22 Jun 2005
Guest Column by Ian Hollohan
Since the failed â€œAmerican experimentâ€? of the mid 1990's (anyone remember the Las Vegas Posse?), the Canadian Football League has hit its stride and is enjoying popularity and prosperity not seen for decades. With 9 teams currently in the league and all of them more or less financially stable (as stable as a CFL franchise can get, at least) and talk of possibly expanding into the Atlantic Provinces, it's a good time to be a CFL fan right now. The 2005 season began on Wednesday night (Montreal 31, Hamilton 21), so why not take a look at football north of the border?
Canadian football, while very similar to the American game, has some key differences that make the gameplay unique. I'll highlight some of the more important ones for the CFL rookies out there.
Here's a brief look at each team, with a number of names that you may recognize from the NFL (and occasionally XFL) past.
The 2004 Grey Cup champions were the CFL's feel-good story last year. And that's saying something for a Toronto based team. Head coach (and all-time CFL yardage leader) Mike â€œPinballâ€? Clemons found a way to lead the Argos to their first Grey Cup since some guy named Doug Flutie was under center. Expectations are high in the â€œBig Smokeâ€? again this year. The â€œAgeless wonderâ€? Damon Allen returns at QB with former New England Patriot Michael Bishop backing him up. All-time XFL rushing champion John Avery returns at RB, and is a threat catching passes out of the backfield as well. Rookie Hakim Hill should get some carries. Ex-NFLers abound at wideout, with R. Jay Soward, and Andre Rison getting more catches than they have in years. Arlen Bruce is dangerous whenever he touches the ball. LBs Mike O'Shea and last year's defensive MVP Kevin Eiben are the heart and soul of a solid Argo defence.
The Ticats are coming off a disappointing year in which they went 9-8-1 and were bounced from the playoffs by their southern Ontario rivals (and eventual Grey Cup champions) the Argos. QB Danny McManus returns with veteran Mike Morreale and big play threat Craig Yeast (ex-Bengals) at wideout. McManus looks to cut down on his league-leading 30 interceptions thrown last year. Last year's leading rusher Troy Davis (you may remember him from Iowa State) will be called upon again this year to shoulder much of the offensive burden. The defence will have to adjust to the loss of emotional leader DE Joe Montford, now in Edmonton.
Like Hamilton, the CFL's newest team (part of expansion a couple years ago) looks to bounce back after a disappointing season in 2004. The Renegades regressed last year, finishing 5-13 and out of the playoffs. Their success this year will depend largely on QB Kerry Joseph staying healthy, and young WR Jason Armstead continuing to develop. RB Josh Ranak must continue to run effectively as well. A familiar name is former Ram and Buc Yo Murphy. Ottawa's defence was the worst in the league last year, and has to improve significantly this year for the Renegades to have a chance. There were plenty of personnel changes over the off-season, but it remains to be seen how this unit will perform.
The continued success of one of the CFL's best franchises in recent years depends heavily on the health of QB Anthony Calvillo. Calvillo has put up some monstrous numbers the last few years: he's passed for almost 25,000 yards in his last 5 seasons, including over 6,000 last year (becoming only the 4th player in CFL history to do so). His favorite target will continue to be WR Ben Cahoon, the two-time Most Outstanding Canadian. The Als have a crowded backfield featuring Jonas Lewis, Michael Jenkins, former Patriot Robert Edwards and two time Hec Creighton award winner (Canada's Heisman Trophy) Eric Lapointe (from my alma mater, THE Mount Allison University). On defence, the front seven is as good as any in the league, but the secondary is young and will be tested this season.
The Lions ended last season on a bitter note, losing to the Argos in the Grey Cup despite being heavily favored. B.C. was arguably the CFL's best team throughout the 2004 season, led by league MVP Casey Printers who threw 35 TDs and only 10 INTs filling in for the injured Dave Dickenson. Despite those gaudy numbers, Printers found himself on the bench in the Grey Cup with a healthy Dickenson getting the start. Printers should once again find himself # 2 on the depth chart, and with two quarterbacks of this quality, head coach Wally Buono might have difficulty keeping them both happy. Geroy Simon and outstanding Canadian Jason Clermont will be the primary targets. The addition of DB Barron Miles should make a solid defence even better. Recognizable ex-NFL players include former Giants DE Frank Ferrara, and, if you can find him hiding way at the end of the bench, Fighting Irish star turned Bronco scrub turned third-string Lion QB Jarious Jackson.
The Green Riders will benefit this year from the return of QB Nealon Greene, who missed virtually the entire season last year due to injury. Greene will find solid targets in WRs Travis Moore (who led the team with over 1000 yards receiving last year), and Matt Dominguez, who should settle in nicely after bouncing around some NFL camps for part of last year. RB Kenton Keith leads one of the best rushing attacks in the CFL. The defence is lead by veteran Daved Benefield up front and LB Reggie Hunt in the middle. The secondary is young but improving, and the Riders may surprise some people this year.
The Stamps were a league-worst 4-14 last year, and the rebuilding effort will continue this season. Off-season acquisitions QB Henry Burris and WR Jermaine Copeland will help the aerial attack. You might remember Copeland as Tommy Maddox's top target in the XFL, and he's just one of the many recognizable names in Calgary. (MarTay Jenkins! Ken-Yon Rambo!) DE Demetrius Maxie is a presence up front on a defence that was respectable last season. LB John Grace leads the way in the middle, and free-agent signings Sebastien Roy (also a former Mount Allison Mountie) and Jude Waddy, formerly of the Packers, will add depth. The Stamps look to be a couple years away from the playoffs yet.
Winnipeg struggled last year, finishing 7-11 and missing the playoffs. QB Kevin Glenn is entering his first full year as a Bomber. The offensive line will have to do a better job protecting him this year, last year yielding 40 sacks. Special teams standout Keith Stokes (5 special team TDs last year) may be used more on offence, taking some of the load off WR Milt Stegall (Winnipeg's career receptions leader with 626 receptions) and RB Charles Roberts, who had over 1500 yards on the ground in 2004. All-stars Joe Fleming and Tom Canada anchor what is likely the league's best defensive line. They'll need to be outstanding again this year for the Bombers to make a run at the playoffs. (By the way, if you've been looking for Tee Martin and Spurgeon Wynn, they're sitting on the bench up in Neil Young's hometown, waiting for Glenn to sprain something.)
Edmonton looks to battle with the Lions for top spot in the West this year. QB Ricky Ray has returned from the New York Jets and will be the number one QB this season (although he may miss the opener due to injury). Jason Maas will be the backup, giving Edmonton solid depth at quarterback. WR Terry Vaughn was lost in the off-season to Montreal but the offence shouldn't miss a beat. Veteran tackle Bruce Beaton was lured out of retirement to help solidify the offensive line. LB Seignor Mobley, newly acquired DB Kelly Wiltshire and DE Joe Montford (signed in the off-season) will lead the defence.
If you're looking to watch some CFL action, here's a schedule of games on a variety of U.S. sports networks including Comcast SportsNet, NESN, and MSG.
42 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2005, 5:38pm by bob