Disclaimer: The following post does not reflect the views of anyone other than Area51. If you are a journalist/agent/fan/player/coach/GM who is easily offended by strongly worded opinions, I’d suggest you either grow a pair or skip to the next topic.
Hamilton TiCats 2013 Season Preview
After George Cortez took the fall for last season’s embarrassment, Kent Austin was brought in as the latest saviour for the Hamilton franchise. Unfortunately for Austin, the most dynamic player in the CFL has decided he’d rather sit out than play in the little village of Guelph this year. It’s going to be interesting to see how Hank Burris does now that Cortez is no longer scripting plays for him. Last year’s defence was a complete misfit of players and scheme. Things can’t get much worse this year, which is a good thing for inexperienced DC Orlondo Steinauer. As has been the case for the past few years, Hamilton was very aggressive in the off season free agent market. Maybe one of these years the TiCats will actually have something to show for their spending?
Austin gets a free pass this season, so he’s essentially playing with house money. The loss of Cortez along with Chris Williams being a no show is a huge blow to the offence. Hamilton might scrape by and get into the playoffs, but there’s not going to be a whole lot for the good people of Guelph to get excited about.
Montreal Alouettes 2013 Season Preview
In 2008 Jim Popp went off the board bringing in a head coach with zero CFL experience and hit the jackpot with Marc Trestman. Fast forward five years and Popp is hoping to follow the same blueprint with the hire of Dan Hawkins. But while Trestman came to Montreal renown as a QB genius, Hawkins comes in renown for his comical interview sound bites while running the storied Colorado football program into the ground.
Despite the questionable coaching hire, the biggest question facing the Als is can a 40yr old QB defy time and continue to carry the franchise? Anthony Calvillo showed in the playoffs that he's no longer willing to stand in the pocket and take punishment to make a throw. The Argos took away the aura of invincibility that Montreal had when they walked into the Big Owe and beat the Als in their own house en route to the Grey Cup.
All dynasties inevitably come crashing down and Montreal will be no exception. With the number of leadership departures over the past two years and an aging QB, the foundation of success is starting to crumble in Montreal. They should be able to stay competitive in the weak Eastern Division, but the Als are a shadow of what they were a few years back.
Toronto Argos 2013 Season Preview
Any team with Ricky Ray at QB will always have a puncher’s chance at a championship. Unfortunately, the Argos don’t seem to realize the importance of building a strong OLine to protect their franchise QB. Last year Ray missed four games after his C was pancaked backwards and crashed into his knee. Without Ray the Argos were 1-3 and averaged a pathetic 15 points per game.
Andre Durie continues to emerge as one of the top Canadians in the CFL, but beyond that there’s not much NI talent. For a team that so badly lacks Canadians like Toronto, letting DE Ricky Foley walk seems like insanity. But in reality the Top Canadian from the Grey Cup was being wasted in the Argo scheme as Chris Jones insists that his DLine do everything except pass rush. For good measure, Toronto got rid of the other three starting DLinemen as well. There’s not much support behind them, as Toronto’s LBs are among the weakest in the league.
Really have to wonder what the Argo decision making process is based on. Drafting a coach with their 7th round pick this year? Having a 39yr old kicker take up a spot on the practice roster? Making a receiver who has more career fumbles than TDs the highest paid non-QB in the league?
Going back-to-back is extremely difficult, especially when so many key contributors from last year’s championship team were let go. Having the best QB and being in the weakest division gives Toronto a chance at making it to Regina in November. But a repeat looks unlikely.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2013 Season Preview
What a disheartening time to be a Bombers fan. The season hasn’t even started and it’s already a foregone conclusion that Winnipeg will extend its futility to 23 consecutive years without a championship. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Bombers are now saddled with an $85M debt thanks to the overpriced new stadium. Joe Mack somehow came to the conclusion that his top off season priority was upgrading Ian Logan, 2011 CFL All Star and a Non Import, so Cauchy Muamba was the Bombers big free agent signing. In a comical misuse of NI talent by Mack, Logan was then promptly released.
After the sideshow of Chip Garbage as DC last year, Casey Creehan returns to take over the role and try to recreate the pressure defence they ran in 2011. If the defence can somehow find a way to come up with one or two scores each week, Winnipeg might have a chance at mediocrity this year because the offence is going to be brutal . Gary Crowton has spent his career bouncing from one job to another, and has never lasted more than three years anywhere. For the good of the CFL, hopefully it doesn’t take the Bombers three years to realize he’s a terrible coach. Couple that with the worst QBs in the league, the worst NI talent in the league and you’ve got a complete disaster.
The formula for building a winner in the CFL is pretty simple - - get the best Canadians you can find along with a good QB. The Bombers fail miserably on both counts. About the only thing Winnipeg fans can look forward to this year is for Mack to finally be euthanized as the GM.
BC Lions 2013 Season Preview
The Lions have been a strong team for most of the past decade so it’s natural to assume that will continue. But there’s some serious issues with a lack of quality NIs in BC. The Lions have five good Canadian starters, and after that it’s a crapshoot. Finding 20 competent Canadians on this roster is a tough challenge. James Yurichuk is not legitimate starting LB so his departure might not seem to be significant, but he was an excellent contributor on special teams.
The interior of the OLine is especially weak and that takes away from the strength of their OTs. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill are considered great MLBs, but neither is anything more than average as an OLB. Unless BC switches to a 3/4 defence, having the two MLBs is a redundant waste of talent. The Lions would be much further ahead trading one of them for a good Canadian starter.
If BC played in the East they’d be the clear favourite in the division, but in the West they could finish as low as third and it would be no surprise. The Lions can scrape together seven Canadian starters, but after that the Canadian talent drops off quickly. That will be the undoing in BC this year.
Calgary Stampeders 2013 Season Preview
You’ve got to hand it to John Hufnagel. Even after being stuck with career journeyman Kevin Glenn at QB after his starter went down to injury, Hufnagel still found a way to get to the Grey Cup. Although the goofball act that Drew Tate tries to play is a bit of a farce, he plays with the mentality of a gunslinger. At this point in his career, I’d compare him favourably with Travis Lulay. Tate is the better passer but Lulay is the better scrambler.
For all the hype that Jon Cornish gets as the greatest Canadian RB of the past 20 years, there’s a very simple game plan to shutting him down as Toronto showed everyone last year. Cornish is wonderful at running through arm tackles, but as soon as the going gets tough and he starts getting hit hard, he shuts down and goes into a shell. Once other teams come to this realization, either Cornish is going to have to toughen up or Calgary is going to have to find a new feature back. The Stamps have quietly added some excellent talent since the end of last season. Getting Ben D’Aguilar in the mid second round was the steal of the draft, and getting Shawn Lemon was a gift from Edmonton.
A legitimate front runner to get back to the get back to the Grey Cup and finish what they couldn’t get done last season. If Tate can cut the comedy routine and just focus on developing in his progression as a QB, the sky’s the limit.
Edmonton Eskimos 2013 Season Preview
Edmonton finds itself in a similar position as Winnipeg: an unproven QB and a lack of Canadian talent. It’s pretty much impossible to win in the CFL when you’re faced with those two obstacles. Eric Tillman had begun to rebuild the NI depth, but was run out of town before he could complete the task of resurrecting the franchise. The elitist Eskimo fans always seemed to regard him as sloppy seconds from Saskatchewan despite his record of success in every previous GM role.
The old adage that games are won in the trenches means good news and bad news for Edmonton. First the good: Edmonton has the best DLine in the league. A fantastic trio of Canadian DTs and a pair of good young DEs made the signing of Odell Wills seem like an unnecessary over indulgence. But then the bad: Edmonton’s OLine is worst in the CFL. Put a young and inexperienced QB behind that porous line and it doesn’t look good for the offensive attack.
Even if Edmonton finishes 0-18, Eskimo Fan will still consider Ed Hervey to be an improvement over Tillman. The defence will keep them competitive, but without a major breakthrough from Mike Reilly this team is a long way from being a legitimate contender.
Saskatchewan Roughriders 2013 Season Preview
Apparently the Riders decided three wins in 100 years was unacceptable, so the team has gone all in to be the first champion of the Grey Cup’s second century. GM Brendan Taman decided it was time to bring in some football players who are proven winners and signed Ricky Foley, Dwight Anderson and Geroy Simon.
If George Cortez could turn a mediocre QB like Hank Burris into the league’s top passer, you’ve got to think he should be able to improve Darian Durant’s performance. Unlike Hamilton, the Riders will be very strong on defence this year and the offence won’t need to put up 40+ points just to keep it close each week. There’s enough talent surrounding him that Durant just needs to drive the bus with a steady hand while limiting mistakes and the Riders will have a chance to be a Grey Cup favourite this year.
This is a team that will be better in November than it is in July. Clearly they’re built to win now, and anything short of at least a Grey Cup appearance would have to be considered a major failure. If they do get to the Grey Cup it will be the biggest game in CFL history, and if there was some way to seat 250,000 it would still be sold out. With no dominant team in the league, the Riders have as good a chance as any to have parade this year.