2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 2 of 4 – East Division

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For many years, the CFL’s East Division was often referred to as the LEAST Division – especially by yours truly.

But the 2015 season proved to be a season where the word ‘parity’ was tossed around a lot. And for good reason.  Three of the East Division’s four teams finished with better records than three of the West Division’s five teams.  The REDBLACKS had 12 wins, while the Argos and Ti-Cats had 10 wins a piece.  In comparison, only Edmonton and Calgary managed to amass more than 10 wins in 2015.

Weird.  VERY weird.

In terms of competition, I believe it’ll be the REDBLACKS, Ti-Cats and Argos fighting again for East supremacy, with the Alouettes bringing up the rear.  Why?  Let’s find out.

OTTAWA REDBLACKS

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Remember this moment?

Ah, yes.  The 93 yard TD that sent the REDBLACKS to the Grey Cup, where they narrowly lost to the Eskimos by a score of 26-20.

BUT – do you remember the preceding play?  The play where Henry Burris threw the ball right into the hands of a Ti-Cat defender?  And how said Ti-Cat defender managed to drop the ball?

Let’s just say that the REDBLACKS had more than a little bit of luck last year.

However, the REDBLACKS think that because they were so close to winning the Grey Cup last year, there’s a certain matter of UNFINISHED BUSINESS in 2016.

(You are going to be absolutely sick and tired of hearing that phrase by the time the 2016 season finally starts.)

The trouble for the REDBLACKS, though, is that they’re missing a few key pieces that were integral to winning the East Final.

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Two of these guys, namely DEs Justin Capicciotti and Shawn Lemon, are no longer with the REDBLACKS.  Actually, they’re Roughriders.  A third important part of the REDBLACKS’ defensive line, Keith Shologan, bolted for Winnipeg during free agency.

In other words, the REDBLACKS’ defensive line was decimated during the off-season.

On the offensive side of the ball, the one major change was the move of former OC Jason Maas to the Eskimos and the hiring of his replacement Jaime Elizondo – who clearly spells his first name incorrectly.  But that’s really the only change.  The receiving core that featured FOUR 1000+ yard receivers (Chris Williams, Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Ernest Jackson) remains intact, and Hennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnry Burris comes back for yet another season.

He’s only 41 years old now.

Wait.  This is a better picture:

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Look at Smilin’ Hank!  He’s a warrior!  He can play whether rain or shine!

The fact is that Hennnnnnnnnnry is the CFL’s reigning MOP.  He had a career year in 2015, throwing for over 5,000 yards.

So why did the REDBLACKS sign Trevor Harris?

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Well, he was clearly the best QB in the free agent market.  And because, you know, HENNNNNNNNNNNNNRY IS 41 YEARS OLD.

If I were a REDBLACKS fan, though, I’d be concerned about two things: 1) that Hennnnnnry just restructured his contract so that he can play through 2017; and 2) that Hennnnnnnry doesn’t do too well when he’s (a) not playing well; and (b) has competition. See Exhibit “A”:

And if I’m Trevor Harris, I’m wondering if I’m ever going to get to start.  That was the entire reason for signing with the REDBLACKS wasn’t it?  To inherit a team with a solid receiving core and take over when Hennnnnnnnnnry retired after the 2016 season.  Right?

I wonder how the REDBLACKS sold the change of situation to Trevor Harris.

I think this whole Burris-Harris (hey, that rhymes!) situation is a ticking time bomb for the REDBLACKS.  If Hennnnnnnnnnry does not play well at the start of the year, Trevor will no doubt think he deserves a shot, and the fans may not be patient enough to wait for Hennnnnnnnnry to turn it around.  In other words, this season has QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY  written all over it.

I predict that by Week 9, the phrase UNFINISHED BUSINESS will be long forgotten.

Prediction: 2nd in the East

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

To start with, let’s go back to one of my favouritest CFL pictures of all time:

SAD SACK COLLAROS

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Well, the 2015 CFL season brought another incarnation of Sad Sack Collaros:

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In all seriousness, though, 2015 was a tough year for Collaros.  He and his Tiger-Cats looked to be sure bets for a place in the 2015 Grey Cup.  And then this happened:

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And with it went the Tiger-Cats’ Grey Cup hopes for 2015.

And the bad news continues for Collaros and the Tiger-Cats going into 2015.  Collaros’ knee isn’t strong enough yet, so he will start the 2016 season on the bench.  This means that Jeremiah Masoli will start the season as QB1.  He had a bit of a rough start to his CFL career, going a whole 12/18 for 141 yards and 1 TD in the East Semi-Final.  But he played much better in the East Final, throwing for 349 yards, 2 TDs and completing 30/42 passes, arguably outplaying Hennnnnnnnnnnry Burris.

The Ti-Cats’ early season fortunes will rest squarely on Masoli’s shoulders.

One of the weirder parts of the CFL off-season was the number of players who switched allegiances from the Tiger-Cats to the Toronto Argonauts and vice versa.

Like this guy:

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Um, WHAT??

So. Weird.

The question for me, though, is how Owens will be used.  The Tiger-Cats already have the league’s best returner in Brandon Banks.

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I would think Owens would be used more as a receiver to fill the hole left by the departure of Bakari Grant for Calgary, although someone should remind the Ti-Cats that Grant no longer plays for them, as he’s still listed on their roster.  The only problem with this plan, though, is the fact that Bakari Grant is 6’4″, while Owens is a whole 5’8″.  We’ll see how that works out.

In terms of defence, John Chick of the Riders also moved East to the Ti-Cats.

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Super weird.  Hey Kent – 2007 called and it wants to remind you that you haven’t won a Grey Cup since then!

John Chick is an important addition for the Tiger-Cats, as they, too, lost mostof their defensive line to free agency.  Gone are Justin Hickman, Brian Bulcke and Bryan Hall, all of whom moved to – you guessed it – the Argos.  Hopefully Chick can regain his former form, as he looked like he lost a step or two last year.  Or maybe it was the fact that the entire defence around him sucked.  Hard to say.

On the coaching front, the Ti-Cats’, too, lost their OC.  Tommy Condell resigned fairly recently, and Stefan Ptaszek (who?) takes over.  The chances are obviously pretty high that Austin will have some input into Ptaszek’s (who?) offence.  As Austin is no longer the General Manager of the team  – welcome back, Carrot Top, I mean, Eric Tillman, one of the more controversial CFL GMs in recent memory – he will have more time to look after the offensive side of things, like his quarterbacks.

Too bad his best one won’t be starting the season.

Prediction: 3rd in the East

TORONTO ARGONAUTS

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If you’re an Argo fan, you are no doubt doing a lot of praying these days, hoping that QB Ricky Ray’s shoulder has *actually* fully healed and can withstand the rigors of a full 18 game schedule.

It’s been a tough couple of years for Ray, who missed nearly all of the 2015 season and hasn’t been the same since August 2013, when he injured his shoulder.  By all accounts, though, Ray is throwing better than ever after working with famed QB coach Tom House.

The fact that he got rid of this fugly ‘stache likely also helped:

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Seriously: that’s about as bad as that chin scruff that adorns Matt Nichols’ chin.  Yuck.

Anyway, if Ray can return to his pre-2013 self, the Argos might be the team to beat.  Their offence will be a bit of a different with the departure of Chad Owens for the Ti-Cats (I CAN’T get over this).  Owens was definitely Ray’s go-to target, but the return of Canadian Andre Durie, who also has had an injury-plagued couple of years, means Durie will more than likely step into that role.  Hopefully Durie can stay healthy; given his injury history and his age (34), another serious injury could end his career.

It’s good news and bad news on defence.  The bad news: the loss of linebacker Greg Jones to the Riders.  The good news: the pillaging of Hamilton’s defensive line and the additions of Justin Hickman, Brian Bulcke and Bryan Hall.

The real concern for the Argos, though?  SOCIAL MEDIA.

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Okay – I’m not actually serious about that.  The Argos have the CFL’s best social media team BY FAR.  I just wanted to get this picture in here somehow.  Keep it up, Team Argos!

I have to honestly say that I’m rooting for the Argos this year.  I want them to make a go of it at BMO Field and show Toronto that the NFL ain’t where it’s at.  As a result, my prediction is a little biased.

Prediction: 1st in the East

MONTREAL ALOUETTES

By my count, there were at least FIVE different QBs who played for the Alouettes at one point or another in 2015.

Tanner Marsh.  Jonathan Crompton.  Brandon Bridge.  Rakeem Cato.  Dan LeFevor.

It was rather comical, so much so that the only QB that Alouettes’ fans have likely remembered over the last two years is this retired guy:

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Anthony Calvillo continues to be the only constant with the Alouettes, and he’s worked his way up to Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach.

He won’t have much to teach the Alouettes’ starting QB this year.  Kevin Glenn was traded to the Alouettes by the Roughriders in late October 2015, continuing his quest to play for every single team in the CFL during his career.  I hope that the Eskimos sign him to a one game contract just before he retires so that he can complete the circuit.

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Kevin Glenn had a fantastic start to the 2015 in Saskatchewan after coming in and replacing the injured Darian Durant.  He then suffered a torn pectoral muscle, effectively ending his season.  Now in Montreal, he gets a chance to start yet again.

One more thing about Kevin Glenn: he’s 7th in the CFL in terms of all-time passing yards at 46,266.  Next on the list?  Ron Lancaster at 50,535.  HOLY HELL.

The Als’ receiving core is a veteran one, with SJ Green and Nik Lewis returning.  Duron Carter has returned from his short stint in the NFL.  Stefan Logan will be the Alouettes’ running back.  It’s funny to see some of these veterans whose identities seem so enmeshed with their former teams, i.e. Nik Lewis with the Calgary Stampeders, join forces in Montreal.

The Alouettes’ defence will only be helped by the return of linebacker Bear Woods, who sat out most of 2015.  John Bowman likely won’t be demoted this season like he was during the last, taking some of the drama out of the Alouettes’ locker room.  (I STILL don’t understand what Tom Higgins was thinking with that one.)

Talent-wise, the Als aren’t close to their Eastern counterparts.  The reason?  Jim Popp thinks he can be a head coach AND a GM.

Somebody needs to sit down with Jim Popp and give him a reality check.  Here’s his CFL coaching record:

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Jim Popp is not a head coach; he’s a GM.  Until he gets back to doing what he does best – finding players – the Alouettes are going to sit in the East Division’s basement.  Not that I mind.

Prediction: 4th in the East

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