave Dickenson and Tim Burke. Two other names still around are George Cortez and Mike O'Shea. Drew Edwards thinks that Cortex is likely to stay in the NFL, and bringing in O'Shea is a long shot at best.

So unless the Ti-Cats go completely off the board, it looks like it's down to Dickenson and Burke. One of their first jobs will be to find Chamblin's replacement. Let the speculation begin as to who that could be.

Three Questions: Calgary Stampeders

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Calgary Stampeders.

1. Will Drew Tate be the next Travis Lulay?
When the Stampeders benched Henry Burris in favour of Drew Tate, it was a move made for the future. It was also similar to a move made a season before by the BC Lions. The Lions decided to cut Casey Printers and play Travis Lulay; a year later they were rewarded with a Grey Cup championship. Calgary is no doubt looking at that as the template for Tate, fairly or unfairly. Tate has the skills to get it done, so don't bet against the Iowa product turning into one the best in league.

2. Where will Henry Burris go?
With Drew Tate's accession means that Henry Burris's time in Calgary is up. There are really only two places that fit what Burris is looking for: Hamilton and Winnipeg. The money is on Burris landing in Hamilton, but Winnipeg could see Burris as an upgrade over Buck Pierce and could outbid the Ti-Cats for him. But if you are a betting man, put your money on the Tiger-Cats.

3. Is Joffrey Reynolds done?
The Stamps are getting younger, which means Joffrey Reynolds is unlikely to be in their plans going forward. Reynolds was benched prior to Calgary's game in Moncton for Jon Cornish, and all Cornish did was establish himself as the one of the best young Running Backs in the CFL. The Stamps even signed Cornish to a contract extension, which means he is the man that Calgary will be going with from here on out. That makes Reynolds expendable, and he'll have a tough time trying to find a job as a 32-year-old, eight-year veteran with almost 1,600 carries. A Running Back's shelf life is notoriously short, and the fact that Reynolds has been at or near the top since 2005 means we have probably seen the last of him on a CFL field.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Why I'd Pass on Henry Burris

The Henry Burris-to-Hamilton watch is on!

Now that the Argos have solidified their QB situation by acquiring Ricky Ray from Edmonton, the only possible landing spot that could give Burris what he wants – the starting job – is Hamilton.

It is a move that I stand firmly against and hope doesn't come to fruition.

I have nothing against Henry Burris; in fact, I'd even call myself a fan of his. I have always viewed him and Kevin Glenn, the man Burris would be replacing should he come to Steeltown, in the same light. They are two players cut from a very similar cloth. They play the game differently, but each have been dogged by the same doubts when it comes to their careers. Namely, that they couldn't win. Burris got that monkey off his back in 2008, while Glenn has yet to. So I have always had an affinity for Burris and wanted to see him succeed (as long as it didn't come against the Tiger-Cats).

But that doesn't mean I want him as the Tiger-Cats Quarterback next season. Three or four years ago, sign me up. But it's going to be 2012, and my gut and my eyes tell me that his best-before date has passed.

Two skills are brought up as to why Burris would be an upgrade over Glenn: arm strength and running ability. But if you watched Burris near the end of 2011 – especially the game in Toronto where he was finally pulled for Drew Tate – he was skipping passes at an alarming rate and seemed to have lost his speed. Without the cannon arm and escapability that has defined his career, Burris is not much more than an older version of Glenn.

That brings me to the other concern: age. If the team chooses to get rid of Glenn, I might not agree, but that's the way the ball rolls sometimes. I didn't agree with the Cats trading Arland Bruce, I didn't agree when the Maple Leafs traded Doug Gilmour, I didn't agree when the 49ers dealt Joe Montana, but that's the way sports works. Guys get traded, released or sign elsewhere and we just have to accept it. But getting rid of a 33-year-old for a 36-year-old seems like a mistake, like the team would be taking a step back instead of a step forward. If the Cats are going to change their signal caller (which insiders like Dave Naylor think is a given), it makes more sense to go after a guy like Montreal's Adrian McPherson, who has spent the last four seasons behind Anthony Calvillo, and will be just 29 when the season starts.

But would the Cats make such a move with the spectre of 2013 hanging over their heads?

Ah, yes, 2013. The year without a home.

My main concern in regards to all Tiger-Cat decisions is that the homeless year is the driving force behind every move. Did Marcel Bellefeuille get shown the door for what happened on the field or because the brain trust is worried that another .500-ish record followed by a playoff loss could hurt the team as they prepare for a year away from home? Similarly, are the Cats potentially ditching Glenn because of his performance or because they're worried fans will leave and not come back if the team stands pat and doesn't improve?

None of us know for certain what are the reasons behind the moves the team makes. I just hope they aren't sacrificing the long term for the short term when it comes to their decision making. Signing a Henry Burris smells like a short-term solution, not a long-term one.

I want to see the Tiger-Cats end their Grey Cup drought just as much as any other fan. If the team signs Burris (or any other Quarterback) and wins the Grey Cup, I'll be ecstatic. I just don't think that will happen. I think the Cats have just as much of a chance at winning their sixteenth championship with Kevin Glenn as they do with Henry Burris (or anyone else) in 2012.

But I, thankfully, don't make those decisions, I just react to them.

But if the decision was mine, you know where I stand.

I'd pass on Henry Burris.

Three Questions: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

1. Will Andy Fantuz stay?
This is the biggest question facing the franchise, even bigger than who the next Head Coach will be. Fantuz is the type of player that teams salivate over: he's big, strong, fast and most importantly, Canadian. In 2010, he was the first Non-Import to lead the league in receiving yards since Dave Sapunjis in 1995 and won the Most Outstanding Canadian award at season's end. Fantuz can be a difference maker, and losing him would be terrible for Saskatchewan. But lose him they will. Fantuz will hit the open market and he will find himself wearing different colours in 2012. Whether they are Double Blue, Green & Gold or Black & Gold won't be known until February, but he probably won't be wearing Green & White.

2. Can Darian Durant rebound?
If Fantuz leaves, Durant will lose his favourite target, which will make it difficult for him to get back to an elite level. His flaws were exposed without Fantuz for much of 2011, and if Fantuz does seek greener pastures elsewhere, Durant could continue to regress. All those Grey Cup appearances masked what has been an unspectacular career when looking at his stats. Maybe we've seen the type of player Durant is: good, but not good enough. Don't expect a huge improvement in 2012.

3. Who is the next Head Coach?
It seems as if popular sentiment is behind Dave Dickenson being named the next Head Coach. He could make a good choice, but he is raw and untested. It would be a gamble, but one probably worth taking. What Dickenson will need to succeed is freedom. That was the major problem with Greg Marshall's tenure. He had his predecessor looking over his shoulder, which won't be a problem this time around because Ken Miller has retired. Dickenson will need to be given free reign or it won't matter who takes the headset in Regina, dismal results will follow.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Three Questions: BC Lions

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the BC Lions.

1. What does Travis Lulay do for an encore?
In his first full season as a starting Quarterback, Travis Lulay won the league's Most Outstanding Player Award, the Grey Cup and Grey Cup Most Valuable Player. That's going to be hard to top. While he is unlikely to match his 2011 season in 2012 in terms of post-season accolades, he will continue to show everyone why he is the next CFL superstar.

2. What does the change at Head Coach mean?
With Buono stepping down as Head Coach and Benevides taking over, things will be different in Vancouver in 2012. But this will be a smooth transition. Benevides will not have a short rope, like Greg Marshall did in Saskatchewan, and the team that Benevides is inheriting is stocked with talent, both young and old. BC should still be considered one of the top teams, even with the change at Head Coach. This will probably be the most seamless coaching change of the off-season.

3. Can the Lions repeat?
The big question facing every defending champion is: can they win it again? With BC, the answer is a resounding yes. They have to be the odds-on favourite to at least get back to the Grey Cup from the West because of all the changes the other three teams are going through. Edmonton will have a new starting Quarterback for the first time in years; Calgary will be hoping that Drew Tate can do for them what Travis Lulay did for BC in 2011; and Saskatchewan will once again have a new Head Coach and could be dealing with the loss of Andy Fantuz. It all adds up to BC at least getting themselves into the big game in Toronto, which gives them a shot to repeat.

Monday, 12 December 2011

What the Ray Trade Means for Hamilton

The story went from rumours to fact rather quickly, and now that the dust has settled, Ricky Ray is the newest member of the Toronto Argonauts.

The Argos dealt the recently signed Steven Jyles (who will be on his fourth team in four seasons), Kicker Grant Shaw and a the second-overall pick in the 2012 draft. A very steep price, but one worth paying if you're the Argos.

Toronto, as everyone knows, will host the Grey Cup next season and they are going all-in to get there. Adding Ray helps with that, but that alone will not take them from 6-12 to Grey Cup champions. The Argos need a major upgrade at Receiver if this trade is to mean anything. With the exception of Andre Durie, the Argos have no one that scares opposing Defenses.

Jeremaine Copeland is old, with little left in the tank. Chad Owens is much better suited as a Kick Returner, where he can be a big difference maker, than trying to force him into the Offense as a Receiver. And then there's Maurice Mann. If he's as good as he says he is, then Ray has his target. Unfortunately for Ray, he's not. Mann talks better than he plays, and his stat line proves that. But Mann's best season did come in Edmonton, so maybe Ray can get out of Mann what Hamilton could not.

And like all moves that the Argos make, it has implications on the Ti-Cats, and this one is all about Henry Burris

Ray going to Toronto basically means that it's Hamilton or bust for Burris. Burris does not want to be a backup, and the only team he could have a chance to start for is Hamilton (unless Winnipeg is worried about the Ray move and takes Burris instead of re-signing Buck Pierce).

For an off-season that is not even a month old, things have been moving at a rapid pace. Wonder what will happen next.

A New Quarterback Rumour

It seems like every week there is a new rumour regarding the Quarterback situation in Hamilton. The latest one has Dave Naylor saying that the Edmonton Eskimos might be amenable to dealing two-time Grey Cup champion Ricky Ray (thanks to Drew Edwards for the link to the audio), and that Hamilton is one of two likely landing spots (the other being, of course, Toronto).

On the surface, this would a great move. Ray is one of the best Quarterbacks in the CFL, and adding a player of his calibre would be something even staunch Kevin Glenn supporters (such as myself) could stomach and even support. Ray is a better Quarterback than Glenn, but Ray is a better Quarterback than pretty much everyone not named Anthony Calvillo. Ray is also younger than Glenn, and while he hasn't been as effective the last few season, Ray still has all the tools to get it done.

But that doesn't mean trading for Ray is slam dunk. There are some concerns that need to be addressed.

For starters, with someone with an astute an eye as Eskimos General Manager Eric Tillman, it seems fishy that he would trade an All-Star-level Quarterback a year after making it to the West Division Final. Does Tillman know something about Ray that the rest of the league's General Managers do not? Tillman rarely loses when it comes to trading players, so if he's willing to deal Ray, there has to be a reason.

Secondly, Edmonton would probably want something significant in return; this won't be a great player changing teams for a measly third-round draft choice. Hamilton would have to part with something of value, and I'm sure one would be a Quarterback (either Glenn or Quinton Porter), but the Eskimos will want something else as well. Depending on what Edmonton wants, the price may be too steep for a beaten-up, albeit still very effective, Ricky Ray.

With all the rumours that have surfaced since the season ended concerning the Hamilton Quarterback situation, this one is the most palatable. Ray is an upgrade, and the same cannot be said definitively about Henry Burris (the other Alberta-based QB rumoured to be headed to Steeltown). If Ray is traded to Hamilton, it would likely receive near-universal support from Tiger-Cat fans.

This is a story worth keeping an eye on. Should Hamilton get Ray, and not give too much to Edmonton in return, that could be the move that takes the Ti-Cats from East Division Final participant to Grey Cup winner.

Three Questions: Edmonton Eskimos

The end of the season always brings a host of questions, today we tackle three question facing the Edmonton Eskimos.

1. Will Jerome Messam repeat his 2011 season?
Messam had an interesting 2011. He started the season in BC, but was cut in training camp under odd circumstances. He was picked up by Edmonton and turned in the first 1,000-plus-yard season by a Canadian Running Back since Sean Millington. He capped the whole year off by being named the league's Most Outstanding Canadian. To say he has high expectations in 2012 is an understatement. A knee injury suffered in the playoffs could slow his start, but if Messam stays hungry and healthy in 2012, he could match or surpass his 2011 totals.

2. Will the Eskimos deal Ricky Ray?
In the last 24 hours rumours have begun to surface that Ricky Ray could be dealt by the Eskimos (the landing spots, as with all QB rumours this off-season, are thought to be either Hamilton or Toronto). These rumours have come up in the past and proven to be unfounded. It is possible that the Eskimos could part ways with Ray, but it would be an odd move. They don't have a QB on the roster right now that could take over for Ray, so they too would have to make a move at Quarterback. It makes more sense for the Eskies to keep Ray, but Tillman is not a shy guy when it comes to making bold moves, so anything is possible.

3. Will Edmonton continue to contend?
As good as Edmonton was in 2011, they were equally as terrible in 2010. Year Two of the Eric Tillman regime should see even more improvement. If there is one team in the West Division that could supplant BC as division champions, it's Edmonton. If the Eskimos stay healthy, especially at Receiver, Edmonton could find themselves in Toronto at year's end.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cats to Interview Tim Burke

The Tiger-Cats coaching search continues, and a new contender has entered the ring:

Tim Burke

Burke has been my number-one choice to replace Marcel Bellefeuille since the day Bellefeuille was fired.

Burke has all the qualities a team looks for when hiring a Head Coach, with the exception of previous Head Coaching experience. And while that is a knock against him, he does come equipped with almost 35 years of experience in the CFL and NCAA, which is impressive in its own right.

But if his CFL record is what really matters, and that is where Burke outshines his competitors.

Burke has been the Defensive Coordinator for the past four East Division champions, three with Montreal and one with Winnipeg. Burke's Defenses in Montreal and Winnipeg were among the best in the league during his time in both places, and wherever he goes (or if he stays in Winnipeg) will see a vast improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Simply put, the man gets results, and those results usually find teams playing on the final Sunday in November. Success follows Burke wherever he goes and that is not a coincidence.

Burke might not be the big name some are looking for, but he would be an excellent choice as the next Head Coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Free Agent Wishlist

The list of potential free agents that the CFL released on Wednesday has a lot of familiar names on it. Some of those players will re-sign with their current team over the next two months, but some won't.

Taking Hamilton's needs into mind – which I believe to be Canadian talent, the Secondary and the Offensive and Defensive Lines – there are two standout players that Hamilton should try to move Heaven and Earth to sign, a couple of non-star players that could help the Tiger-Cats strengthen some of their weaknesses.

If the picture at the top didn't tip you off, the first player is, obviously, Andy Fantuz. Fantuz is likely to be the top player in free agency should he not re-sign with Saskatchewan, and while Hamilton has plenty of good, young players at Receiver, a player of Fantuz's calibre does not come along very often. He had a bad 2011, but various factors contributed to that; however, if you look at his 2010 stats, that's where you see the type of player Fantuz is.

The second player is Byron Parker. The Ti-Cats have not had a ballhawking Defensive Back since Chris Thompson left town following the 2009 season. They could use a player with Parker's skills. It is doubtful that he would leave Toronto, but if he does test the open market, a move down the QEW makes sense.

Those are the two big fish, in my opinion, of free agency when it comes to the Tiger-Cats. They are difference-making players that any team would be happy to have, and Hamilton is no different.

While they may be the two biggest players that could be available, they are far from the only ones.

Hamilton needs help along the two lines and a trio of Eskimos could be the cure for the Tiger-Cats woes. Kyle Koch is not a star, but he could be the replacement for Simeon Rottier if, as speculated, he leaves to go to Edmonton. Koch is also a former McMaster Marauder, so he is familiar with the Hamilton area.

The two other Eskimos both play on the Defensive Line: Greg Peach and Étienne Légaré. Peach could take the spot of Justin Hickman if, as believed, he'll take a shot at the NFL. Légaré could form a nice rotation with Eddie Steele and Robert Rose.

There are, of course, plenty of other players available, and who knows who the Cats would try to go after. Everything will depend on who is named Head Coach.

New player arrive every year, and it'll be interesting to see who the new players in Hamilton will be.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Potential Tiger-Cat Free Agents

The CFL released their list of eligible free agents today, and the Tiger-Cats have 10 players listed as potential free agents.

The list, with the exception of the two Justins, Hickman and Medlock, lacks star power. It's not that the players listed aren't good players – they are – it's just that they aren't superstar players.

Canadian depth was an issue for the Cats during the 2011 season, and there are four quality Canadian players – Auggie Barrenechea, Matt Carter, Matt Kirk and Simeon Rottier – among the 10 eligible free agents. Auggie left once before, to Edmonton, but came back for the 2009 season. He made the switch to Fullback in 2011, but didn't see much playing time. He is, however, a great Special Teams player and a valuable locker room leader. Carter didn't have great stats, but he played the Receiver position that doesn't see much action. His 2011 will be remembered for the ugly injury he suffered in Moncton. Kirk has battled the injury bug recently, but is an important cog in the Hamilton machine when healthy. Rottier has been very good the past couple of seasons, but rumours persist that he will be heading west.

On the Import front, Ike Brown, Jason Jimenez and Jason Shivers are free to test the market. Brown did not play a game in 2011 because of a knee injury he suffered during Rookie Camp, which he was voluntarily participating in. When he played in 2010, he was a phenomenal Special Teams player. Jimenez was benched late this past season and despite Marcel Bellefeuille being let go, Jimenez will probably be elsewhere in 2012. Shivers was signed before the 2010 season and has not been the player the team hoped for when they pilfered him from the Argos.

Then we have the Justins (I am not going to bother discussing Garrett McIntyre because he is in the NFL and doing quite well for himself). Both Hickman and Medlock are likely going to tryout for the NFL. Both had amazing seasons in 2011 and it would be a shame to see them leave. That said, from the sounds of Hickman's interview with Ticats TV and Medlock's wish to find stability, both would welcome a return to Hamilton if their NFL journey ends in disappointment.

With a new Head Coach coming in, there will be plenty of changes. We'll see over the next two months which of these 10 players will be wearing Black & Gold again in 2012.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Tiger-Cats Coaching Candidates

With Wednesday's firing of Marcel Bellefeuille, the Tiger-Cats now have an opening at Head Coach. There are a lot of qualified candidates out there that, and with the team interviewing candidates starting today, now is the perfect time to look at some of the names being tossed around.

Kent Austin
Austin has been covered ad nauseum since Rod Pedersen erroneously stated that he had interviewed for the job, so I won't retread too much.

Austin would be a great choice to replace Marcel Bellefeuille. He has all the attributes the team should be looking for. He is a proven winner with a wealth of CFL experience as both a player and Head Coach. He's ideal, if not perfect, for the job.

But, he has a nice gig at Cornell and the Ti-Cats would have to offer something pretty enticing to get him to return to the CFL.

Austin is a dream choice, but that dream will probably remain just that.

Mike Benevides
With Wally Buono stepping down, he's likely to take over the Lions. It only makes sense for him to stay, so he can pretty much be ruled out.

Tim Burke
I won't hide it, Burke is my number-one choice. I know it is hypocritical to say that considering I think hiring a first-time coach is a negative, but Burke is the exception.

Not only does Burke have one heckuva résumé -- he has been the the Defensive Coordinator for the past four Grey Cup participants from the East Division -- but hiring him would also wound a team Hamilton is in direct competition with, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Hiring Burke just because he is a coach for the Bombers would be a bad idea, but he is also a great coach who could get Hamilton where they need to be.

Corey Chamblin
He seems to be the favourite to land the gig, but his one year of Coordinator's experience seems too little to judge whether he is ready.

Also, it is not like the Tiger-Cats were a fantastic Defense in 2011. The Cats had great games, but struggled for the vast majority of 2011 to find the right combination of players. The Cats were not an elite Defense in 2011, and I don't think anyone would argue that they were.

Some seem to think hiring Chamblin just so he doesn't get hired by the Roughriders is why the team would hire him. That's silly. Chamblin should only get the job if he is the best choice.

That said, he's the leader before anyone has taken a tee shot.

Jacques Chapdelaine
Chapdelaine is in many ways the same as Marcel Bellefeuille was before he was hired. A decently successful Offensive Coordinator, but one that wasn't head and shoulders above everyone else. Chapdelaine did great with elite-level offensive talent in BC, but before that, he was the object of much derision and scorn.

Chapdelaine's future is tied directly to what happens in BC. He could stay in his role as Offensive Coordinator if Mike Benevides becomes Head Coach; however, he could also be shown the door just as easily.

But regardless of what happens in BC, I think Chapdelaine is a long shot at best.

George Cortez
Cortez currently serves as the Buffalo Bills Quarterbacks Coach, but he spent almost two decades in the CFL, most of them with the Calgary Stampeders, which means he has a plethora of CFL experience. He was a member of the Stampeders during four Grey Cup championships, including their most-recent win in 2008.

With the exception of not having been a Head Coach before, Cortez has a lot of the qualities the Cats should be looking for in a Head Coach. Maybe he's a dark-horse candidate, but if he's given a serious shot to get the job, he might be the right guy for it.

Dave Dickenson
It has been confirmed by TSN that the Cats have asked permission to talk to Dickenson, so he is clearly a candidate. He will probably be a very good one... in about two or three years.

Dickenson has the makeup of a great Head Coach, one day. That day, however, is not today. He has three years of coaching experience and only one as a high-level assistant (2011, as Calgary's Offensive Coordinator).

If the Cats decide to go with a newer Coordinator (I don't count Burke), then they could do worse than Dickenson.

Greg Marshall
Marshall was the Defensive Coordinator for the Cats for two years, and he is well though of around the league. Most seem to agree that the problems in Saskatchewan had little to do with him and more to do with the power structure.

But would Marshall want to return to Hamilton? I think after how things went, he might be better off taking the Rich Stubler approach and becoming an assistant again.

Mike O'Shea
On second thought, forget this.

It is probably Chamblin's job to lose, but Dave Dickenson is probably not far behind, with Geroge Cortez not far behind Dickenson. Tim Burke has not been mentioned, but hopefully he gets a call as well. The wild card in all this is Kent Austin. If he expresses interest, all bets are off.

The Cats won't make a decision hastily, but this also won't be a prolonged search either. I believe the team had an idea of who they wanted before they pulled the trigger on Bellefeuille. Before the calendar flips to a new year, the Cats will have their new Head Coach.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Toronto's Moves and their Tiger-Cat Implications

The CFL off-season is not even a week old and the Toronto Argonauts have made three key moves to position themselves for 2012. Those moves also have some rather large implications for the Tiger-Cats as well.

The Argos hired former Montreal Alouettes Offensive Coordinator Scott Milanovich to be the team's new Head Coach. Milanovich takes over from Jim Barker, who was the Head Coach the last two seasons, so Barker can concentrate solely on being the team's General Manager.

Along with Milanovich comes Calgary Defensive Coordinator Chris Jones. Jones had been with the Stamps since 2008. His hiring in Toronto isn't official, and there seems to be a lot of back and forth between the Argos and Stamps. The Argos are saying they haven't hired Jones, while the Stamps filed a tampering complaint with the league over the issue and the league fined the Argos $5,000 for it.

The last bit of Argos news is that they have signed Quarterback Steven Jyles a two-year contract extension worth a reported $250,000 per season. The Argos traded for Jyles back in March and he took over as starter after the team cut Cleo Lemon in September.

These three moves have some implications for the Ti-Cats.

For starters, it means that both Milanovich and Jones are not going to be coaching the Tiger-Cats. This is not surprising since these moves were known before Ti-Cats fired Marcel Bellefeuille, so it is unlikely that either coach was on any list the Tiger-Cats came up with.

But the Jones hiring could have a ripple effect. With Jones now (or soon to be) the Argos Defensive Coordinator, that means that Orlondo Steinauer, who was Toronto's Defensive Coordinator for the last half of the 2011 season after the Argos fired Chip Garber, will not be. Steinauer could go back to being the team's Defensive Backs Coach (the position he held prior to his promotion) or he could look to move to another team and be their Defensive Coordinator. That team could be Hamilton if Corey Chamblin gets the Head Coaching job in Saskatchewan or Hamilton. That is a lot of moving parts, but it can't be dismissed that Steinauer could be the next Defensive Coordinator in Hamilton. And if Mike O'Shea becomes Head Coach, all bets are off.

The Jyles extension is juicier because it all but guarantees that Henry Burris will not be going to Toronto. The Argos are not going to pay two Quarterbacks a combined $500,000-600,000 – it is doubtful that Burris would go to the Argos for less than what Jyles is being paid – so Burris landing in Hogtown is highly unlikely. The speculation now is that Hamilton is the front runner to land Burris's services. Whether that's a good idea or not is for another time, but expect to see the Burris-to-Hamilton rumours get more intense.

Just a few days in and this CFL off-season looks like it might be one of the most interesting ones in recent memory.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Austin HAS NOT Been Interviewed

After a bit of back and forth between Dave Naylor and Rod Pedersen earlier today, Drew Edwards is now saying that Kent Austin has not interviewed with the Ti-Cats and that interviews to fill the Head Coaching position will not begin until Monday.

This echos the statements made by Naylor and contradicts those made by Pedersen. I would suggest that "the voice of the Riders" find some new sources when it comes to the Tiger-Cats. Or perhaps he should just stick to Saskatchewan and stop reporting on happenings in Hamilton.

The Tiger-Cats, Kent Austin and Who to Believe

With the firing of Marcel Bellefeuille on Wednesday, the Tiger-Cats are searching for a new Head Coach. There have been a lot of names mentioned and one is Kent Austin. Austin last coached in the CFL in 2007 when he led Saskatchewan to their third Grey Cup championship in franchise history.

Austin has been at or near the top of every team's wish list (especially Saskatchewan) since he stepped down following the 2007 season to become the Offensive Coordinator at Ole Miss. He has since become the Head Coach at Cornell. He seems happy to be leading Big Red, so his return to the CFL is hardly a guarantee and is probably a long shot at best.

But Rod Pedersen said earlier this morning that the Tiger-Cats had already interviewed Austin. Dave Naylor would later dispute this by saying the Cats have not interviewed anyone yet, and wouldn't until next week. Naylor said he was told this by Tiger-Cat President Scott Mitchell.

It all comes down to credibility and Pedersen, to me, has about as much credibility as Perry Lefko (that is to say, he has none), while Naylor has credibility to spare.

The reason I question the accuracy of Pedersen's source goes back to an incident in 2010. Pedersen said on-air during a Roughriders preseason game that the Tiger-Cats had cut Quinton Porter. Pedersen's report came a few hours after the Tiger-Cats played their first preseason game in Toronto; a game in which Porter played well in limited playing time, going five for seven for 59 yards.

So when Pedersen said during the Riders game that Porter had been cut, it came as a shock.

It also turned out to be false. Quinton Porter was not cut on that June day, and he hasn't been cut on any day since then.

It is that one (and to this point, only) instance of Pedersen "breaking" news on the Ti-Cats that gives me pause. He was so very, very wrong about that. If he is using the same source now that he used then, they don't seem very reliable.

This is not to say that Austin hasn't been contacted about an interview, won't interview in the future or won't be named the next Head Coach of the Tiger-Cats. It's just that I'll take Naylor's word that the Cats haven't interviewed Austin over Pedersen's word that they have.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Cats Fire Bellefeuille

When teams fail to reach their potential, changes come. Today Marcel Bellefeuille was fired by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats because they did not reach their potential.

Bellefeuille took over from Charlie Taaffe on September 8, 2008 on an interim basis and had the interim tag removed in October of that year. In his three full seasons with the Tiger-Cats, Bellefeuille guided Hamilton to two second-place finishes and three playoff appearances, winning this year's East Division Semi-Final against Montreal.

I have already freely admitted that I was torn on whether the team should retain Bellefeuille. I felt that in winning the Semi-Final in Montreal he had done enough to warrant a fourth season as Head Coach, but I guess the Ti-Cats brass, and specifically General Manager Bob O'Billovich, did not feel the same way.

Two names have already been thrown around as potential replacements: Defensive Coordinator Corey Chamblin and Calgary Offensive Coordinator Dave Dickenson.

I don't really like either rumoured candidate. Both have exactly one year of Coordinator experience and would bring with them the same growing pains that all rookie coaches bring. They could both turn out to be excellent Head Coaches, but the same was thought of Bellefeuille when he was hired and now he's unemployed. Basically, when it comes to first-time Head Coaches, you just never know.

If the Cats made this move to take the next step – as O'Billovich said in his statement following the decision – then they must bring in an experienced coach, because that is the only way this move makes sense. I don't necessarily mean a coach with Head Coaching experience, but one that has more than a single year's experience would make sense. If the Cats choose to hire another young, up-and-coming Coordinator, that would be a lateral move. We don't even know if Dickenson or Chamblin are good at their current jobs, so a promotion might be premature.

One man I think the Tiger-Cats should seriously look at is Winnipeg Defensive Coordinator Tim Burke. Burke has been to the last four Grey Cups as a Defensive Coordinator (with Montreal in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and Winnipeg in 2011), winning with the Als in 2009 and 2010. He turned Winnipeg into arguably (and maybe inarguably) the best Defense in the CFL in 2011.

The expectations will be high for whomever the Tabbies pick as their next Head Coach. Those expectations were not in place when Bellefeuille took the job back in 2008. The team will need to be sure that the next man to lead the Cats is prepared to deal with sky-high expectations from Day 1. The talent is here, so a Grey Cup run in 2012 is not at all out of the question. Who will lead the team now is.

But let's not forget what Marcel Bellefeuille accomplished in Hamilton during his three-plus years as Head Coach. He took a terrible franchise – one that won 15 games in four seasons – and returned it to respectability. That, in itself, is something worth remembering.

The Bellefeuille Era did not result in a championship parade or even a division title, but it did result in pride being restored to Tiger-Cat football, pride not felt in a long time. Hamilton became a team to be feared and respected, and that wasn't the case before Bellefeuille took over.

His inability to take the Cats to the promised land ultimately cost him his job, but he did make Tiger-Cat football important again, and for that he should be thanked.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

BC Wins the Grey Cup

Winnipeg did their best to make it interesting, but the BC Lions are the 2011 Grey Cup champions.

BC started off hot, but only led 14-6 at halftime. Winnipeg got the score to as close as 14-9, but the turning point of the game was when the score was 24-9 and Odell Willis drops a sure interception that he could have walked into the end zone. The Lions kept the ball and on what was basically the Arland Bruce drive, scored the backbreaking touchdown that all but ended the game.

Winnipeg scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. BC took care of business and became the first team to win the Grey Cup on home soil since 1994.

The game's MVP was Travis Lulay. He threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns against a very good Winnipeg Defense. This was Lulay's first full season as a starter and he won the MOP, Grey Cup and Grey Cup MVP. What will he do for an encore?

Andrew Harris was the game's Most Valuable Canadian. His stats weren't otherworldly, but he had a solid outing, scoring the game's first touchdown and finishing with 65 yards on 10 carries. Harris has a bright future ahead of him.

Speaking of bright futures, both BC and Winnipeg look like teams that could compete for championships for a long time. Both looked dominant at different times this season. Winnipeg started the season 7-1 and BC finished the season (including the playoffs) an amazing 12-1. With the veterans both these teams will bring back, along with a slew of talented young players, both teams could very easily meet again in the 100th Grey Cup.

But that is next year; this year, the BC Lions are the Grey Cup champions and congratulations to them (and specifically to former Tiger-Cat Arland Bruce) on that accomplishment.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Changes Needed for the CFL Player Awards

Last night, the CFL handed out their Player Awards, and while it was a special night for all the players who were honoured, there are aspects of the process that are archaic and should be changed.

For starters, the process for selecting nominees is outdated. Team nominees are voted on by a small cadre of writers from a team's home city, as well as the Head Coach. Back when the game was more regional and it was hard for people to see each team, this made sense. But for the past few seasons, all 72 games have been broadcast on TSN, and then archived on TSN's website. Anyone who wants to watch every game can do so rather easily. The days of people in Vancouver not being able to watch games played in Montreal are over, and have been for some time.

Yet the league still relies on this antiquated model for deciding who is up for the league's awards. The outcry that followed Anthony Calvillo's selection for Alouettes' MOP over Jamel Richardson, thus making Richardson ineligible for the league award, shows that people outside of Montreal were paying attention. Voters in the seven other markets are just as qualified to speak on who the best Alouette is as they are the best Argonaut or Eskimo. Matt Dunigan even complained about the process when he wondered why he was asked to vote for the league-wide awards, but had no say on the team awards. Like most people, Dunigan follows the league, not just one team. I'd think that the majority of people who are interested in the CFL have an interest beyond their local market.

The system has outlived its usefulness, and changes need to be made. For one, teams really do not need to nominate players for the awards. It makes for some nice stories and gives people something to talk about and debate, but it is unnecessary. Instead, the league should hand an open ballot to the same people who vote on the awards and let them choose who they want. If the league then wants to cut the list down to two finalists who will show up at the awards ceremony, that's fine, but someone like Richardson should not be ineligible for an award because a small group of Montreal reporters decided Anthony Calvillo should be the team's nominee.

The next change is about the announcement of the winners. TSN shows every CFL game, yet instead of airing the awards show live, they aired the 1986 Rob Lowe movie Youngbloods, while TSN2 showed a replay of last week's West Division Final and a repeat of Off the Record. TSN will air the awards ceremony on Saturday, but everyone already knows who won and TSN has already posted a plethora of awards-related videos on their website. Putting the show on Saturday is meaningless since the hardcore fans who would watch an awards show already know who won. The league needs to ensure that the awards ceremony is aired live. Otherwise, there really is no point in airing the show at all.

These are a couple of changes that would benefit the awards. Hopefully the ideas here become a reality in the not-to-distant future.

Smitty's Selections: Grey Cup

At least it's not Montreal and Saskatchewan again. In what was a topsy-turvy year in the CFL, two teams that combined to win zero playoff games in 2010 will play for the championship in 2011. It's just been that kind of year.

99th Grey Cup: Winnipeg vs. British Columbia

This game will hinge on one thing: can Winnipeg's great Defense stop BC's awesome Offense. Winnipeg's Defense limited Hamilton to less than 200 yards of total offense and three points in the East Division Final; BC's Offense scored 40 points against Edmonton in the West Division Final. It will be strength versus strength.

If the game becomes a shootout, Winnipeg does not stand a chance. Their Offense is not built around winning high-scoring games. With the game being at BC Place and the elements not being an issue, I don't think Winnipeg can keep pace with the Lions offensively.

Winnipeg needs to make this a ground-and-pound game, so Chris Garrett will be the key for the Bombers. If he can have half the game he did against Hamilton in the East Division Final, the Bombers will be in a position to score the upset. The key will be for Winnipeg's Offense to keep BC's Offense off the field. The only way they can do that is with a successful running attack.

Winnipeg will put up a valiant effort, but when the clock reaches zero it will be the BC Lions hoisting the Grey Cup on their home field.

Winner: British Columbia, 37-20

Recap
British Columbia

Season Record: 42-34

Chris Williams, Kevin Glenn Win CFL Player Awards

Two members of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won CFL Player Awards on Thursday night, one for his on-field exploits and the other for his off-field contributions.

Chris Williams, as expected, was named the 2011 Most Outstanding Rookie.

Williams's 2011 didn't get off to the best of starts. He didn't play in Week 1 against Winnipeg and had a horrible Week 2 against Edmonton. In Week 3 he scored two touchdowns against Saskatchewan, but it was in Week 4, against BC, that he had his proverbial coming-out party. Williams went off for 189 yards and a touchdown against the Lions, and from there he never looked back.

Williams finished the season leading the Tiger-Cats in receptions and receiving yards. He also lead all rookies in those categories as well. Williams is the fourth Tiger-Cat to be nominated for Most Outstanding Rookie in the last five years, but the first to win the award since Mike O'Shea won it all the way back in 1993.

Williams's win was followed up by Kevin Glenn winning the Tom Pate Award, which recognizes a player's charitable contributions to the community that he plays in.

The most well known of Glenn's many community endeavours is his Touchdowns For Kids program with Tim Horton's. For every touchdown that Glenn scores throughout the season, local Tim Horton's stores donate $200 to send kids to the Tim Horton's Children's Foundation camps.

Glenn is the fifth Tiger-Cat to win the Tom Pate award, and the second in the last three years. Marwan Hage won it for all his great community work back in 2009.

Congratulations to both players for their well-deserved awards.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Two Tiger-Cats Named CFLPA All-Stars

The season may be over, but Tiger-Cats are collecting accolades as Receiver Chris Williams and Running Back Avon Cobourne have been named CFLPA All-Stars.

Williams's selection is no surprise. He had a great rookie season for the Cats, leading the team in receptions and yards.

Cobourne being one of the two Running Backs named is a bit surprising. Cobourne is a great player, and had a very good season for the Ti-Cats (his first in Hamilton), but Cobourne wasn't even named a Division All-Star by the CFL, so it's weird that he would beat out both Cory Boyd and Jerome Messam for the PA's selection.

There were some omissions that were surprising. Neither Jamall Johnson nor Rey Williams made the team, but the biggest snub was Justin Hickman (as well as Odell Willis). I don't know what a player needs to do to be named an All-Star by their peers, but I would think leading the league in sacks, which Hickman (and Willis) did, would be enough. Apparently not.

Anyway, congratulations to both Avon Cobourne and Chris Williams on their selections.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Day After

Another disappointing end to another disappointing season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. For the twelfth off-season questions surround a team that was not good enough to win the big prize.

But unlike some, maybe even most, I don't think the Ti-Cats need to undergo a massive overhaul. A few tweaks here and there, and this team is right where it needs to be to compete for a championship.

I will start by saying rather plainly that it would be a mistake for the team to part ways with Kevin Glenn. Everyone calling for Glenn's head after yesterday must have forgotten the game he had eight days ago or the year he had in 2010. Glenn is a good Quarterback, and he can only be replaced by a better Quarterback, and there isn't a better Quarterback out there. Henry Burris, you say? Burris is not a huge step up from Glenn, and Glenn has the advantage of having been with the team for three years. Glenn is not the problem with this team and he has never been the problem with this team. Dumping him would be a mistake, in my opinion.

The next target of people's anger is Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille. I'm not as sold on Bellefeuille as I am on Glenn, but that doesn't mean I think Bellefeuille should fired. There is a part of me that likes Bellefeuille. A lot. A part of me that wants to see him succeed. But there is another part of me that wonders if he is just the next Danny Barrett. A good coach, but not the coach that will lead this team to a championship.

Still with the coaching staff, both Khari Jones and Corey Chamblin should be retained. They were both rookies, and growing pains were to be expected. I think both have the wherewithal to absorb what did and didn't work in 2011, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure it doesn't happen in 2012. Getting rid of either of them would be a step back.

No matter what anyone says, it is undeniable that this is a talented team, stocked with players that can win a championship. The Linebackers are among the best, if not the best, in the entire league. The young group of Receivers can only get better with; the Running Back and Quarterback positions are solidified and not areas of concern. The nucleus is there.

There are two areas that need to be looked at: the Secondary and the Defensive Line.

The Cats tried all year to find the right mix of players in the defensive backfield and never really got it right. That said, there are some good players already on the roster. Ryan Hinds, Milt Collins, Loyce Means and Dee Webb all look like they can be depended on in the future, so hopefully they all return. That leaves one more position to be filed.

The Defensive Line needs work, especially the Tackles. Matt Kirk missed most of the season, and that was a huge blow to the team. Eddie Steele showed promise, but apparently suffered a very serious leg injury yesterday. Robert Rose looks to have a very bright future. He made an impact in almost every game he played.

Losing Marwan Hage makes judging the Offensive Line difficult. There will be some changes along the Line – I don't think Jason Jimenez will return and Simeon Rottier could also be headed elsewhere – so perhaps some of the issues people have will be addressed.

Even in the areas where the team needs to improve, it's not major changes that need to occur. A few tweaks and they're good to go.

Like all fans, I was disappointed by yesterday's loss. It was not the outcome I hoped for, nor was it the one I expected. When the season kicked off on July 1st, I thought it wouldn't end until November 27th. I felt that this was the team that would end the Grey Cup drought.

It was not to be.

But this season wasn't a complete failure, and I have faith that better times and championships are on the horizon. The Tiger-Cats play good football and have for three years. It is time to take it to the next level.

With but a few small changes, 2012 could be the year everything comes together.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Winnipeg 19, Hamilton 3

What if?

Those will be the two words going through my head over the next seven months.

What if Kevin Glenn didn't get hurt?

What if the Cats recovered at least one of the three Winnipeg fumbles in the first half?

Football is a game of inches, and the Bombers got all the inches this afternoon.

The game was won by Winnipeg Running Back Chris Garrett. For a guy who started the year as a third stringer, his play on Sunday was nothing short of remarkable. Hamilton simply couldn't stop him.

The Hamilton Defense allowed only 19 points (and I'll get to the classless call to score the final six points a little later), which is usually enough to win in the CFL.

But what if Hamilton had been able to scoop one or two or all three of the balls that the Bombers put on the turf? That would have flipped the field and given the Cats great field position. Not picking up those loose balls turned out to be a big difference.

At the end of the day, the Defense did enough, but it was Hamilton's Offense – the Offense that put up an impressive 52 points the week before – that let the Ti-Cats down in this one. Just one field goal in sixty minutes will never be enough to win.

But what if Glenn didn't go down with an injury in the third quarter? Glenn wasn't playing great, but he wasn't playing terribly either. One has to wonder, if Glenn had been able to finish the game if the final score might have been different? It probably wouldn't have been – it looked like it was just Winnipeg's day – but we'll never know.

Before I wrap this up I would like to address one final thing. I heard all week how dirty and low and classless it was for the Tiger-Cats to sign Terence Jeffers-Harris. The Bombers and Paul LaPolice upped that today by scoring a completely meaningless touchdown on the last play of the game. With the clock already at zero, Buck Pierce handed the ball to Chris Garret who scored a complete unnecessary touchdown. That was a low class move by the Blue Bombers. There was no need to score that touchdown; the game was already over (literally). I'm not one to complain about running up the score – this is professional football and it is the other team's job to stop their opponent – but I also don't think scoring when you absolutely have nothing to gain is the right thing to do. I lost a lot of respect for Paul LaPolice for doing that.

But regardless of what the Bombers did on the game's final play, the Tiger-Cats' 2011 season has ended. There is some good to take from 2011; the fact that the team got to the East Division Final is a step in the right direction.

But another promising season ends in disappointment, and that is tough to swallow. It means it will once again be a long winter in Steeltown.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Preview: East Division Final

Despite all the headlines that off-the-field matters are garnering, there is still a game to play on Sunday. A game that I am fairly sure is pretty important.

Sunday's East Division Final is the biggest game for the Tiger-Cats since their last trip to the East Final, which also happened to be their last game against Winnipeg in the playoffs, back in 2001.

The Tiger-Cats are coming off a game where their Offense scored 52 points, but it would be stunning if they matched that output (or even came close) against Winnipeg's. The Winnipeg Defense likes to create turnovers and get sacks, leading the league in both categories during the regular season. It will be of the utmost importance to keep Kevin Glenn upright and for him to avoid turning the ball over.

Winnipeg's Offense is not the type that keeps Defensive Coordinators up at night. The Bombers did not score more than 33 points in a single game all year (they did it twice). In contrast, Hamilton scored 33 points or more on seven occasions in 2011. If the game does become an offensive shootout, the edge goes to the Tiger-Cats.

The Bombers, however, have the edge on Defense, with a ball-hawking Secondary and one of the fiercest pass rushes in the entire CFL. The Cats are no slouches themselves, but Winnipeg has the defensive advantage. A game where points will be at a premium would benefit the Bombers, but not kill the Cats. That said, Hamilton only recorded one victory in 2011 when they scored fewer than 30 points, but never lost when they scored over 30. If the Cats get to the 30-point mark, they should win the game.

It is expected to be cold and windy in Winnipeg on Sunday, so the running game and field position will probably be deciding factors in which team books their flight to Vancouver.

All the off-field stuff has added fuel to the fire that is the burgeoning Hamilton-Winnipeg rivalry, but the game still needs to be played.

And that game should be pretty good.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Smitty's Selections: Division Finals

Just to show you what kind of year it has been in the CFL this season, none of these four teams made their respective Division Finals last season. Edmonton and Winnipeg both missed the playoffs, and BC and Hamilton were both eliminated in the Semi-Final round.

East Division Final: Hamilton at Winnipeg

Raise your hand if you had the Bombers hosting the Cats in the East Final back in June? Yeah, that's what I thought. This is going to be a low-scoring slugfest. The conditions are not going to be conducive to throwing for 500 yards or scoring 50-plus points. This is going to be a ground and pound game, and one where field position will make a difference. Jovon Johnson said he thinks Winnipeg will keep Hamilton to around 20 points. I agree, but unfortunately for the East Division's 2011 Most Outstanding Defensive Player, his team will only score 17.

Winner: Hamilton, 20-17

West Division Final: Edmonton at British Columbia

Since the BC Lions last won the Grey Cup on their home soil, seven teams have hosted their division final with the chance to play at home in the Grey Cup: Edmonton (1997, 2002), BC (1999, 2005), Calgary (2000), Toronto (2007) and Montreal (2008). The Eskimos in 2002 and the Alouettes in 2008 are the only teams to get to the Grey Cup from that group. Tall task for the Leos. They have the team to do it, but something tells me the Eskimos (who have lost twice at BC Place this season) have the juice to pull the upset.

Winner: Edmonton, 31-27

Recap
Hamilton, Edmonton

Season Record: 42-32

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Report: TJH to TigerTown

Earlier today, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers released Receiver Terence Jeffers-Harris because he violated team rules.

That is completely reasonable, but now it looks like it might not have been the smartest move.

Arash Madani of Sportsnet is reporting that Harris left Winnipeg and is now in Hamilton.

This is a pretty unbelievable development. Harris has a lot of talent, but he also comes with one major thing: information.

Harris has been with the Blue Bombers all season, and I have to believe he was at practice this week, so he knows some of the plans Winnipeg has for Sunday's game.

I am truly at a loss for words right now. Hopefully, things clear up a bit in the morning, but as things stand right now, it looks like Jeffers-Harris is going to try to stick it to his old employer.

A Rivalry Renewed

When people think about the rivalries in the CFL they usually talk about Toronto-Hamilton, Calgary-Edmonton or Winnipeg-Saskatchewan. Others have sprung up recently – Hamilton-Montreal was pretty intense this year; Calgary-Saskatchewan had some fire to it because of playoff matchups and the Henry Burris factor – but they pale in comparison to what I would call The Big 3.

But another less celebrated rivalry gets dusted off this weekend in the East Division Final: Winnipeg-Hamilton.

These two teams have a lot of history between them, but most of it is not known to fans under the age of 50. The heyday of the rivalry was the 1950s and 1960s, when the Bombers and Ti-Cats met in the Grey Cup in seven times (1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1965). In total, the Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats have met in eight Grey Cups and four East Division Finals. At one time, these were the two giants of Canadian football.

The rivalry died down for next four decades as Winnipeg bounced from East Division to West Division and back again, and both teams went through some down years. It's hard to cultivate a rivalry when both teams spend as much time in last place as they do in first place. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was the 2001 East Division Final. It is also the last time both teams made the playoffs in the same season until this year.

The rivalry has become a little more heated over the last couple of years, starting when the Tiger-Cats eliminated the Blue Bombers from playoff contention on the final day of the 2009 season. That game will forever be remembered as The Boat Game.

This season saw some back and forth, especially via social media. Dave Stala took exception to the nickname the Blue Bombers gave themselves (yes, I am still boycotting using that ridiculous term) and the wife of Blue Bomber Head Coach Paul LaPolice to exception to Stala's comment. Probably one of the silliest spats in recent memory.

A major key to any great rivalry is fan involvement, and I have noticed a nasty rivalry brewing between the two teams' fans. Just go to the CFL forum and read the back and forth between some of the Tiger-Cat faithful and their Winnipeg counterparts or read what fans of both teams write in comment sections on newspaper articles. The hate for the other just oozes off the page.

But until Sunday, these two teams had not met in a truly meaningful game since that 2001 East Division Final. So while there has been some sniping at one another, it doesn't compare to the time when these two teams battled for league supremacy.

But all that could be changing. With the Toronto Argonauts in another rebuilding mode, and the Montreal Alouettes dynasty looking to be on its last legs, the time is now for the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers to take the clock back to when it was a two-team show.

If these two clubs can continue to meet in playoff matchups over the next few seasons, we could look back on Sunday's East Division Fial as the day a long-dormant rivalry was renewed.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Hickman Named CFL All-Star

The CFL announced their league All-Stars today and the lone Tiger-Cat was Defensive End Justin Hickman.

Hickman was one of the best defensive players in the league this season, most notably tying for the league lead in sacks with 13. His selection was almost guaranteed and is definitely completely deserved.

I was a bit surprised to see none of the other four Tiger-Cats – Linebackers Jamall Johnson and Rey Williams, Receiver Chris Williams and Kicker Justin Medlock – were named. I thought Johnson had an excellent shot at being named, and I would have put him in there ahead of Chip Cox.

I also thought that Chris Williams could be named, but seeing the four Receivers that were selected – Jamel Richardson, Geroy Simon, Fred Stamps and Nik Lewis – it's hard to complain about Williams's omission.

But congratulations to Justin Hickman on his first league All-Star selection.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Johnson, Thigpen Named Players of the Week

After Sunday's thrilling 52-44 overtime shootout win over the Montreal Alouettes, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had two players honoured with Player of the Week recognition.

Jamall Johnson was named the Defensive Player of the Week. Johnson had a monster performance in his return from injury. Johnson had six tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception. Johnson's play directly resulted in 10 Hamilton points.

Marcus Thigpen was named the Special Teams Player of the Week. Thigpen provided great field position for the Tiger-Cat Offense all day Sunday, finishing the game with 171 kickoff return yards on seven returns.

Congratulations to both players.

Instant Classic

Yesterday's thrilling 52-44 overtime win by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats over the Montreal Alouettes was best summed up by Kevin Glenn:
"I would call it a CFL classic."
Truer words were never spoken.

It has taken some time to really digest what just happened on Sunday. I don't mean that from the perspective of a Tiger-Cat fan who is still a little stunned that his team will be playing in the East Division Final, but from the perspective of someone who loves history (sports and otherwise) and has had one question floating around in my brain since Anthony Calvillo's pass to Brandon Whitaker hit the ground to end the game:

Where does this game rank, all-time?

It was a classic, no doubt about it. It was one of those games that people will be talking about years from now. It was that good.

It wasn't the perfect game, but classics never are. There needs to be some intrigue and unpredictability, and that can only come when things don't go exactly as planned. If everything went the way it was supposed to go, Montreal would have won the game with relative ease.

That is what also made yesterday's game so exciting: the underdog won. When you think of past great games, the upset angle plays a big role. Think Boise State over Oklahoma, Appalachian State over Michigan or the New York Giants over the 18-0 New England Patriots. Those game stay in people's mind because they were monumental upsets. While Hamilton over Montreal in the 2011 East Division Semi-Final isn't of the same magnitude, the fact that it was even a slight upset helps it inch up the ladder.

It being a playoff game makes it more meaningful. The game had added value because it was winner goes on, loser goes home. Classic games played for championships are at the top, with playoff games not far behind. When the stakes are the highest, the pressure is the highest and the outcomes have the most meaning.

So where does this game rank? It cannot be first. That spot is (probably) forever reserved for the 1989 Grey Cup between Hamilton and Saskatchewan. If you haven't seen, words do not do it justice. Despite the fact that the Tiger-Cats lost, this is still the best game I have ever seen.

But after the 1989 Grey Cup, I can't think of one game I would say was exceedingly better than the one played between the Tiger-Cats and Alouettes on Sunday. There are others I appreciate:
  • the 2005 Grey Cup between Edmonton and Montreal
  • the Labour Day Classic in 2004
  • the 49ers-Packers Wild Card playoff game in 1998
  • the no punts game between the 49ers and Bills in 1992
  • the 2005 "Bush Push" game between USC and Notre Dame
  • the 2006 Rose Bowl for the BCS National Championship between USC and Texas
I am sure there are others I am forgetting, but those are the ones that first came to mind.

Some of those games meet some of my criteria that should rank them ahead of Sunday's epic battle (namely the '05 Grey Cup and '06 Rose Bowl), so anyone who says those games rank higher will get no argument from me.

But no matter how you slice it, Sunday's game between the Als and Ti-Cats definitely ranks somewhere in the top 5.

I'll be interested to see not only where people think this game belongs in the pantheon of great games, but also what other games people think deserve mention.