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!

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

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November 27, 2016 was supposed to be the day the 2016 Calgary Stampeders cemented themselves among the all-time great CFL teams.  With a 15-2-1 record, the Stampeders ran over nearly every team they faced, and rolled with ease into the 104th Grey Cup.

But for whatever reason, the Stamps that dominated all season long did not show up in the 1st half. QB Bo Levi Mitchell, whose ego is about as big as the province of Alberta, uncharacteristically threw THREE interceptions, while his adversary, Henry Burris, only threw one.

Yet the Stamps came back in the 2nd half, scoring 26 points to tie the game at 33 and force overtime.  The REDBLACKS scored a TD, and Calgary had to answer with one of its own.  But the Mitchell threw three straight incompletions and the game was over.

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I like to think that it was hubris that took down the 2016 Stampeders.

And it was fun to watch.

This season, the Stampeders will look to take back what they most likely feel was taken away from them.  And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they’re the ones hold the Grey Cup in Ottawa in November 2017.

The Stamps’ slogan this season? Whatever it takes.

Bo Levi Mitchell, the CFL’s reigning MOP, is back to lead the league’s number one offence. Canadian RB Jerome Messam will be in the back field, and receivers Marquay McDaniel, DaVaris Daniels, and Anthony Parker are all back for another season.

The Stamps’ defence remains largely the same.  The loss of DE Cordarro Law to a broken ankle is significant, but the Stamps always seem to have guys waiting in the wings.  The additon of DT Bryan Hall makes the interior of the defensive line even stronger.

I really hate the Stamps.

BC LIONS

lions

I wish Jeff Tedford was still Head Coach of the BC Lions.

In 2016, under new yet familiar management, GM and Head Coach Wally Buono put up a 12-6 record and finished 2nd in the West Division.

A big reason for the resurgence was the play of QB Jonathon Jennings.  In his short team in the CFL, Jennings has put up some rather impressive numbers:

Passing

Games Started Att Comp Pct Yards TD Int Rating
18 18 554 371 67.0 5,226 27 15 102.1

Rushing

Att Yards Avg Long TD
68 363 5.3 20 4

Over 5,000 yards passing, more than 350 rushing yards, 27 TDs through the air, and 4 on the ground.

This is the time of year where I ask what the hell George Cortez was thinking when he passed over Jennings after Jennings attended the Riders’ 2014 mini camp in Florida.  The worst part?  TINO SUNSERI WAS THERE AND HE WAS ADDED TO THE RIDERS’ ROSTER.

TINO. SUNSERI.

)(*&)(^%*^(*&)_&_*&_(^*^&*%%*%^&*&&&*&)_&&

Moving on.

Another reason for the Lions’ success was its CFL-leading rushing attack, led by Jeremiah Johnson and the now unemployed Anthony Allen.  By the end of the year, Johnson won the starting job.  In only 11 games, he amassed over 800 yards.

BC has a solid receiving corps, led by the always entertaining Emmanuel Arcenaux and the relatively quieter Bryan Burnham.  This year they are joined by Chris Williams, who signed with the Lions during free agency after winning a Grey Cup with the REDBLACKS in 2016.

On defence, the Lions lost their team leader with Adam Bighill signing with the New Orleans Saints of the NFL.  Solomon Elimimian remains at middle linebacker with others auditioning for the other linebacker spots.

BC’s special teams also took a hit this past off-season as Richie Leone also left the CFL to sign with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.  Leone’s replacement is Swayze Waters, he of the best name in the CFL, who returns north of the border after spending last season with the Carolina Panthers.  The CFL’s combined yards leader in 2016, Chris Rainey, extended his contract with the Lions through the 2018 season and will remain a constant threat on returns.

The battle for first place in the West will come down to the Lions and the Stamps.  I’ve put the Stamps first, but I think it will come down to the final couple weeks of the season to determine who finishes first.

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

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For me, the biggest question for the Eskimos this off-season was whether Head Coach Jason Maas would shave off whatever scruff he was trying to grow underneath his lower lip.  It was gross.

Upon video review, I can declare that the scruff is gone.  For now.

When I think of Jason Maas as a Head Coach, the word ‘whiny’ comes to mind.  He was Kavis Reed-like in some of his over-the-top sideline expressions.  And then he was downright petulant when it came to the live mic games that TSN and the CFL broadcast last year.

Maas and QB Mike Reilly refused to wear live mics during their Thanksgiving Monday game against the Alouettes.  Rakeem Cato started that game for the Alouettes; why the Eskimos were worried about the Alouettes with him at the helm is beyond me.

Maas’ conduct earned him this rather harsh reprimand from then-CFL Commissioner Jeffrey L. Orridge:

It is also important that Coach Maas be held personally accountable. I am fining him $15,000. The fact that Coach Maas has expressed no remorse whatsoever for what appears to be a unilateral and planned act of defiance is particularly disappointing. I want to send a clear signal that this cannot happen again.

Should Coach Maas be directed to wear a live microphone again this season or in subsequent seasons, and he again refuses, he will be immediately subjected to the maximum fine allowable and he will be suspended for his team’s next game, even if that next game is a playoff or championship game.

The CFL re-scheduled the live mic game and during that Week 20 contest, Maas was basically silent.  If he had to say something, he covered up the mic.

What a leader.

After this little incident, I think it is safe to say that the ‘E’s in Edmonton and Eskimos stand for ‘egotistical’ and ‘entitled’.

If Maas focused more on his team rather than the very small possibility of someone coming away with some information from a live mic broadcast, he might have noticed that his team was fairly streaky in 2016.  Twice the Eskimos won three games in a row, only to lose the next three.

This was surprising given how potent Edmonton’s offence can be.

Adarius Bowman had over 1,750 receiving yards last year.  Former teammate Derel Walker, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had near 1,600 receiving yards in 2016.  Those two receivers alone made up for nearly 3,350 of Reilly’s 5,500 passing yards.

The loss of Walker to the NFL is a big loss for the Eskimos’s offence – and a welcome relief to defences across the CFL.

Defensively, the Eskimos remain largely the same.  Odell Willis, Almondo Sewell and Philip Hunt anchor the defensive line.  JC Sherritt stays at middle linebacker.  I can’t remember any of the guys in the defensive backfield.

To me, Edmonton has an attitude problem.  The Eskimos think they’re still in the upper echelon of the CFL when they’ve actually lost a step to the Lions and the Stamps remain far ahead.  IMHO, Maas should focus more on what’s going on between the hash marks than whether his mic is live or not.

And he’d better keep that scruff off his chin.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

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I’m going to go on record and say that Matt Nichols completely defied my expectations last year.  I did not expect much from him, and he proved me wrong.

I am also going to go on record and predict that MATTY ICE will be a one-season wonder.

First, though, here’s proof that Nichols’ nickname is MATTY ICE, and that I haven’t confused him with the Arizona Cardinals’ Matt Ryan:

Nickname? Matty Ice. People have always kind of said that but Odell was the loudest to speak out about it. He would always call me that while I was doing interviews. Basically, it means pressure’s on, you’ve got ice in your veins.

I guess.

If Nichols wants to repeat last season’s success, he’ll need to heavily rely on RB Andrew Harris to help carry the load.  Harris would’ve broken 1000 yards last year had he not missed three games due to injury.

As for the receiving core, SB Weston Dressler returns, as does Clarence Denmark, who had a career year last year – if you account for the fact that he only played 10 games.  The Bombers are looking to Darvin Adams to regain the form he had two seasons ago.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bombers will look to lead the league in takeaways again this season.  Their defensive line is anchored by national Jamaal Westerman, who is joined by Tristan Okpalaugo.  The middle of the defense is led by Sam Hurl at MLB, with Ian Wild and Maurie Leggett beside him.  Taylor Loffler returns to at safety.

The Bombers’ special teams are solid with Jason Medlock, 2016’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player.

Last season the Bombers took the West Division by surprise with a third place finish. They won’t the luxury of being looked at as underdogs this year.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

jones

The only way for Chris Jones and the Riders to go is up.

Right?

After finishing a disappointing 5-13 in his first season as Head Coach/GM/VP, the pressure is on Chris Jones to get the Riders on track and back to the playoffs.

And he’ll have to do it with this guy:

kevin

Kevin Glenn returns for his third stint with the Riders.

glenn

After the Riders parted ways with Darian Durant, and not on the greatest of terms, the Riders signed Glenn to be a placeholder until they find a good, young QB.

Good luck with that.

Luckily for Glenn, he inherits a solid receiving corps, led by Naaman Roosevelt and the much-maligned Duron Carter.  Carter will be interesting to watch, as his explosive talent comes with a prickly personality.  They are joined by Caleb Holley and Ricky Collins, both of whom showed a lot of promise last year.  Rob Bagg and Nic Demski bring Canadian content at wide receiver.

The Rider’s offensive line should be a lot better than last year.  OT Derek Dennis was a huge free agent signing, and instantly brings stability at left tackle.  Brendon Labatte at left guard will hopefully remain healthy, and that goes for centre Dan Clark, too.  Peter Dyakowski was signed as a free agent, and brings a veteran presence to the right guard position, and hopefully can made right tackle Thaddeus Coleman better, as he was a major disappointment last year.  Could the Riders not recruit a better tackle?

The running back position belongs to Cameron Marshall – for now.  But given how much the Riders run the ball, does it really matter?

Expect a better performance from the Riders’ revamped defensive line, led by Willie Jefferson.  But if Jones continues to rush three, there won’t be a lot of opportunity for success.

Have I mentioned how much I HATE Jones’ three man front?

The Riders’ linebackers are completely revamped.  Greg Jones led in the middle last year, and this year is replaced by Henoc Muamba.  On the weak side, Erick Dargan will start, while Sam Williams will start on the other side.  It will important for this group to gel quickly.

The secondary is scary – and not in a good way.  With the loss of Justin Cox, Ed Gainey was the only veteran coming into camp.  The Riders smartly picked up Jovon Johnson, cut by the Alouettes, and now have two veterans in the backfield.  Chris Lyles and Kacy Rodgers (who?) will play alongside.

On special teams, the Riders continue their search for a returner.  With Chad Owens sidelined for at least the first third of the season (what a terrible signing), Ricky Collins and Craig Morris will likely share duties.  Josh Bartel returns as punter, and Tyler Crapigna will kick field goals.

Expectations are high for the Riders after a tough 2016 season.  With a new stadium and the pressure on Jones & Co., it should be an interesting season in Riderville, no matter what happens.

 

 

 

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