The Struggle is Real

I was reviewing the Alouettes’ Twitter page when I came across this:

The quotes aren’t the same; the player isn’t the same.  One message in one language, one in another.

Somewhere in there is a metaphor for the way the Alouettes have approached the offseason.

They started off by hiring Mike Sherman as their new Head Coach.  Sherman has an impressive NFL record as Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, where he led the Packers to three consecutive division titles from 2002 to 2004.  He also was the Head Coach at Texas A & M.  For the last decade or so, he was the Head Coach at a high school in Massachusetts.  You have to wonder why he decided to come back to professional football.

Every time a CFL team hires a new head coach with a big American football resume, I wonder if they’ll follow in the footsteps of Marc Trestman, whose CFL career has been nothing but golden, or go the way of Bart Andrus and Jeff Tedford, both of whom were washouts after only one year in the league.

Remember Bart Andrus?

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

I love it when I get to use that picture.

Anyway, Sherman has his work cut out for him.  First of all, he’s been saddled with the inept Kavis Reed.  Second, his quarterback options are either Drew Willy or Matt Schlitz.  Both were backups to Darian Durant last year, and neither performed all that well in relief.  Willy is already 31 years old; Schlitz is 25.  Along with Darian, they led the Alouettes to the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Alouettes had signed former NFL QB Josh Freeman, but he retired a week into training camp.  Great recruiting, Kavis & Co.

Fun fact: Since Anthony Calvillo’s career ended in 2013, twelve (12) different quarterbacks have started games for the Alouettes.  Twelve.  That’s an average of two different quarterbacks per season.

The Alouettes will be relying a lot on running backs Tyrell Sutton and Stefan Logan to both help the offensive line with blocking and to help generate offence.  Willy and Schlitz have decent receivers to work with: BJ Cunningham, Ernest Jackson, and Chris Williams, who is looking to re-energize his career after a disappointing stay in Vancouver.  All three receivers can be great deep threats, but with an offensive line that will have one or two new starters and two QBs who’ll need all the support they can get, that potential may be fairly limited.

On defense, the Alouettes made a number of free agent signings, including former Rider Henoc Muamba, who will be the team’s middle linebacker.  Apparently Chip Cox is returning, but he hasn’t shown up to training camp yet.  Jabar Westerman left the Blue Bombers and will play at defensive tackle, while veteran rush end John Bowman returns to anchor the Alouette defensive line.

In the defensive backfield, Tommie Campbell joins the team after spending the past couple of seasons in Calgary.  He will play alongside some other free agent signings such as Joe Burnett, Mitchell White, and Dominique Ellis.  This does not bode well for a team that had a lot of trouble against the pass in 2017, although it couldn’t stop the run very much either.

One person the Alouettes will miss this year is former defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe.  The long-suffering coach was fired in 2017 during the season and joined the REDBLACKS in the off-season.  Last year was an anomaly, as Thorpe’s defences in Montreal were generally solid throughout his tenure.  Even if the Als’ offence couldn’t score, teams had to beware of Montreal’s defence, which kept the team in more games than it probably should have.

Kahlil Carter was hired as Thorpe’s replacement in the off-season, but he stepped down from his defensive coordinator position a couple of weeks ago and has been replaced by Rich Stubler.  There are some rumours about Carter and Tommie Campbell that suggest that the two might not have been the best of friends during both of their tenures in Calgary and that maybe that friction moved east with them.

Unless Rick Sherman can do for the Alouettes what June Jones did in Hamilton last year, look for the Alouettes to be in the East Division basement for another year – but with a better defense.

 

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Kevin Glenn is a CFL Hall of Famer

It’s weird to see Kevin Glenn in green and gold.

It had to happen at some point, though.  He had to complete the cycle.  He said so himself:

Glenn’s rights have never belonged to the Edmonton Eskimos, so it’s doubtful that anyone in the Alberta capital has a green-and-gold Kevin Glenn jersey.

Perhaps that’s why Glenn has suggested he’ll sign a one-day contract with the Eskimos before he retires.

“I have to. I have to,” he says, a smile spreading across his face. “If Ed (Hervey) is still the GM, I know he would (offer Glenn a deal). But if he didn’t, I would start a petition. I’m sure I could get every fan in the CFL to sign it because it has never been done to have one guy who has been affiliated — not necessarily played or suited up but affiliated — with every team.

“I’d go down as a trivia question in the CFL. Everybody would always remember Kevin Glenn.”

Nine teams in a seventeen year career.  Kevin Glenn has been around long enough to have played against both the Ottawa Renegades AND the Ottawa REDBLACKS.

The knock on Kevin Glenn has always been threefold:

  • He can’t win a Grey Cup.
  • He’s not a starting quarterback.
  • He’s cursed. (Watch out, Mike Reilly.)

Kevin Glenn would have his Grey Cup had he not broken his arm in the East Division Final back in 2007.  Glenn was the East Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player that year.  He’d thrown for more than 5,000 yards and was an East Division All-Star.  But it was not to be.

Blame Ryan Dinwiddie.

As Glenn reaches the end of his career – although I’m starting to wonder if he’ll play forever – the question is whether he should be in the CFL Hall of Fame some day.  My conclusion is this: if Mike O’Shea can be in the CFL Hall of Fame, there is no question that Kevin Glenn should be in the CFL Hall of Fame.  Why?

Right now KG sits:

  • Sixth all-time in passing yards.  He’s only about 500 behind Danny McManus for fifth all-time.  And he’s already passed CFL greats such as Ron Lancaster, Doug Flutie, Tracy Ham, and Matt Dunigan.
  • Sixth all-time in pass attempts.
  • Fifth all-time in pass completions.
  • Seventh all-time in passing touchdowns.
  • Tenth all-time in pass completion percentage.

For a guy who’s spent his career nearly equally divided between being a backup quarterback and a starting quarterback, those statistics are stunning.  And they’re attributable not only to Glenn’s ability to stay relatively healthy, but the fact that he’s the consummate teammate.

Kevin Glenn does not have the ego that other quarterbacks have had (see: Burris, Henry).  He’s willing to be the backup.  He’s willing to sit in the film room and help the other guys be better, even if he isn’t starting.  He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.  In other words, he’s just a nice guy who loves to play football.  Don Landry said it best:

However, Glenn’s sportsmanship, determination and willingness to go to the next place, for however long he may be there, places him in the league’s elite when it comes to love for this game, the people he’s met along the way and the cities and provinces in which he’s played. That counts for plenty, in my book.

Agreed.

Kavis Reed is Terrible

How Kavis Reed became and remains a CFL GM defies logic.

Reed is most well known for his “consequences” speech during his tenure as the Edmonton Eskimos’ Head Coach from 2011 to 2013.

It’s been nearly five (!!) years since this meltdown, and it’s probably the first thing people think about when they hear Reed’s name.

Reed’s head coaching career came to an end after he managed to turn the Eskimos into a 4-14 team in just three seasons after going 11-7 in his first season.

 

Is this part of the “rich and brilliant” coaching career he’s had?  His biography on the Alouettes’ website fails to mention his last two years in Edmonton.  I can’t imagine why.

After a two year absence from the CFL coaching ranks, he joined the Alouettes as a Special Teams Coordinator in 2015.  There were no 13th man debacles as there were when he last held that position with the Roughriders.  (Despite what I think about Kavis as a coach, I have always appreciated his acceptance of responsibility for the 13th man penalty and for never identifying which player was on the field when he shouldn’t have been.)

I have always said that Kavis manages to “fail upwards”.  He wasn’t a great CFL head coach.  And yet he managed to get fired, stay out of football for two years, work another two years as a Special Team Coordinator and then end up in the GM of the Montreal Alouettes.  HOW DID HE DO THAT?!?!

More inexplicably, how did he manage to RETAIN his GM title after the Alouettes’ abysmal 3-15 season before and during which he:

  • traded for Riders’ quarterback Darian Durant, giving up two draft picks when Durant would’ve been a free agent in a few weeks;
  • paid Durant $400,000 for the 2017 season and only got three wins from him;
  • fired his head coach and defensive coordinator midseason;
  • appointed himself interim head coach and went 0-7; and
  • said his team would be prepared for and be successful in an upcoming because “our coaches have done a very good job of being forensic“?

Like I said: the fact that Kavis Reed is a CFL GM defies logic.

And it gets even better.

Last week, the Alouettes lost their defensive coordinator, Khalil Carter.  And then Reed cut OL Jovan Olafioye, who had a few things to say about Reed’s GM skills:

Source: 3downnation.com

 

While Olafioye did apologize to Reed, it turns out that Reed gave Olafioye a $50,000 signing bonus in March and now wanted him to take a pay cut in order to recoup some of that bonus.

Kavis is not a good CFL GM.  He’s not even a bad CFL GM.  He’s a terrible CFL GM.

Good luck this season, Alouette fans.  You’re going to need it.

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.