Monday, 2 March 2015

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 3

So I caused a bit of a stir over the weekend, eh?

While some of the vitriol that arrived following my piece about Rider Nation was certainly expected, there was one side effect that caught me off guard: support from Rider fans.

There were plenty that took offense – and if you took offense, well, not much I can say other than thanks for helping me prove my point – yet there were a lot of Rider fans who came out in support of the piece. They, too, said they hated the arrogant fans who think it is Riders only. It was very shocking and quite encouraging to read.

And in all honesty, it was not a piece I wanted to write, but one I felt had to be written. And with the outpouring of support from fans around the league, I now know that I definitely made the right choice in letting the world know how I feel about a certain segment of the Rider fanbase.

But this is the last I will say on the matter. Now, onto the mailbag.

Despite having Delvin Breaux, the Ti-Cats secondary wasn't exactly elite in 2014. Now without Breaux, are DBs Hamilton's biggest need?

Short answer: yes.

The two biggest areas of concern for the Ti-Cats heading into the offseason were the secondary and the offensive line. While they didn’t do anything to bolster the offensive line since the season ended, they will have a fully healthy Peter Dyakowski for an entire season, and adding the former East Division All-Star automatically makes the Tiger-Cats line better. Also, the Cats were breaking in a new centre last year (Mike Filer) and tackle (Jake Olson) and with a year under their belts, they should be better in 2015.

That leaves the secondary and coping with the loss of Breaux. His signing in the NFL was not just expected, but guaranteed, and he lives a gigantic hole in secondary. The Tiger-Cats decided not to pursue any veteran free agent defensive backs, so they will now rely on players already in-house or rookies they find in free agent camps or on their negotiation list. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but Hamilton has not had an elite secondary since... um… I don’t even know when, and it hasn’t been an impediment in getting to the last two Grey Cups. Every team has a weakness or two, Hamilton’s will be the secondary. It will be up to the other units on the team to step up their game until the secondary finds its rhythm.

Will the East do well enough to avoid the crossover this year?

Hamilton and Montreal are as close to locks to make the playoffs as exist in the East, so it comes down to whether you like one of Toronto or Ottawa better than two of Saskatchewan, BC and Winnipeg.

The RedBlacks made a ton of moves in the offseason to get better, so they will not be repeating their 2-16 season of 2014. Toronto has done the exact opposite of Ottawa and have been practically silent since the season ended. The Argos have Ricky Ray, which means they will be in every game they play, but I don’t see them doing much better than their 8-10 record last season. In fact, at this point, I would say they would be in tough to match last year’s record.

In the West, every team looks good. The last-place Bombers spent money to build themselves back up, the Riders found ways to sign a majority of their top-flight free agents, and BC is a wild card with a new head coach and a finally healthy Travis Lulay.

I just like what I see out of those three teams in the West. One of them will miss the playoffs, but I can’t tell you which one it will be – should I say Saskatchewan just to piss off Rider Nation one more time? – and I am not all that enamoured with the two teams that should be fighting for third in the East. So I think 2015 will once again feature a West team crossing over into the East.

Will Nik Lewis have the “Geroy Effect” in Montreal and put them over the top this year?

I think Nik Lewis is a phenomenal acquisition and makes the Als that much more dangerous, but I don’t think he is the final piece that will push them over the top.

The Als came one game short of making it to the Grey Cup last year and all they did in the offseason was get better. They re-signed an incredible number of their own free agents and brought in some great players to fill some needs they had. Lewis is the latest addition, but at this point it just seems like overkill. You can never have too many great players and the Als are proving that right now.

If I had to pick a player to have a Simon-like effect on the 2015 Als, I would pick Fred Stamps. Stamps was phased out of the Eskimos’ offense last season and I think he is going to have a massive bounce-back year. Add in that Stamps has never even played in a Grey Cup, let alone won one, and I think his hunger to finally sip from the Grey chalice will be what lights a fire under him in 2015.

Who will be Cats’ 2nd string QB? Masoli or the newly signed QB?

I am going to assume that “newly signed QB” refers to former Cornell signal caller Jeff Mathews, so that is what I will base this question on.

I think Masoli will start camp as the No. 2 and he may even make it to opening day as the backup behind entrenched starter Zach Collaros, but I think before the season ends, Mathews will move up the depth chart and supplant Masoli as the team’s primary backup.

There are a number of reasons why I think this. For starters, we have seen Masoli play and despite having spent a few years in the CFL, he does not look like a competent professional quarterback. He is a turnover prone and does not make reads well. Perhaps he can be groomed out of his bad habits, but he will be entering his fourth year in the CFL this season – he spent the 2012 season on the Edmonton Eskimos practice roster – and simply has not shown the progress that young pivots usually do.

Secondly, what Mathews lacks in CFL experience, he makes up for with Austin/Condell experience. Mathews played for the Ti-Cats head coach and general manager at Cornell, where he ran an offense designed by current Hamilton offense coordinator Tommy Condell. Mathews will be familiar with the terminology and that will give him a leg up over other similarly situated quarterbacks around the league.

I was a big fan of Masoli when he was coming out of college, and I thought he would make a very good CFL quarterback. But after two seasons in black and gold, I think we know what we have with him.

Thoughts on another ridiculous poll. Lawrence and White the best 1-2 RB combo? You kidding me?

Another week, another question about a poll. Last week, I was asked my feelings on receiving corps, this week it is running back tandems. I would not pick the Edmonton duo as the top tandem, but it is not as egregious as last week’s poll results crowing the RedBlacks receiving corps as the best in the league.

There are actually a number of great running back tandems in the CFL: C.J. Gable and Nic Grigsby, aka G&G TD Factory, in Hamilton (add in Mossis Madu and you get a pretty stellar Three-Headed Monster); the aforementioned White and Lawrence in Edmonton; Andrew Harris and Stefon Logan in BC; Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Whittaker in Montreal. There are some duos, like Jon Cornish and Matt Walter in Calgary, that would rank high because of how good one of those players (Cornish) is (that’s no knock on Walter, but c’mon, that’s not a deadly combo if Cornish isn’t the other guy). And while I am not as high on them as the rest, the Curtis Steele-Steve Slaton pairing in Toronto has a lot of potential.

I have to pick a tandem, don’t I? I know this will get me called a homer, but it has to be Gable and Grigsby. I don’t pick them by much, mind you. Logan’s and Lawrence’s biggest contributions don’t come from the running game, so I eliminated them. While Cornish is head and shoulders above every other running back, Walter doesn’t exactly make defensive coordinators tremble. And the Steele-Slaton duo is long on talent, but short on actual output. That left, at least for me, G&G and Sutton-Whittaker, and the Tiger-Cat twosome is just better. That is not meant as a slight, but we are talking about back-to-back East Division All-Stars in Gable (2013) and Grigsby (2014) as well as the East Division’s top rookie (Gable, 2013) and the CFL’s rushing touchdown leader among running backs (Grigsby). That, to me, vaults them to the top of the list.

1 comment:

  1. Alan "Dirt" Cooper8 March 2015 at 20:14

    Love the column

    Some qs for tomorrow or next week

    What kinds of Ticat/CFL memorabilia do you collect?

    How long have you been a STH?

    How did you become a STH?

    Any early Grey Cup predictions?

    Fav Ticat of all time?

    Best game ever seen live? (I don't mean best ending of a game but the entire game was good, too many people confuse this)

    Your feelings on the title of "World Champions" in MLB and NFL.