2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 3 of 4 – West Division

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It still irritates me that the Blue Bombers are in the West Division.

But that really has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

We’re here to discuss what should be a great race in the CFL’s West Division this year.  The Division’s bottom three teams last year, i.e. Winnipeg, B.C. and Saskatchewan, have all made moves that *should* make them more competitive, setting the stage for what could be an excellent playoff spot battle after Labour Day.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

bo knows

The Stamps are so freaking boring.

Smooth transition from John Hufnagel to Dave Dickinson, former Offensive Coordinator, as Head Coach.  Check.

Have All-Star QB Bo Levi Mitchell return as starting QB, backed up by Drew Tate.  Check.

Lock up Jerome Messam as the Stamps’ new ratio-busting running back after the retirement of Jon Cornish. Check.

Only three mildly exciting events occurred during the Stamps’ off season:

  • LB Keon Raymond and Juwan Simpson were released, with Raymond subsequently signed by the Argos;
  • Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler moved back to the Argos; and
  • Eric Rogers left for the NFL.

(Side note: what’s with everyone moving to the Argos?)

Rogers moving to the NFL wasn’t really a surprise, though, given the season he had.

The Stamps will be good again, as usual.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORING.

Prediction: 1st in the West

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

awesome!.jpg

BURN!

If the Stampeders had a boring off season, the Eskimos’ started in dramatic style with the quick move by former Head Coach Chris Jones to the Roughriders, along with nearly his entire coaching staff.

Think Eskimo fans were a little ticked off?

chris jones

Oh the joys of Wikipedia.  And what about Eskimo players?

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While I concur that Rod Pedersen may not know a lot about football, the bitterness in QB Mike Reilly’s response was telling.

Especially since Reilly and the Eskimos are the reigning Grey Cup champs.

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The Eskimos will definitely have a chip on their collective shoulder going into 2015, as they’ll be desperate to prove that it wasn’t Chris Jones that made them Grey Cup champs.

Obviously the Eskimos’ coaching staff is completely different than the one that led the Eskimos to the Grey Cup a mere seven months ago.

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Jason Maas, his ears and that godawful soulpatch return to the team that gave him his start in the CFL, but this time as a Head Coach.  Maas’ rise to the top of the coaching ladder has been rather swift given that he’s only been coaching for a couple of years.

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On defence, Mike Benevides – along with his closet full of hoodies – returns to the sidelines as the Eskimos’ Defensive Coordinator.  (Side note: the new adidas CFL gear is super sharp.)

Mike Gibson becomes the Offensive Coordinator, Barron Miles and Corey McDiarmid move over from the Roughriders, and Casey Creehan, who shouldn’t be a Defensive Coordinator anywhere ever again, will coach the defensive line.

Eskimos fans were concerned that some of their prized free agents would walk across the Alberta/Saskatchewan border and follow Chris Jones.  Instead, Eskimos’ GM Ed Hervey managed to lock up DT Almondo Sewell and LB JC Sherritt.  The Eskimos really only lost two significant players: LB Otha Foster and returner Kendial Lawrence, both of whom actually did move to Saskatchewan.

As such, the 2015 league-leading defense remains essentially intact, except for the departure of Foster and DB Aaron Grymes, who went to the NFL. The Eskimos’ receiving duo of Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman return, with the addition of Chris Getzlaf.  Yes.  Chris Getzlaf is an Eskimo.

That’s so weird to write.

To get through the coaching change, though, the Eskimos will need leadership.  And for that, they’ll rely on their QB, Mike Reilly.

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If Reilly and his teammates can’t get past the bitterness of Jones’ move to the Riders, I expect their play to suffer.  If they let it fuel them, though, the Eskimos could be scary.

Prediction: 2nd in the West

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

First of all: WTF?

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Second: I would just like to prove once and for all that I’m not the only one who refers to Matt Nichols as MATTY ICE.

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Third: BUCK PIERCE IS BACK!

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Don’t worry.  He won’t be playing; he’ll be safe on the sidelines.  Or so we hope.

But back to my first point: WTF?

dressler

Labour Day has a whole new meaning now!

The Bombers made some solid moves in the off season, hoping to make some noise in the CFL’s West Division and challenge for a playoff spot.  Paul LaPolice left his cushy TV job with TSN to return to the sidelines as Offensive Coordinator.  Honestly, though, I think he was tired of trying to have *actual* conversations with the CFL on TSN panel.  Read into that what you will.

Canadian RB Andrew Harris joins the the Blue Bombers after spending the last number of years in BC.  Keith Shologan joins the defensive line, adding some needed power in the middle.  And Justin Medlock moves west, as the Bombers parted ways with inconsistent placekicker Liram Hajrullahu.

One thing the Bombers will need, though, is for starting QB Drew Willy to stay healthy. The Bombers were really hurt by the lack of a second-string QB until MATTY ICE came along mid-season.

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You have to hand it to the Bombers, though; they’re a positive bunch:

“We added some really good pieces leadership-wise and with the talent,” said quarterback Drew Willy. “It’s a great blend. Andrew Harris, Weston Dressler… these guys have been all-stars and Grey Cup champs. They’re not worried about themselves, they’re more worried about the team. They want everything to run smoothly. They know how things should look, so they’re not afraid to hold guys accountable. That’s awesome. You know, we have brought in the pieces and brought in the coaches and I think everything is meant for us to win this year. I really believe that. I know a lot of people aren’t picking us, but that’s fine. A lot of times the underdogs do come through.”

And they’re off to a great start:

Winnipeg Blue Bombers opened their main training camp on Sunday in front of a few hundred fans at Investors Group Field and head coach Mike O’Shea couldn’t have been happier. “They practiced very professionally…”

Bookmark it, friends.  The Blue Bombers believe they’re going to the 2016 Grey Cup!

In reality, though:

1990

WORD.

Prediction: 3rd in the West

BC LIONS

hellowaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllyyyyyyyy

“Hello?  It’s me.  I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.
To go over everything…”

(If you don’t get the Adele reference here, you and I can’t be friends.)

This is the conversation I imagine QB Jonathon Jennings had with GM Wally Buono after the failed Jeff Tedford experiment.  Tedford was a rather bad CFL head coach, something I thought could potentially happen.  Rather than wait to be fired, though, Tedford resigned.

Before Tedford was Mike Benevides, he of the closet full of hoodies I mentioned earlier. He at least made it a full two seasons before being turfed.

So after Tedford’s resignation, Wally looked around and thought:

“I’m the CFL’s all-time winning-est coach and I’m a freaking Member of the Order of Canada.  Why the hell don’t I just coach?”

And so Wally returns to the sidelines after a three year absence.

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I have to say that I’ve missed him.  Aside from yelling “Hennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnry”, yelling “Get off the field, Wally!” is a Rider fan’s most treasured past time.

Poor Wally. He’s coming into a bit of a salvage job operation.

I mean, really.  His players are working at McDonald’s.

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He’s sunk to having Marcel Bellefeuille on his coaching staff.

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Even dogs are ashamed to be Lions fans these days.

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His players were friends with Rob Ford.

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And he’s gone so far as to hire a Mark Trestman look-alike to make himself feel better about his coaching staff!

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FYI: that’s Dan Dorazio.  Apparently he was a coach with the Riders last year.  I do not recall this at all, making me think that 2015 may have just been a bad dream.

Anyway, Wally appears rather content with his staff.  Khari Jones returns as Offensive Coordinator, and Mark Washington as Defensive Coordinator.

As for players, the Lions have decided to go with young Jonathan Jennings as their starter, while Travis Lulay will start the season as a back-up.

Jonathan Jennings might have been a Rider had George Cortez actually been PAYING ATTENTION at the Riders’ 2014 mini-camp.

3 – BIG JON:  B.C. quarterback Jonathan Jennings is another factor worth examining.  Much was made over the weekend of the fact the Riders had Jennings in their 2014 Florida minicamp but declined to offer him a contract, electing to go instead with Tino Sunseri and Seth Doege as the back-ups to Darian Durant.  Current Riders GM Jeremy O’Day was quick to point out on Saturday’s pregame show that Jennings was never “truly a Roughrider” as he was never under contract, but had simply accepted an invitation to tryout.

It’s almost impossible to believe Lions offensive coordinator George Cortez’s assertion that he doesn’t remember Jennings from that Florida camp.  George was with the Riders back then but told the Vancouver Sun’s Mike Beamish on Friday that he doesn’t recall Jennings.  After Saturday’s game, Cortez stood by that statement.

It’s tough to believe because George is as cerebral of a coach as they come, and it’s hard to fathom he wouldn’t have some recollection of Jennings’ performance.  Bob Dyce said he remembers a little of Jennings, however as Special Teams Coordinator, he was more focused on auditioning punters and long-snappers.

My first brush with Jennings was in the Minneapolis airport as we were boarding a connecting flight to Tampa Bay in August of 2014.  He was connecting out of Michigan and, noticing that same Roughriders coat I was wearing, he came up and introduced himself.  The Saginaw Valley State product struck me as a mature young man, with the build of a linebacker or taller defensive back.

For a report on how Jennings fared in that Riders’ minicamp, you can check out my detailed recap here:  http://www.rodpedersen.com/2014/04/rider-minicamp-wraps-up.html.  It notes that Jennings was the best quarterback for a good portion of Day 2 of the camp, but that was strictly my own observation.

So you can flame the Riders all you want for not signing Jennings, but it really does no good at this point.  That regime is now gone although the scouting staff that initially identified him remains.  Consider for a moment that the Rider scouts have now found quarterbacks for Winnipeg (Drew Willy), Montreal (Rakeem Cato), and B.C. (Jon Jennings).

Do with that information what you will.

Yeah, I’m still ticked about that one.

Anyway, it’ll be an interesting year BC QBs, because as soon as Jennings falters, fans will more than likely be calling for veteran Lulay to step in.  ‘Cause even though Jennings is the starter, it’s Travis Lulay that’s front and centre on the Lions’ website. Interestingly, Lulay is only 33 – but it feels like he’s been around forever.  Whether his shoulder issues have been completely dealt with is an entirely different matter.

The Lions should have a decent receiving core.  Marco Ianuzzi and Nick Moore are still solid receivers, and if Emmanuel Arceneaux focuses more on catching the ball than trash talking his opponents on Twitter, he, too, could have a good year.

The Lions’ offensive line has been a problem for years, so that is one thing to look out for.

And who will run behind that offensive line?  Longtime Lion Andrew Harris moved to the Blue Bombers in the off season after feeling more than a little underutilized.  I never understood why he wasn’t used more.  I’m now totally going to quote myself from July 17, 2015:

The Lions need to use Andrew Harris more.

NAILED IT.

On defense, Ryan Phillips comes back to anchor the backfield for the umpteeth year.  And the tackling tandem of Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill will be reunited after Elimimian missed the last half of the 2015 season with an Achilles injury.  The Lions’ defensive strength will continue to be in the middle of the field.

Clearly Wally thinks that the problem with his squad last year was the head coach, as not much has changed.

I sure hope Wally is still watching his cholesterol, as it might be a stressful season.

Prediction: 5th in the West

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