Eguavoen (Sort of ) Impresses

On this long weekend Monday, let’s enjoy Sam Eguavoen’s impression of Chris Jones (even if it needs a little work).

During CFL Week in Winnipeg, Gainey and Jefferson said the funniest incident they had seen or heard involving Jones was the time he caught Eguavoen in the act. Jones also told reporters on a recent CFL-sponsored conference call that he had heard Eguavoen’s impression.

 

“I’ll always go up to the podium (in the auditorium at Mosaic Stadium) before he gets in and I’ll just do my little thing,” Eguavoen said. “Everybody will laugh and I’ll make sure to get back to my seat before 9 o’clock.

 

“For some reason, he got in there early (that day) and I was doing the whole skit. He told me to just go ahead and stay up there.”

 

Luckily for Eguavoen, Jones took the impersonation in good humour and Eguavoen is still with the team.

 

Advertisements

Coach’s Challenge

It’s Year Three of the Chris Jones Plan, and the goal is to make it to the Grey Cup.

DON HEALY / REGINA LEADER-POST

Of course WINNING the Grey Cup remains the ultimate goal.

Last year the Riders came within 23 seconds of the championship game. In one of the odder East Division finals in recent memory, the Riders scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to storm back and take the lead, only to watch future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray pick the Rider defence apart and drive down the field for the winning touchdown.

Being so close – and yet so far – from the ultimate goal hopefully caused the coaching staff to reflect on its 2017 performance, as the same mistakes cannot be made this year if the Riders want to go through the West Division this season.

It all starts with Rider offensive coordinator Steve McAdoo.

I am not a McAdoo fan. (I think I even called for his firing after the East Final.) His schemes lack all imagination, his plays take too long to develop, and he refuses to use a running game to set up the passing game. As far as I’m concerned, there are far better offensive coordinators out there. But McAdoo has a close relationship with Chris Jones, so he’s not going anywhere.

Some will argue that the Riders’ offence sputtered at times in 2017 because of the guy throwing the ball. Kevin Glenn had a solid, if not great, first half of the season. Then he hurt his hand, missed a few games, and wasn’t the same. Brandon Bridge had a few good performances when he came in to jump start a sputtering offence, but by the end of the season, it was fairly clear that neither Glenn nor Bridge were helped by the lack of a running game.

Don’t believe me?  The Riders finished dead last in rushing in 2017.

Source: CFL Game Notes – Game 94, 2017

With Jerome Messam in the fold this season, McAdoo has zero excuses for not running the ball and creating a more balanced attack. Otherwise, teams will key on the Riders’ receivers and take away the passing game, leaving the Riders in second and long situations more often than not.

One thing McAdoo does not have control over is when the quarterbacks get pulled. The 2017 East Final was a lesson in how NOT to manage quarterbacks, as Jones yanked Kevin Glenn, only to put him back in when Bridge struggled. The two quarterbacks took turns throughout the rest of the game, leaving it difficult for either to his rhythm.  Here’s hoping that new quarterbacks coach Steve Walsh will be able to step in and keep Jones from making the same mistakes this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jones’ continual use of two and three man fronts drove many fans crazy last season, as it provided opposing quarterbacks with far too much time to deliver the football.  A revamped defensive line featuring perennial all-star and league sack leader Charleston Hughes opposite Willie Jefferson on the ends, along with Canadian Zach Evans at tackle, should be able to get pressure despite Jones’ tendency to drop linemen into coverage.  Jones is a guy who has a certain system; he finds guys to fit his system rather than tailoring his system to fit the skill sets of his players.  He may now have the players he needs for his system to create the havoc it’s supposed to for offenses.

The other major issue with Jones’ defense was that it was prone to caving in the waning minutes of games, allowing teams to drive the field and score game-winning points.  Remember the Ottawa game where Trevor Harris marched his team down the field for a game-winning field touchdown?  That game foreshadowed what happened in the final minute of the East Division Final.  This propensity is also a symptom of a lack of a pass rush.  In order to compete in the West Division, Jones needs a consistent pass rush in order to keep quarterbacks like Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell guessing.

Chris Jones’ coaching staff has seen little change over the past three years, which is a rare feat in the CFL.  He and his football operations staff have had carte blanche over the past three years to do whatever it takes to make the Riders successful.  This is the year that fans expect results.

A New Era

Photo from Twitter: @randyambrosie

Think bigger“.

That’s the attitude Randy Ambrosie introduced to the CFL when he took over as Commissioner last June.

Even though he hasn’t been on the job for a full year yet, Ambrosie has already left his mark on the CFL – and in a decidedly good way.

Ambrosie has been highly visible over the past year, travelling across the country to promote the CFL and engage with fans – and not just during the season.

This year marked the inaugural Randy’s Road Trip, where Ambrosie visited each CFL city to hold a town hall with die hard fans.  In a quest to make the CFL a truly coast-to-coast league, Ambrosie even ventured out to Halifax, fanning hopes that the Atlantic Schooners – or some such team – might one day be a reality.

What Ambrosie has accomplished in a mere 10 months is rather stunning when compared to the tenures of previous commissioners.  (See: Orridge, Jeffrey.) He kept the CFL in the sports pages for most of the past off-season, by introducing new initiatives such as Randy’s Road Trip and holding CFL meetings in January in Banff.  The release of the 2018 schedule in December 2017 was a surprise Christmas gift to CFL fans, allowing them to dream of summer nights full of football even when it was -40 outside.  Of course, this does not mean that everything went smoothly.

While the NFL window disappeared with the last CBA, apparently some teams have made side deals with players to allow them to be released midway through their first CFL contract to pursue NFL opportunities.  Ambrosie issued a strong statement to reiterate that this practice is offside the CBA.  But then the league had to issue a mea culpa when it came to light that it registered a contract that allowed just that.  This will no doubt be an issue in the coming year since the current CBA expires in May 2019.

Then there was the Johnny Manziel circus.  (DEAR LORD, MAKE IT STOP.) After Ambrosie set down the rules for Manziel to even sign a contract for the 2018 season, CFL pundits engaged in what might be the most annoying game of “Will he or won’t he?” the CFL has ever seen.  The constant speculation even got on the nerves on CFL veterans:

AMEN, GREG.  A-FREAKING-MEN.

But if there is a CFL Commissioner who can handle the Manziel show, it is Ambrosie.  Upon Manziel’s signing with the Tiger-Cats earlier today, he released a statement making it clear that Manziel’s time in the CFL is conditional.  The conditions have not been made public, but I have faith that Ambrosie will have no qualms about putting Manziel in his place if need be.

With the plethora of player movement this past off season, the 2018 CFL season is setting up to be possibly one of the most competitive seasons in CFL history.  This, along with the stabilization of the league’s head office, has put the ball in Ambrosie’s hands.  It’s up to him to take the CFL to the next level.

 

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:

willhill.gif

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

ambrosie.jpg

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.

week 3

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

150.jpg

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:

suck.jpg

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

west_preview

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