2017 Week 3 Recap

Three weeks into the CFL season, the standings in the West Division look just about where I thought they’d be, with the exception of Edmonton being undefeated.

The East Division is surprising on a number of levels.

First, the defending Grey Cup champs are winless through the first three games of the season.  While I thought they might suffer a bit of a Grey Cup hangover, I can’t believe they lost at home to the Argos this week.

The Argos are the other surprise, starting out with a 2-1 record.  They completely surprised the Tiger-Cats in Week 1, while their next game against BC seemed to be a better indicator of where their game was at.  They could not get anything going in the first half on Saturday night, but yet came back to beat Ottawa at home.

Hamilton just looks terrible.  I am surprised how weak its offensive line is, and I expected better from the linebackers.  You can tell that Zach Collaros is constantly hearing footsteps, as he hardly sets his feet before throwing.  And then there are the penalties and complete lack of discipline.  Like here:

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Will Hill is definitely going to be the first player suspended by new CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.  You can’t touch an official.  Ever.  Right, Kent Austin?

While Riders’ HC Chris Jones was on the hot seat last week, this week it’s Tiger-Cats’ Head Coach Kent Austin, whose team’s fortunes have really taken a nosedive since its last Grey Cup appearance in 2014.

On that note, let’s take a look at Hamilton’s performance and the other games from Week 3.

BC at Montreal

What’s with the BC Lions and the fourth quarter?

The Alouettes kept the game close, only down by 3 going into the fourth quarter.  They’d only given up 9 points to the Lions through the first 3 quarters and had a good shot at getting the upset.

But Jeremiah Johnson is tough to stop.

BC really should’ve been up by a TD going into the fourth quarter, but the goal post got in the way:

The Lions’ offence hasn’t exactly been lighting it on fire the first three weeks of the season, but it’s put together long TD drives in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line.  I expect the Lions to start putting together a better offensive effort this coming week when they return home after being out east after two weeks.

As for the Alouettes, they’ve scored 17, 16, and 16 points in each of their first three games.  While you have to admire the consistency on one level, the lack of offensive output is somewhat troubling, especially when you have weapons like Tyrell Sutton and Ernest Jackson.  The Als’ defence is keeping the team in games, but it needs help from Darian Durant and the offence.

BC (2-1) 23, Montreal (1-2) 16

Calgary at Winnipeg

You know the Stamps are having an off night when it takes them SIX TRIES to score from the one yard line.

Luckily for them, Winnipeg lined up offside on the third try, giving them an extra three attempts.

Stamps’ QB Bo Levi Mitchell had an ugly first half, about as ugly as his first half in the 2016 Grey Cup, throwing two interceptions.  The Stamps’ lack of offensive production allowed the Bombers to go up 10-9 at halftime.

Luckily for them, MATTY ICE threw this beauty pick six in Q3:

The Bombers scored ZERO POINTS in the second half.

While most of the Stamps’ offense seemed to take the night off, one guy had a break out game.

Kamar Jorden had two TDs: one on the ground, and one through the air.

Like the Alouettes, the Bombers’ defence held the Stamps in check as long as it could. The Bombers’ offence just couldn’t get going.

The Bombers continue to suck at home.  And against Calgary.  Just like usual.

Calgary (2-0-1) 29, Winnipeg 10 (1-1)

Toronto at Ottawa

Hmmm.

REDBLACKS’ QB Trevor Harris continues to put up stellar numbers, as do his receivers. Harris had 370 yards passing and 2 TDs.  Greg Ellingson had 10 catches for 170 yards and 1 TD.

The defence held the Argos to one point in the first half.

One point.

And yet the REDBLACKS lost 26-25.

Plays like this didn’t help:

It also didn’t help that Ricky Ray threw for 366 yards and SJ Green had 200+ yards.

You have to tackle better, REDBLACKS!

Still, Ottawa had a chance to win the game.  But Drew Tate fumbled the snap on the convert that would’ve tied the game.  Ottawa tried a 59 yard field goal on the last play, but it was wide and Toronto ran the ball out of the end zone.

While the reigning Grey Cup champs remain winless through Week 3, they’ve lost those three games by a combined 4 points.  It’s not time to panic in Ottawa.  Yet.

Toronto (2-1) 26, Ottawa (0-2-1) 25

Hamilton at Saskatchewan

WE’RE NOT THE WORST!  WE’RE NOT THE WORST!

That was, by far, the best defensive effort the Riders have put forth since Chris Jones took over as Head Coach.

Chris Jones also clearly listened to me, as the three-men fronts were at a minimum, and there were a lot less substitutions than usual.  Jones finally let his guys play.  And they rewarded him with a stellar defensive effort, allowing Hamilton only 1 net yard of offence in the first quarter on 206 yards offence in total.  TSN’s game line only has the Riders with one sack, but I can think of at least three.

The Riders’ offence hit its stride this week, with Steve McAdoo finally calling a more imaginative game that featured some actual rushing plays!  The Riders should keep giving the ball to Cameron Marshall, as he breaks tackles more often than not.  He had 71 yards on the ground.

Kevin Glenn had his best game in a while.  He threw for 380 yards and 2 TDs, and also rushed for 2 TDs – even if, according to Milt Stegall, he does run as slow as a turtle.

But in true Kevin Glenn-style, he had to make one bad decision that marred a pretty incredible effort:

This caused me to have this reaction:

KEVIN

Thank goodness KG shrugged it off and went back to work.

Naaman Roosevelt had his best game of the season with 167 yards receiving.  Duron Carter got his first TD of the season, and Bakari Grant continues to make key catches in the red zone.

The Riders’ special teams also deserve kudos for keeping Brandon Banks in check all night, helped by solid directional kicking from Josh Bartel.  Tyler Crapigna nailed both of his field goals, including a 45 yarder.

BTW, what was with the short kick in the 4th quarter, Jonesie?

As for Hamilton, its offensive line had trouble all night with the Riders’ front four.  Zach Collaros looked off all night, except for the one TD drive Hamilton had in the third quarter.

Defensively, Hamilton started some pure rookies in its secondary.  And yes, Hamilton missed Emmanuel Davis and Abdul Kanneh.

But Hamilton’s main problem was discipline: 15 penalties for 187 yards.  These extended drives for the Riders and put Hamilton’s offense in second and long situations most of the night.

Now, on the officiating front, it was a bad night.  Tim Kroeker’s crew is by far the worst in the CFL; his crew seems to throw a flag on each and every play.  If a foul doesn’t affect the play, why throw the flag?  There were flags thrown for both teams that should’ve been picked up.

As for Command Centre, it should’ve picked up Kent Austin trying to get the officials’ attention when he wanted to throw his challenge flag.  And letting the Saunders catch stand in the fourth quarter when the replay clearly showed the ball touching the ground was ridiculous.  While neither play had an impact on the game (Austin’s challenge most likely wouldn’t have been successful, and the Saunders catch didn’t result in points – if I recall correctly), this is the stuff the CFL must get right.

Hamilton (0-2) 20, Saskatchewan (1-2) 37

 

 

 

2017 CFL Picks – Week 3

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It took three minutes for Randy Ambrosie to convince me that he’s the right guy for the job.

On Wednesday, Ambrosie was named the CFL’s 14th Commissioner.  A former offensive lineman who won a Grey Cup with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1993, Ambrosie was also secretary of the CFLPA for two years.  He went on to work in finance, holding various management positions with CIBC, Merrill Lynch, HSBC, and AGF.  He also led MacDougall, MacDougall, and MacTier, Canada’s oldest investment company.

On paper, he appears to be the exact person you’d want running the CFL: a former player who understands the game and the players’ needs, sees the challenges, understands the marketing/finance side of the business, has experience running large organizations, and who loves the CFL and wants to embrace its Canadian-ness.

How did the Board of Governors hire Jeffrey L. Orridge over Ambrosie last time around? Especially when Ambrosie said this:

“I’m part of this game. It’s wrapped into my DNA.”

Ambrosie displayed more passion for the CFL in those two sentences than Orridge did in two years.

Right now, it looks the CFL got it right this time.  Hopefully history will someday say the same.

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Week 3 presents some intriguing match ups, none more so than the battle between the winless Tiger-Cats and the still-smarting-from-that-OT-loss Riders.

BC (1-1) at Montreal (1-1)

It’s a short week for both teams, and BC is on the second leg of its eastern swing, having played in Toronto last Friday.

BC took awhile to get going last week, finally putting it into gear in the second half of the game.  While QB Jonathon Jennings hasn’t exactly been lighting it up (it doesn’t help that he’s been sacked 9 times through the last two weeks), the Lions do lead the league in time of possession and in rushing yards.  Look for them to continue to lean on RB Jeremiah Johnson.

Montreal stayed in the game for the first half of last week’s match up against Edmonton, but it couldn’t stay with the Eskimos once the second half started.  The Alouettes’ offence has looked explosive at times, but can’t seem to keep the momentum going for more than a quarter or so.  The Alouettes’ defence is performing admirably, especially the rebuilt secondary.  But BC’s offence has more weapons and can outgun the Alouettes in a shootout.

Ultimately, though, this is going to come down to a battle of the running backs: Jeremiah Johnson versus Tyrell Sutton.  Whichever team’s RB rushes for the most yards will win.  I think that will be Johnson.

Pick: BC by 8

Calgary (1-0-1) at Winnipeg (1-0)

What’s up with the Stamps?  They tied the REDBLACKS in their Grey Cup rematch and barely eked out a win last week.

Whatever the issue is, you can’t blame the offence, which has put up 30+ points per game thus far.  The defence, though, has given up 30+ points per game.  This week we should get somewhat of an answer to the question of whether Ottawa is that good or if the Stamps’ defence is having trouble.

Matt Nichols will not have as much time to throw as his did last week – I can guarantee you that much.  Calgary’s secondary is a lot stronger and more experienced than the Riders’, so don’t expect Weston Dressler to be as open as he was last week, either.

On last week’s broadcast, Glen Suitor could not stop talking about how solid the Bombers’ roster is.  This will be a good early season test, one that I think they will fail. (Yes, that’s kind of harsh.)

Pick: Calgary by 9

Toronto (1-1) at Ottawa (0-1-1)

In Week 1, the Argos looked very sharp, but bumbled along in Week 2, looking quite ordinary.

For two weeks straight, the REDBLACKS came close, but not close enough, to beating the Stamps.

The key match up in this game is Ricky Ray versus Trevor Harris.  If Ray can get back to the success he had in Week 1, this should be a good game.  If not, the REDBLACKS could dominate.

I think the Argos will put forward a better effort on Friday night, but the REDBLACKS will be looking for their first win of the season – at home – which makes them the favourite in my books.

Pick: Ottawa by 5

Hamilton (0-1) at Saskatchewan (0-2)

Dear football gods: Please don’t put Tyler Crapigna in a potential game-winning position this week.  The guy deserves a break.

There was more upheaval in Riderville this week with the release of veteran Jonathan Newsome due to having different ‘views’ than Head Coach Chris Jones.  I keep hoping that the different ‘views’ involved Newsome telling Jones that his defence sucks and that playing a three-man front for most of the game is stupid.

I would think the pressure is on in Hamilton this year, as many prognosticators have picked the Tiger-Cats to finish first in the east.  But these are the Tiger-Cats, and they rarely perform as expected.

The pressure is also on Jones to get a win this week, as the fan base is getting more than a little bit restless.

The Tiger-Cats’ offence showed poorly in Week 1, while the Riders’ offence showed progress between Week 1 and Week 2.  The question is which defence can get on track. The Riders’ defence had a perfect first quarter against the Bombers, but then imploded, giving up 21 points in 11 minutes.  The Tiger-Cats had no answer for Ricky Ray in Week 1, but Kevin Glenn ain’t no Ricky Ray.

I’m picking the Riders, as they are a bit more desperate for a win going into their bye week.  Having written this, make sure you pick Hamilton for the win; they always win when I say they won’t.

Pick: Riders by 3

Week 2 Recap

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I’m a big believer in having the CFL season open on Canada Day each and every year. IMHO, a truly Canadian league should identify itself with its country’s birthday.  It could be an annual tradition that the CFL can build on each and every year.

But what do I know?

It was nice to see each team decked out in Canada 150 shirts this past weekend that celebrated its hometown or adopted legends.  George Reed isn’t a Canadian by birth, but he has adopted Canada as his home.  As has Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons.  And Henry Burris.

Just in time for Canada 150, Chris O’Leary wrote a great article about Americans CFL players who’ve adopted Canada as their home.  You can check it out here.

Week 2 got off to a great start with another match up between the Stamps and REDBLACKS, then featured a rather ho-hum Friday night doubleheader and ended with the Riders somehow managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ottawa at Calgary

Like last year, REDBLACKS’ QB Trevor Harris is starting off the season with a couple of strong starts. He threw for 425 yards, and three of his receivers had 100+ yard games (Ellingson, Sinopoli, and Spencer).

Yet his team remains winless.

The biggest question that comes out of this game for me is whether both of these teams’ defences suck or if their offences are just that good.

I am impressed with the REDBLACKS.  I assumed they’d suffer a post-Grey Cup hangover, especially with Henry Burris retiring.  So far they haven’t lost a beat, and have played the Stamps down to the wire each week.

As for the Stampeders, I expected them to hammer the REDBLACKS both weeks. Regardless, it does my Rider heart good to see the Stamps at 1-0-1, and not 2-0 through Week 2.

Calgary 43 (1-0-1), Ottawa 39 (0-1-1)

BC at Toronto

This game was booooooooring.  It took forever for one team to take control of the game, which ended up being BC.

The high-flying offence the Argos sported a week ago was nowhere to be found, although Ricky Ray still managed to throw for 327 yards.  Rider castoff Armanti Edwards had a huge game, with 133 yards and a touchdown.

Are the Argos taking a page from Chris Jones’ playbook and dispensing with any sort of a running game?

Jeremiah Johnson had a good night on the ground for the Lions, with 70 rushing yards and a TD.  Bryan Burnham was Jonathon Jennings’ favourite target, with 118 yards receiving.

This was not a clean game; there were a lot of turnovers.  The Lions had an interception and a fumble, while Argos also had an interception but managed two fumbles.

BC 28 (1-1), Toronto 15 (1-1)

Montreal at Edmonton

It’s only Week 2, but the Esks have lost two starters to season-ending injuries.  LB JC Sherritt ruptured his Achilles tendon last week, while in Week 2 RB John White tore his ACL and will be out for the remainder of the season.

Lucky for the Eskimos, they were playing the Alouettes, who got off to a 10-0 start in the first quarter and had trouble getting anything going after that.

Darian Durant did not have a great game, throwing for only 166 yards.  The Alouettes’ biggest offensive weapon was Tyrell Sutton, who posted 88 rushing yards.

After a few early drops, the Eskimos’ receivers finally got in gear in the second half. Adarius Bowman amassed 117 receiving yards and a TD.  Travon Van (who?) filled in admirably after John White went down and added 50 rushing yards to the Eskimos’ offensive output.

Last week’s standout receivers, Brandon Zylstra and D’Haquille Williams, were both quiet, only having 17 receiving yards between them.

Als’ PK Boris Bede is off to a much better start in 2017, making 5/6 field goals thus far, including going 4/4 in the loss to the Esks.

Montreal 19 (1-1), Edmonton 23 (2-0)

Winnipeg at Saskatchewan

Damn you, Riders.  Just like last week, you gave me hope and then you took it away and it made me feel like this:

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BTW, Tyler Crapigna has not had a good couple of weeks.

After getting out to a 10-0 start and playing a perfect defensive game in the first quarter, the Riders’ defense fell apart, giving up 21 points in approximately 11 minutes in the third quarter.  Weston Dressler had the Riders’ secondary chasing him all night long, and he would’ve had three TDs if Matt Nichols hadn’t overthrown him in the end zone.

Despite throwing two interceptions, both of which I would put under the category of ‘inexplicable’, Kevin Glenn managed to get the Riders back into the game into the fourth quarter and send the game into OT.  But in class Kevin Glenn-style, he screwed up when the team had chances to win the game.

Nic Demski continued his great play, picking up 82 receiving yards and a beauty TD where he got in behind coverage and was all alone.

Sadly, the Riders lost Caleb Holley to a shoulder injury.  He’ll likely be out for some time.

Winnipeg 43 (1-0), Saskatchewan 40 (0-2) (OT)

2017 CFL Season Preview: Part III

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It is going to be a GREAT year in the West Division.

The Stampeders are going to be seeking #redemption all season long to make up for their 2016 Grey Cup loss.

The Lions are nipping at the Stampeders’ heels, as Jonathon Jennings should only be better with one full season under his belt.

Mike Reilly will keep the Eskimos competitive.

The Bombers will be looking to build on last season’s third place finish in the West Division.

The Riders will try and play spoiler as they try to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but it will be an uphill climb.

Let’s preview what should be a stellar West Division.  Ready? BREAK!

Continue reading

2017 CFL Season Preview: Part II

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Last year at this time, Henry Burris was the starting QB of the Ottawa REDBLACKS, with Trevor Harris nipping at his heels.  Jim Popp was still trying to prove that he could be both a coach and a GM.  Scott Milanovich and Jim Barker were in charge of the Argos during their first season away from Rogers Place.  Kent Austin was grumpy and unshaven.

To begin the 2017 season, Trevor Harris takes over as the REDBLACKS’ starting QB from the retired Henry Burris.  Jim Popp has reunited with Marc Trestman to try to turn the good ship Argo around.  Jacques Chapdelaine loses the ‘interim’ tag and takes over as Head Coach of the Alouettes.  Kent Austin is still grumpy and unshaven.

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Continue reading

2017 CFL Season Preview: Part I

THIS.

It is time to BRING IT IN and BRING IT ON.  The 2017 CFL season is nearly here!

(BTW, I think we can all agree that this is one of the best ads for the CFL in YEARS.)

While the 2016 CFL season was an exercise in frustration for this Rider fan, even I have to admit that the season ended on a high note with a Grey Cup game that will go down as one of the most exciting in its 104 year history.

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During the long off season, the winds of change blew through the CFL as they always do, but with a bit more force than usual.  Let’s take a look at some of the major off season events that will significantly shape the 2017 season.

1. HENRY BURRIS MAKES THE RIGHT CALL

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I know: how could I put TWO pictures of Henry Burris up when he’s RETIRED?!  And especially when he’s NOT my favourite person to talk about?

Well, he’s one of the biggest personalities the CFL has had over the past fifteen years, and his retirement leaves a big hole not only for the REDBLACKS at QB, but for the league as a whole.  Smilin’ Hank was a player fans loved to hate, and he relished the attention.  He was a little Trump-like in that he was pretty touchy about negative media coverage, but you always knew what he was thinking and he was clearly passionate about the CFL game.

Who could forget his epic meltdown last year where he went off on TSN last year?

But Burris did most of his talking where it mattered most: on the field.  While he retires with only two three Grey Cups, he was always a threat.  Except when he got rattled early on in games, like he did in this memorable Grey Cup game.

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Memories…

Seriously, though, his statistics speak for themselves.  He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he deserves it.  Now one more time:

HEEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNNNNRRRRRRRRRRRRRYYYYYYYYYYY!!

2. ‘THE GHOST’ DISAPPEARS FOR GOOD

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Twenty years from now, most CFL fans will likely have forgotten Jeffrey L. Orridge’s brief and somewhat tumultuous two years as Commissioner.  While no one seemed happy with the job he was doing, it came as a surprise when on April 12th he and the Board of Governors released statements stating that Orridge’s last day on the job will be June 30th.

Orridge remains an enigma; no one really knew what his focus was.  He moved the CFL forward in terms of social media use, signing a deal with Draft Kings that finally moved the CFL into fantasy football – a place it should’ve been in at least a decade ago – and embracing the LGBTQ community through the You Can Play campaign and other events.

The trouble with Orridge, though, was that it was clear he didn’t care to get involved in improving the game.  When he named former CFL referee Glen Johnson as VP of Officiating, Orridge signalled that he was leaving the state of the game itself to Johnson. In my humble opinion, this was a rather big mistake.  Under Johnson’s tenure, the CFL’s officiating has become far less consistent, video replay use has skyrocketed, the game has slowed down, and no TD can be celebrated until the next kickoff, i.e. until the possibility that a team can throw a challenge flag has been exhausted.

One area in which Orridge stood out from his predecessors was in his wielding of fines.  I do not recall a team being fined as often and as harshly as the Roughriders were last year.  (And it appears that they more than deserved it.)  But it wasn’t just the Roughriders that were hit hard in the pocketbook.  The Eskimos were hit with hefty fines after HC Jason Maas refused to wear a live microphone during a scheduled live mic game. Hamilton HC Kent Austin was suspended for a game and fined $10,000 for making contact with an on-field official.  The Riders and Lions were fined in the off season for various bylaw infractions.

While the CFL likes to think of itself as one of North America’s ‘big’ leagues, most times it still operates like a small town, where the Board of Governors is effectively a town council made of people whose sole motivation is to protect their own turf rather than think about the greater good of the league as a whole.  In levying stiff fines, Orridge tried to wrest some power away from the Board of Governors, a move that should have been supported.  For too long, the rules and bylaws have been more suggestions than rules. Orridge tried to create some consistency – at least for off field violations.  On field infractions are another story.

But the biggest failure of Orridge’s short Commissionership was his handling of the 2016 Grey Cup in Toronto.  While he inherited the mess left by the previous Toronto ownership group, the transition to BMO Field should have been a boon for the troubled franchise.  And it may well yet be.  But handing the league’s premiere event to Toronto in its first year at BMO Field was a huge mistake.  Argos’ attendance dropped over the course of the season, and by the time Grey Cup rolled around, Pizza Pizza was offering two Grey Cup tickets, a pizza, chicken wings and a couple of cans of pop for $29.99, and Bell employees were given free tickets to make sure the venue looked full on TV.

That all being said, Orridge leaves one valuable new tradition behind.  The inaugural Mark’s CFL Week was held in Regina in March and was by and large a huge success. Over the course of the week, more than 50 CFL players stopped in to sign autographs, hang out with fans, take part in Q & As, and promote the league.  CFL players took over the local airwaves all week, with Nik Lewis’ stint on CTV Morning Live Regina being a highlight. The most interesting part of the week, though, was the ‘You Make the Call’ evening hosted by Johnson, where fans ran through 14 plays from the 2016 season and Johnson explained what the correct call was.  (More on that in a later post.)

It’ll be interesting to see how the selection process unfolds for a new Commissioner.  The Board of Governors has not released any time line, so the league could potentially operate for the entire 2017 season without a Commissioner.  A number of notable names have been put forward for the job, including the aforementioned Johnson (yuck), former player and Canadian college draft guru Duane Forde, to Glen Suitor and even Canada’s no longer favourite Premier, Brad Wall.  After selecting Orridge, a no name in CFL circles, the league will likely go with a more known commodity this time around.

Just PLEASE don’t let it be Jock Climie.  He’s insufferable enough already.

3. FLAG FEST WILL CONTINUE

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The good news: there are FAR less rule changes this season than in seasons past.

The bad news: Glen Johnson is still in charge of officiating and he thinks everything is AWESOME.

Watching a CFL game last season was a frustrating experience – even when the Riders weren’t playing.  Flag after flag was thrown, including a lot of challenges for pass interference for interference that took place twenty yards from the *actual play*. Challenges took FOREVER, and even then, Command Centre couldn’t get calls right.

Remember this?

I saw and still see a fumble.  Everyone watching saw a fumble, including CFL players and coaches. Come on – even Rod Black had the right call! Social media exploded.

Of course the CFL stood by the call.  I guess it was #fakenews, eh?

(I hate myself a little bit for using that hashtag.)

We will talk more about CFL refereeing in the weeks to come, as I gleaned a lot of information from the refereeing session at Mark’s CFL Week, but here are a couple of the changes the CFL is making to its rules to try and improve game flow, clamp down on ridiculous challenges, and keep the focus on player safety this season:

  • No more freebie challenges.  As implemented half-way through the 2016 season, each challenge will be subject to a loss of a time out if not successful.  This significantly cut down on fishing expeditions in the latter part of the season, as coaches were usually using their first challenges on ticky tacky calls to negate big plays.
  • The league will work with TSN to have challenges take place during commercial breaks to cut down on delays.  I just hope this doesn’t mean that fans won’t get to see all of the available angles on replay.
  • Unnecessary roughness on a QB will not be reviewable, but roughing the passer will remain reviewable.  So grazing the QB’s helmet during a tackle will no be reviewable.  I think.
  • Low blocks on kicking plays will be punishable by a 15 yard penalty, up from 10 yards.
  • Command Centre will now be able to call penalties.  Johnson backed away from this blatant of a statement during the ‘You Make the Call’ session in March, but his interview says something else.

I am always skeptical of anything the CFL does to improve the game or its officiating. After two straight years of major rule changes, coaches, players and fans are likely more than relieved that the CFL decided not to do any further tinkering.  (I certainly am.) The league needs to leave the rules alone for a couple of seasons, as it’s hard to determine if these new rules are helping the game if they change on a yearly basis.

Despite what the CFL thinks, innovation isn’t always the answer, and it doesn’t always result in a better on field product.  But I guess that’s the new Commissioner’s problem.

4. LATE OFF SEASON GM AND COACHING CHANGES

During Grey Cup week, the league places a moratorium on big announcements, such as coach and GM hirings and firings.  As a result, December is usually when most coaches find out that their services are no longer needed.  Early January generally brings hiring announcements, as new coaches and GMs want time to prepare for CFL free agency in February.

Yet there’s the case of this man.

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This man gave up a first round draft pick for Drew Willy.  FOR DREW WILLY.

He should’ve been fired for that move alone.

Yet the Argos’ brass waited until late January to give Jim Barker his pink slip.

The Argos went into free agency without a GM or a Head Coach, as former HC Scott Milanovich left the team and took a job in the NFL not long before Barker was fired.

A month later, the Argos hired former NFL and Alouettes HC Marc Trestman and his trusty GM sidekick, Jim Popp, who overstayed his welcome in Montreal.

Trestman and Popp were hired on February 28, 2017, nearly a month into CFL free agency.

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Good luck, guys!

The Barker foul up, though, was a clear symptom of the ineptitude at the top of the Argo franchise.

In Edmonton, it’s all infighting for power and control.

Despite winning a Grey Cup in 2015 and getting to the Eastern Final (yes, the EASTERN Final) last season, Ed Hervey was unceremoniously dumped by the Eskimos in early April.

APRIL.  Two months after CFL free agency and only a few weeks away from training camp.

The reasons?

Yes we did win a Grey Cup but it’s not enough,” CEO Len Rhodes said. “We’ve got to approach this differently.

“After winning the Grey Cup we didn’t fill the stands. Fan access, media access, season seat-holder access, sponsorship access and showcasing our athletes are all important areas allowing us to grow our fanbase and ultimately the success of the Edmonton Eskimos football club.”

But according to others, the firing was the result of a power struggle between Hervey and Rhodes, with Rhodes ultimately winning.

Given what happened to Hervey, new GM Brock Sunderland had better watch his back.

What happened in Toronto and Edmonton this off season is not likely without precedent, but it is certainly not standard operating practice for CFL teams.  But if 2017 has taught me anything so far, it’s that normal doesn’t mean much anymore.

5. DARIAN GOES EAST

I used to think that Eric Tillman was pretty ballsy for trading Kerry Joseph after the Riders won the 2007 Grey Cup.  Lucky for him, he had a young Darian Durant waiting in the wings.

Tillman pulled the trigger on another huge QB trade in December 2011 when he sent Ricky Ray to the Argos in exchange for Steven Jyles (LOL) and Grant Shaw.  Ironically, Tillman turned to Kerry Joseph to lead the Eskimos after Ray’s departure.  I think Tillman was blinded by his own hubris that time.

Chris Jones has no such excuse.  What he did was just stupid.

January 13, 2017 will forever be remembered in Riderville as the day Darian Durant, one of the best QBs the Riders ever had, was punted East.

It was a sad, sad day.  My work colleagues were concerned about my mental state, and rightfully so.

January 20, 2017 was even worse.  Not only was that tool Trump inaugurated, but dear Darian was introduced as an Alouette and the first pictures of him in anything other than green and white were released.

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That was a tough weekend, the only joy being Sean Spicer’s ridiculous first press conference about the size of the inaugural crowds.

Few football players get the opportunity to spend their entire career with one team.  The economics, short careers, and the ‘must win now’ mentality make it nearly impossible. But the stars seemed aligned to allow Darian to be a Roughrider for life.

Until Chris Jones came along and tore out the hearts of Rider fans everywhere.

I understand why Jones did what he did.  I get the salary issues, the injury history, Darian’s age, and so on.  But what I don’t understand is why Jones went and signed a 37 year old journeyman QB and a 34 year old former college star who’s never played a down in the CFL and hasn’t played pro football in a couple of years.

Eventually we will spend an entire post hashing this out.

Besides the fact that this is my blog and I get to decide what makes the cut, the Durant trade makes the list of major off season events because he immediately makes the Alouettes better, upending the dynamics of the Eastern Division.  He was also seemingly one of the few ‘untouchable’ players left in the league – players who wouldn’t get traded no matter what.

So much for that.

NEXT UP: A preview of the Eastern Division.  Darian might get a mention or two.

February Frenzy

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Here we are, almost at March, edging closer to the 2017 CFL season.

I gave up on the 2016 CFL season in last August.  At that point, the Riders were 1 and a billion, their chances of making the playoffs basically nil.  For the second straight year, the Riders weren’t really worth watching.

And yet I still care.

I just about divorced the Riders once and for all on January 13, 2017, when they traded Darian Durant, my love in an alternate universe, to the Montreal Alouettes.

To KAVIS REED’S Alouettes.

Oh yeah.  Kavis Reed is now the Alouettes’ GM.  And Jacques Chapdelaine is their coach.

And then Kevin Glenn returned for his third tour of duty with the Green and White.

It feels like some weird reenactment of Groundhog Day.

Then there are the *constant* rumours that Rider Head Coach Chris Jones is teeing up a trade for Eskimos’ QB prospect James Franklin.  Add the head-scratching signings of receivers retreads Chad Owens and Bakari Grant and the recent retirement of long-time OL Chris Best and the offseason is not assuage Riders fans’ fears.

But last year at this time Rider fans were swooning over Chris Jones’ free agent signings: Shawn Lemon, Justin Capicciotti and…I can’t remember anymore.  That’s how much of an impact those signings made.

Thus far in 2017, with the exception of the signing of OT Derick Dennis, the reaction to the Riders’ free agent signings has been either ‘meh’ or ‘huh?’

But after the past couple of seasons, I have to think that lower expectations are better where the Riders are concerned.

Some other CFL notes, quotes, and jokes:

  • While the Riders have seemed like the CFL’s best hot mess given the constant media coverage, that title actually belong to the lowly Toronto Argonauts, who have managed to go through nearly two weeks of CFL free agency without a Head Coach OR GM.  This makes me question the intelligence of those players who’ve actually SIGNED with the Argos over the past couple of weeks.  But do not fear: in true Argos’ fashion, the Argos have gone south and by all accounts will be bringing back the dynamic duo of Mark Trestman and Jim Popp as Head Coach and GM.  This is good for the Argos, as their first season at BMO Field was a certified embarrassment, but there’ll be quite the mess to clean up.  If Ricky Ray stays healthy, though, look out; Trestman did wonders for Anthony Calvillo in his last years in the CFL.  As for Drew Willy, he might be the unluckiest guy in the CFL.
  • If the Riders win the 2009 Grey Cup, Darian Durant is inarguably the greatest QB in franchise history.  So who is it?  I say Kent Austin given that he won as a QB in 1989 and then a coach in 2007.  He was instrumental in getting Kerry Joseph to guide the Riders to the 2007 Grey Cup.
  • I continue to be amused by Kavis Reed’s ability to fail successfully, i.e. get promoted even though he’s not been successful in his previous role.  It’s widely rumoured that the Alouettes have major salary cap problems, so his job won’t be easy.  Especially given his inability to count (see: 2009 Grey Cup).
  • Drew Tate was traded to the REDBLACKS.  He was worth a fifth round conditional pick in the 2018 CFL draft.  For some reason this makes me feel better about myself.
  • I’m surprised the REDBLACKS didn’t hold on to Ernest Jackson.  He only scored the franchise’s first Grey Cup winning TD.
  • Meanwhile, Grey Cup winning QB Henry Burris is beginning his post-retirement broadcasting career by joining CTV Ottawa’s Morning Live show.  I would smash my TV if I had to see Smilin’ Hank every weekday morning.
  • The Tiger-Cats have been awfully quiet this offseason.  Their biggest news has been not re-signing SB Andy Fantuz.  He still remains a free agent.
  • MATTY ICE re-signed in BomberLand not long after the Riders traded Darian Durant. What I learned watching the SuperBowl, though, was that Matt Ryan is THE ORIGINAL MATTY ICE.  I always knew Matt Nichols was a fraud.
  • There hasn’t been a lot of noise out of Calgary, Edmonton or BC either, except for the move of popular players to the NFL.  The Esks’ leading receiver, Derrel Walker, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lions LB Adam Bighill is now with the New Orleans Saints.
  • This Vince Young talk is ridiculous.  If the Riders sign him, they’ll look pretty hypocritical given that Darian Durant is roughly the same age.  Rider fans should focus on the loss of Chris Best.  The Riders’ OL has a huge hole at right guard now.  The Riders should focus on drafting more OLmen in May’s CFL draft.

Next up for the CFL is the inaugural CFL Week held in Regina from March 21-26.  Seeing Darian Durant wearing an Alouettes’ jersey will suck.  A lot.