Tuesday 30 November 2010

More Coaching Changes?

With Mike Gibson already gone, is Greg Marshall far behind?

According to Perry Lefko, Greg Marshall will not return as Tiger-Cat Defensive Coordinator in 2011.

Lefko also posits that the frontrunner for the position is former Edmonton Eskimo Head Coach Richie Hall. Hall and Tiger-Cat Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille have a friendship dating back to their time together with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Obviously, Hall's philosophy will mesh with Bellefeuille's.

I'm of two minds about this. First, I think Greg Marshall is a very good Defensive Coordinator. He has presided over many top-notch Defenses during his CFL tenure, and Hamilton's the past two seasons has been very good.

That said, his "Bend But Don't Break" philosophy broke a few times in 2010. And sometimes it bent at inopportune moments, such as the final minute against Calgary in Week 2. There were also rumours of clashes between Marshall and Bellefeuille, and with Bellefeuille staying put (rightfully so), it seems like Marshall almost had to go.

There is this myopic view amongst Ti-Cat fans that Marshall can do no wrong, and that all the problems that occurred in 2010 were Mike Gibson and the Offense's fault. I don't subscribe to that particular viewpoint. I think both men underachieved with the groups they were given. The Tiger-Cats should have been better than 9-9 and a first-round playoff exit. They weren't, and it wasn't one person's fault. There were times when the Offense couldn't be stopped, but times when they couldn't get started; the exact same can be said of the Defense. Neither one produced the kind of season that we all thought was possible. Now it looks like this underachievement has cost each man his job (though in Gibson's case, that might not be entirely accurate).

If Marshall is heading out the door, replacing him with Hall is a good move. Hall was a terrific Defensive Coordinator with the Roughriders before he left to take the head job in Edmonton, and he would make an excellent Defensive Coordinator for the Tiger-Cats. The talent is there on the defensive side of the football, led by 2010 Most Outstanding Defensive Player Markeith Knowlton.

Who says there's no news after the Grey Cup? Two days and already two big pieces of news coming out of Tigertown. I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Who Replaces Gibson?

It is now official: Mike Gibson will not be returning as Offensive Coordinator of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

I'm sure many Tiger-Cat fans are popping champagne in celebration. The much-maligned Gibson was nearly universally reviled by Tiger-Cat supporters. I was not one of them. Though Gibson did have his flaws, I was not one of the many who placed the blame almost solely on him. Sure, he needs to take part of the blame – especially for the lackluster rushing attack in 2010 – but he was not the only reason why the Tiger-Cats did not achieve what they had expected to achieve in 2010. Some of that blame falls to the players.

But that's neither here nor there. Gibson is gone, and now the speculation really begins as to who might replace him.

I have already stated, twice, that I would like to see Khari Jones given the chance, and according to Drew Edwards, Jones is on the shortlist of candidates to replace Gibson.

It would be nice for once to see the Tiger-Cats take a chance. Jones has experience – he's been the team's Quarterbacks Coach for two seasons – and is a former player, who won the MOP award in 2001 when playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It would be nice to give a new person the opportunity. There are obviously other candidates available, but I would like to see the team hire Khari Jones as Offensive Coordinator.

Also of note: Offensive Line Coach Steve Buratto will not be brought back either. He has left the team due to family reasons. I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Monday 29 November 2010

Report: Mike Gibson Not Returning

In news that is sure to make many Tiger-Cat fans happy, it seems like Offensive Coordinator Mike Gibson's days with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are numbered, at least according to Sportsnet's Perry Lefko.

The article notes that Gibson will be leaving for personal reasons, not football-related reasons. I hope things aren't serious for Gibson.

The article also mentions that there are plans to "significantly alter [the] coaching staff." With Gibson on his way out, could Defensive Coordinator Greg Marshall be far behind?

I have gone on the record saying that if a change was made, I would like to see Khari Jones given an opportunity.

But Jones is just my preference; there are plenty of other qualified candidates. Let the speculation begin.

Kate McKenna (2010 Ti-Cats TV Host) Needs Your Help

If you're like me and peruse the Tiger-Cats website, then you're likely very familiar with Kate McKenna. She was the host of all the Ti-Cats TV segments in 2010. She was also the in-stadium host for contests during the season. The gig with the Tiger-Cats is only for one year, so Kate will not be back in 2011.

However, with your help, she may be off to some exotic locals in some far-off places as a paid vacationer for Transat Holidays.

How can you help her, you ask? It's simple. All you have to do is go to her profile and click on the "Vote for this Candidate" button. Voting runs until December 2nd and the winner will be announced December 7th.

Good luck to her. I hope when she wins she flies the Tiger-Cats flag proudly around the world.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Possible Expansion Formula

According to TSN's Dave Naylor, the CFL's Board of Governors has come to an agreement on the expansion-draft formula for when Ottawa returns to the league in 2013.

The major change will be in how many Quarterbacks the existing eight teams will be able to protect.

Back in 2002, when Ottawa returned to the CFL as the Renegades, teams were allowed to protect two Quarterbacks. This left Ottawa with slim pickings at the most important position in football. The 'Gades started their inaugural season with Dan Crowley behind Centre (remember him?), but he was soon replaced by a then-unknown Kerry Joseph. While Joseph panned out, that was a lucky break for the Renegades. Not that it mattered for them, since they failed to make the playoffs during their time in the league, but Joseph went on to have a very good CFL career, most notably winning the MOP and Grey Cup in 2007.

When Ottawa returns this time around, teams will only be allowed to protect one Quarterback. That means that Ottawa would be able to choose from a list that includes teams' backups, not just their third stringers. If Ottawa were to return this season the list could include, but would not be limited to, the following:
  • Adrian McPherson
  • Chris Leak
  • Quinton Porter
  • Steven Jyles or Buck Pierce
  • Drew Tate
  • Jared Zabransky
  • Jarious Jackson
Not a bad group to choose from, any one of which would make a very decent Quarterback to start over with, though some more than others.

Some of Quarterbacks listed – McPherson in Montreal, Tate in Calgary – will probably be starters by 2013 and therefore not available, but someone like Zabransky or Porter, while not as polished, could be a guy to build a team around.

The idea behind this change is to make the Ottawa franchise more competitive from the outset. While the Renegades failed for numerous reasons – terrible ownership being chief among them – the fact that they never fielded a contending team hardly helped. Ottawa finished with four wins in 2002, seven in 2003, five in 2004 and seven in 2005. They were never really a threat in any of their four seasons. The Renegades ceased operations prior to the 2006 season.

A lot can happen in the next two years, but it looks like Ottawa will be given every opportunity to compete immediately when the league returns to the nation's capital in 2013.

Montreal Wins the Grey Cup

It wasn't as exciting as their Canada Day showdown, and it won't be as memorable as their meeting in the 97th Grey Cup, but the Als won't care. In front of a highly partisan crowd, the Als eked out a 21-18 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders to win the 98th Grey Cup.

The Alouettes are the first team to repeat as champions since the Doug Flutie-led Toronto Argonauts won back-to-back championships in 1996 and 1997.

Montreal's Jamel Richardson was named the game's MVP with his third-consecutive 100+ yard game in the Grey Cup. A team effort all the way, and Richardson did just enough to warrant the MVP award.

Congratulations to the Als for winning the Grey Cup.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Smitty's Selection: Grey Cup

Well here we are, the end. After 19 regular-season weeks, two weeks of playoffs and 76 games in total, we are one game away from the end of the 2010 CFL season. A season filled with plenty of ups and downs, but a fun one nonetheless. Two teams remain, but only one can be called champion.

98th Grey Cup: Montreal vs. Saskatchewan

We all remember last year, don't we? No time left on the clock, Montreal's Damon Duval lining up for the game-winning field goal, it sails wide, Riders win... except there is a flag. We all know how it ended. I can't think of a worse way to lose a championship than the way that Saskatchewan lost last year. After Duval missed that kick, elation reigned supreme on the Roughriders's bench. For that split second they believed that they had won the 97th Grey Cup. Then to lose it just seconds later because of a too-many-men penalty must have been heartbreaking. That said, it seems rather karmic that the Riders would lose because of the 13th man.

Well, 2010 is not 2009, and while I expect a hard-fought affair, I can't see this one coming down to a last kick. I have flip-flopped all week on who to pick, my want for Montreal to win (I really hate Rider fans) against my gut saying that Saskatchewan will win. My gut has not been wrong too often this season, but it hasn't been perfect either. With it being time to go on the record, I'm going to ignore my gut for the first time all season.

Winner: Montreal, 37-28


Season Record: 39-37

Thursday 25 November 2010

Knowlton Wins Most Outstanding Defensive Player

A season that ended in disappointment for the Tiger-Cats and their fans just got a little less gloomy as Markeith Knowlton has been named the 2010 CFL's Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

I won't go into a long soliloquy about how great Knowlton is. Everyone who reads this blog knows how much I admire Knowlton. Numerous times I have referred to him as the best defensive player in the CFL; tonight he was officially bestowed the title.

Good on you, Markeith.

The Tiger-Cats were shut out in the other three awards they were nominated for: Marcus Thigpen lost out on Most Outstanding Rookie to BC Lion Linebacker Solomon Elimimian; Dave Stala was beaten by Saskatchewan Receiver Andy Fantuz for Most Outstanding Canadian; and Marwan Hage, somewhat surprisingly, lost the award for Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman to Calgary's Ben Archibald. The other award winners were Chad Owens for Most Outstanding Special Teams Player and Henry Burris, who was finally given his due by being named Most Outstanding Player.

Congratulations to all the award winners, and another big hand for Markeith Knowlton.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Will Math Class Be Part of this Week's Preparation?

Looks like the Riders will get a chance at redemption. It's going to be Montreal-Saskatchewan II in Edmonton in a week's time.

We all know how last season ended for the Riders. Now they get a chance to erase the memories of 2009. Should be a good one.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Smitty's Selections: Division Finals

And we're down to four. Not the four I expected – I was incorrect on both my predictions last week – but these are the four nonetheless. Each of these teams made it this far in different ways and deserve kudos for getting to their respective Division Finals, but only two can move on, so two fan bases will feel what Tiger-Cat and Lion fans felt last week as their teams' seasons come to an abrupt halt.

East Division Final: Toronto at Montreal

Toronto entered this season with expectations about as low as they can be. Winning one more game than last season – when they went 3-15 – would have been considered a drastic improvement. Yet here they sit, on the verge of a miraculous Grey Cup appearance. Montreal did in 2010 what Montreal has done for the past 10 years: win football games. Last week, Toronto needed five Hamilton turnovers to beat the Tiger-Cats; Montreal won't give the Argos the same gifts that the Tabbies did.

Winner: Montreal, 37-17

West Division Final: Saskatchewan at Calgary

When I was younger, my father used to always say that the AFC Championship game was the only game that mattered. He's a Bills fan, so you can understand why he'd say that. I'm sure there are plenty of people out west who feel the same about the West Division Final. Not because the West can't win the Grey Cup – they've won seven of the past ten – but because many observers feel that the West is the superior division in the CFL. I'm not here to debate that point, but this matchup between the Riders and Stamps might be the Sox-Yanks of the CFL. Two teams that just plain don't like one another and whose fan bases couldn't be more different. These teams match up incredibly well with one another, so the slight advantage goes to the home team, setting up a rematch of the 96th Grey Cup from 2008.

Winner: Calgary, 38-34

Montreal, Calgary

Season Record: 38-36

Thursday 18 November 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

For the eleventh consecutive year, the Tiger-Cats' season ends without a championship. Not since Danny McManus, Darren Flutie, Joe Montford, et al. hoisted Lord Grey's mug in Vancouver in 1999 has a Tiger-Cat season finished the way we fans had hoped.

With any form of failure comes change. The 2009 Tiger-Cats overachieved in some respects, so last season's 9-9 finish was viewed as a positive. With that, the organization brought almost the exact same roster back. The 2010 Tiger-Cats underachieved by finishing, once again, 9-9. The thinking going into the season was that the Cats were about to stamp their pass as one of the dominant teams in the CFL and finally become that long-awaited challenger to Montreal. Neither of those things happened.

Two years with almost the exact some roster produced the exact same results. Hindsight being what it is, no one should have been surprised by this, yet every Tiger-Cat fan believed that a year of stability and growth would lead to better things in 2010. That didn't happen.

Changes, therefore, are inevitable. This team is going to see some "significant changes," according to Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille. What we do not know, however, is what those changes will entail.

We already know that those changes will not be at the Head Coach or General Manager position. We know that Arland Bruce and Otis Floyd have vowed to return. That, however, is all we know right now.

Bellefeuille also stated that the team has a "core that [they'll] keep together." In perusing the Tiger-Cats roster, I think it is safe to say that the core would be comprised of the following eight players: Kevin Glenn, Arland Bruce, Dave Stala, Marwan Hage, Stevie Baggs, Markeith Knowlton, Jamall Johnson and Otis Floyd. Perhaps there are more, but I would be surprised if any of those players weren't back in 2010.

That, however, leaves everyone else, both players and coaches. So who might see the axe fall on them, and who might be spared?

Let's start with the coaching staff. Both Offensive Coordinator Mike Gibson and Defensive Coordinator Greg Marshall have been under scrutiny from fans at certain points this season, with Gibson, especially, being the target of much vitriol. It is entirely possible that neither one of these coaches will be brought back. Gibson's Offense lacks the hard-to-define "creativity," and Marshall's "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy broke at many points this season.

There is also the question of Offensive Line Coach Steve Buratto. The O-line was phenomenal when pass blocking, but couldn't open a hole for a gnat when run blocking. Who is to blame for that? The problem persisted all season, so perhaps that should fall on the head of the coaching staff.

Now, if Gibson or Marshall or Buratto or a combination of the three is let go, who does the team replace them with? I would like to see the Cats go after a young coach as their new OC, and there is one on their staff already who could be the perfect replacement: Khari Jones. He's already the QB coach, he has a relationship with Kevin Glenn going to back to their days in Winnipeg, and as a player he was known to call his own plays. He could be the perfect candidate to replace Gibson should he be shown the door.

On the defensive side, I think the only person who would be calling plays other than Marshall would be the former Head Coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, Richie Hall. Hall and Bellefeuille have known each other since they were both with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and he would probably be the only candidate that Bellefeuille would be comfortable replacing Marshall with.

Which brings us to the players. Aside from the core group I outlined earlier, I would say that no one is safe. There are three players in particular that could be given a one-way ticket out of town: Sandro DeAngelis, DeAndra' Cobb and Marquay McDaniel.

To say that Sandro DeAngelis had a poor season would be an understatement. He connected on a career-low 76.2% of his field goals. To put that in perspective, Nick Setta was released following the 2009 season because he only connected on 76.0% of his field goals, and Setta was released because he wasn't consistent enough. It's entirely possible that DeAngelis suffers the same fate as Setta did last year. I would suspect that the Cats will keep DeAngelis and bring in someone to compete with him in training camp.

DeAndra' Cobb's 2010 season was one of mystery. There were games where he looked unstoppable, and there were games where he completely disappeared. He still gained over 1,000 yards rushing, but that just masks the fact that Cobb had a sub-par year. He seemed tentative when hitting the line, and he danced around in the backfield way too much. I don't know if Cobb will be invited back, but if he is, the team should bring in a couple of Running Backs to compete with Cobb or perhaps give Marcus Thigpen a chance to unseat Cobb as the team's featured back.

Marquay McDaniel, for all intents and purposes, had a great 2010. He came six yards shy of notching his first 1,000-yard receiving season, and at one point he caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games. However, he had a severe case of butter fingers all season long, and especially late in the season. I think McDaniel is a multipurpose weapon who can make plays both on Offense and Special Teams, but when Marcel Bellefeuille says that "there were some inconsistencies," I think he may have been referring to McDaniel.

I don't expect any of these players to be cut outright, but I do expect them to have to battle for their jobs in 2011. The only way I don't see any of these guys at training camp would be if they were traded, which is entirely possible.

There are other areas of the team that need addressing as well, namely the Secondary. I think out of all the guys, Geoff Tisdale had the best season. It was admittedly up and down, but for the most part Tisdale was solid. It's everyone else that could be replaced. I'm sure the two starting Canadians – Ryan Hinds and Dylan Barker – are relatively safe as well. But Jason Shivers, Jerome Dennis, Will Heyward, Bo Smith, Jykine Bradley, Jonathan Hood, Marc Beswick, Ray Wladichuk, Ellis Lankster and Kyries Hebert could all have new addresses in 2011. The Secondary performed at its best when the five-man group of Barker, Hinds, Tisdale, Bo Smith and Jerome Dennis were on the field during their dominating mid-season run. What that means is anyone's guess. The team might not feel the same, and injuries (namely to Bradley at mid-season and Smith at the end of the season) make it hard to assess what the best five-man group would have been.

There are obviously other areas of concern and other players that are on the bubble, but I figured covering every single one of them would just be tedious. These are the areas I think will get the most attention from the Tiger-Cat front office. All of this is speculation at this point, but the question that I pose in the title – "Where do we go from here?" – will be the question that lingers throughout this long and bitter off-season.

CFL Offensive All-Stars

Just like I did with the East and West Divisional All-Stars, I will present my choices for League All-Stars. Unlike my Divisional All-Star posts, I won't go into great detail about who I picked, because most of them were my Divisional All-Star selections. Today is the CFL Offensive All-Stars.

Quarterback: Henry Burris (CAL)
Choosing Henry Burris or Anthony Calvillo is like choosing between Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. Both are great and deserving, so it really comes down to personal preference. While I've said in the past that Calvillo was my #1 Most Hated Former Tiger-Cat, I've softened on that stance considerably over the course of this season. I have grown to respect and admire Calvillo in the same way that I used to hate Brett Favre, but grew to like him (less so recently, however). But Burris has been outstanding this season, and since he was my choice for MOP, he's my choice for league All-Star.

Running Back: Cory Boyd (TOR), Fred Reid (WIN)
Both of these guys were my East All-Stars, and both were better than Joffrey Reynolds and Wes Cates. It's as simple as that for me.

Receiver: Arland Bruce III (HAM), Terrence Edwards (WIN), Andy Fantuz (SSK), Nik Lewis (CAL)
I wanted to fit Dave Stala in here somewhere, but I also approached these selections trying not to allow any Hamilton bias to cloud my judgment. Had I done so, Nik Lewis would have been left off, and that wouldn't have been right. Bruce was great, and probably would have led the league in receiving had he not been injured near the end of the regular season. Edwards was a beast for Winnipeg and led the East in receiving yards and touchdowns. Fantuz led the league in receiving yards, the first Canadian do so since 1995. Nik Lewis was Nik Lewis. After a somewhat poor 2009, Lewis returned with a vengeance in 2010.

Centre: Marwan Hage (HAM)
Best Centre in the league, and quite possibly the best Offensive Lineman in the league as well. Hage could dominate this position for as long as he stays around.

Guard: Dimitri Tsoumpus (CAL), Scott Flory (MTL)
Tsoumpus helped anchor a stellar Calgary O-Line after his failed stint with the Miami Dolphins, and Flory year in, year out, is one of the best Guards in football.

Tackle: Ben Archibald (CAL), Josh Bourke (MTL)
Like Tsoumpus and Flory at Guard, Ben Archibald and Josh Bourke are rock solid at Tackle. Neither has many flaws, and each year they perform better than they did the year before.

Kicker: Paul McCallum (BC)
McCallum was the best Kicker in the CFL this season, period.

Punter: Burke Dales (CAL)
Dales was better than Renaud this year, simple as that.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Three Tiger-Cats Named CFL All-Stars

While the season may be over for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, there was still something to smile about today as Marwan Hage, Markeith Knowlton and Arland Bruce III were named CFL All-Stars. All three were more than deserving of being named to the league's All-Star team.

This might not be the last honour bestowed upon Hage and Knowlton as, along with Dave Stala and Marcus Thigpen, they are finalists for Most Outstanding Player awards that will be handed out Grey Cup Weekend.

While we all sit here and lament the loss last Sunday, at least this information can provide a little sunshine in what will be, at least for me, a long and somewhat dismal off-season.

CFL Defensive All-Stars

Just like I did with the East and West Divisional All-Stars, I will present my choices for League All-Stars. Unlike my Divisional All-Star posts, I won't go into great detail about who I picked, because most of them were my Divisional All-Star selections. Today is the CFL Defensive All-Stars.

Defensive Tackle: DeVone Claybrooks (CAL), Kevin Huntley (TOR)
Two guys who dominated from the interior line. Both played pivotal roles in disrupting teams' run games and collapsing the pocket on opposing Quarterbacks. Two very deserving All-Stars.

Defensive End: Phillip Hunt (WIN), John Bowman (MTL)
Hunt was the best pass rusher in the CFL, and Bowman (while I didn't vote for him for Divisional All-Star) had an outstanding season as well. I still believe that Willis deserved this, but Bowman is not undeserving.

Linebacker: Markeith Knowlton (HAM), Chip Cox (MTL), Barrin Simpson (SSK)
Knowlton is the best all-round Defensive player in the CFL. Cox had a tremendous season, and Barrin Simpson led the league in tackles after some (i.e., Winnipeg) thought he was over the hill.

Cornerback: Brandon Browner (CAL), Mark Estelle (MTL)
Personally, I hate Browner, and I think he gets away with an awful lot, but he has shut down virtually every big-time Receiver this season, so he's deserving. Estelle (another player that did not get my Divisional nod) had a very good season as well. Many will remember him getting run over by Nik Lewis, but he also made plays for an underrated Alouette Secondary.

Defensive Back: Chris Thompson (EDM), Jerald Brown (MTL)
Chris Thompson never should have been traded by the Cats. I grew to like Maurice Mann over the course of the season, but Thompson played at his previous All-Star level (he was an All-Star in 2008). Brown, in tandem with Estelle, shut down plenty of Receivers for the Als in 2010.

Safety: James Patrick (SSK)
Patrick led the league in interceptions and provided big plays for the Roughriders in key situations.

Special Teams: Chad Owens (TOR)
Over 3,000 combined yards, while leading the league in kickoff, punt and missed field-goal yards. Case closed.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Arland and Otis Not Going Anywhere

While some of us (namely me) were worried that Arland Bruce and Otis Floyd might be heading off into retirement, we can stop that talk right now.

Bruce said that he believes he has "80, 90 games left in [his] system." That equates to about four or five more seasons. This is great news. Hopefully these 80 or 90 games for Bruce all occur with him in Black & Gold. Bruce hadn't made any rumbles about retirement, but he did after the loss in the East Division Semi-Final to the BC Lions in 2009.

Floyd says he plans to be back for his 12th CFL season. This puts to rest rumours that he started himself when he told AM900 CHML's Matt Holmes that Sunday's East Division Semi-Final was his last game. We've all heard veteran players say after tough losses, especially tough playoff losses, that they didn't think they'd be back. Floyd, however, seemed pretty definitive, and he made the statement unprompted. That's what made it feel so genuine.

This is great news from where I sit. Both guys had great seasons in 2010 and showed that they can still contribute at a high level. Floyd set a single-season personal best, with 83 tackles, and finished second on the team to Jamall Johnson's 101. Floyd is the heart and soul of the defense. While he is getting up there in age (and I wouldn't be surprised if 2011 is his last season), Floyd still competes at the highest of levels, and I bet that the loss on Sunday is not how he wanted his career to end.

Bruce very well might have led the CFL in receiving yards had he not missed most of the final three regular-season contests. His game has not fallen off in the least, and I would hazard a guess that the drops he had in Sunday's playoff game will provide fuel to his fire for 2011. I expect him to be extra motivated come the start of the 2011 CFL season.

I look forward to both being back in Black & Gold in 2011.

Monday 15 November 2010

Bellefeuille Won't Be Fired

Drew Edwards is reporting that Head Coach Marcel Bellefeuille will not be fired following yesterday's disappointing East Division Semi-Final loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

Edwards quotes an unnamed source in saying, "The reality is this: Obie and Marcel aren't going anywhere."

Good. Neither should lose their job over yesterday's outcome. Since both assumed full-time control two years ago, the Tiger-Cats have posted back-to-back 9-9 seasons and hosted a playoff game in each of them.

Yes, yesterday's loss is a tough pill to swallow. Despite the loss, I echo Stevie Baggs's sentiments when he says that the Tiger-Cats are a better team than the Argonauts. I believe that they are, but that the Argos were the better team on Sunday. That's sports, and the better team doesn't always win. If that were the case, there would be no point in playing the games.

There are a lot of things to address this off-season, but I'm glad that the status of the Head Coach and General Manager will not be one of them. Continuity is key, and while the Cats could be more consistent, I do think that the Obie-Marcel team can get this squad over the hump. I am glad that neither will be going anywhere.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Toronto 16, Hamilton 13

I have been sitting here trying to figure out what to write. This was a heartbreaking loss. In a year that started with so much promise, for it to end this way is devastating.

I thought that when Kevin Glenn emerged from the locker room like Willis Reed in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, that he was going to lead the team to victory.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

The Argos did not win this game, the Cats lost it. Hamilton beat themselves, period. Five Hamilton turnovers led to 13 of Toronto's 16 points, way too many dropped passes ended promising drives, and Sandro DeAngelis's missed 17-yard field goal proved to be very costly.

Now the long off-season begins earlier than many of us thought it would. This was a team that began the season with Grey Cup aspirations, but whose season ends, once again, in disappointing fashion at Ivor Wynne. However, I will take this every year over 3-15 and 4-14 seasons, and being out of the playoff race by Labour Day.

Changes will be made, but what will those changes be? It's possible that Otis Floyd played his last game today. He seemed to hint at this on the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML. Arland Bruce hinted at retirement following last season; might he be about to call it quits too? Marwan Hage did the same; will he pack it in? Will DeAngelis be brought back? Nick Setta was released because of inconsistent play; DeAngelis epitomized inconsistent play in 2010. Will there be changes to the coaching staff? Will potential free agents (like the suddenly emerging Chris Bauman) be headed elsewhere?

A team that finishes back-to-back years with playoff appearances usually doesn't see too many changes, but this is a veteran team, and the door can only stay open for so long. My gut tells me most of these guys will come back for one more chance to hoist the Grey Cup.

The 2010 CFL season is over for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was a fun ride. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating, but always worth it. Hopefully 2011 will end better than 2010 did.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Less Than 24 Hours

We're less than 24 hours from the biggest playoff game to hit this town since... 1999?

I know I don't speak for everyone, but I'm sure there will be plenty of agreement that this game on Sunday is one of the most anticipated in the last 15 years.

Last year's playoff game with BC was awesome. The comeback that fell just short was heartbreaking, but the crowd was electric.

But that was last year, and this is this year. To get you primed I thought I would drop some exclusive videos for everyone to enjoy.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Wednesday's pep rally at Lime Ridge Mall. However, a few friends of mine were able to attend and took a couple of videos.

First, we have Stevie Baggs lending his Shakespearean skills to "If You're Happy and You Know It:"

The next is Pigskin Pete doing what he does:

Hopefully that got you nice and TURNT UP!!! for tomorrow. Man, I can't wait.

Also, if you haven't got your ticket yet, what are you waiting for? As of this writing there are only 3,802 left, according to the ticket counter on ticats.ca. You're going to want to be there for this. As one of Hamilton's own, the late, great Billy Red Lyons, used to so famously say, "Don'cha dare miss it."

Preview: East Division Semi-Final


Do I really need to hype this up? It's Toronto... versus Hamilton... at Ivor Wynne Stadium... in the playoffs. This game hypes itself.
"Labour Day on 'roids"
– Kate McKenna
"WOOO! Not for the faint of heart, baby. YEAH!"
– Otis Floyd
"TURNT UP!!!!"
– Maurice Mann

Just look at the three above quotes. That tells you what this game is all about. OK, the Mann one doesn't make much sense without context, but the quotes by Floyd and Ti-Cat TV host Kate McKenna capture the mood perfectly.

The atmosphere for this game will be off the hook. Anyone who attended last year's playoff game against BC knows that this one will be louder and rowdier. I can't wait.

The goal for the Cats will be to stop Cory Boyd and force Cleo Lemon to beat them. That's a recipe for disaster for Toronto. Lemon has not looked good this season, and when forced, he makes mistakes. Capitalizing on those mistakes will be key for the Tiger-Cats.

For the Argos, the emphasis will be on making Kevin Glenn uncomfortable and getting him off his rhythm. When Glenn is on, he's as good as anyone in the league. The Argos must get Glenn off his game. If they don't, it will be a long day for the Boatmen.

The Cats and Argos played three times this season, and the Cats beat the Argos in all three matchups. In fact, the only team the Argos did not beat this year was Hamilton. Also of note is that the Tiger-Cats' margin of victory grew in each subsequent game: they won 16-12 on August 20th, 28-13 on Labour Day and 30-3 on October 15th.

But those three previous meetings mean nothing come Sunday. This is the playoffs, and the playoffs are a different beast than the regular season.

And it is that "different beast" aspect that gives the Cats a slight advantage. This year the Cats play the East Semi with the experience advantage. Not many Argos have tasted playoff football, similar to the Cats last year. There is nothing better than afternoon football at Ivor Wynne... except afternoon playoff football at Ivor Wynne.

If you're not going to the stadium to take this in (and you better have a damn good reason for not going), as always you can listen to the game on AM900 CHML and Y108 or watch the game on TSN and TSN HD.

1999 Redux?

Are we about to experience déja vu all over again?

Looking at what could possibly be Hamilton's road to the 98th Grey Cup, one cannot help but see how striking the similarities are to their road to the 87th Grey Cup.

In 1999, Hamilton beat Toronto at Ivor Wynne Stadium in the East Division Semi-Final. In 2010, Hamilton plays Toronto at Ivor Wynne Stadium in the East Division Semi-Final.

In 1999, Hamilton beat Montreal at Olympic Stadium in the East Division Final. In 2010, Hamilton would have to beat Montreal at Olympic Stadium in the East Division Final.

In 1999, Hamilton beat Calgary to win the Grey Cup. In 2010, Hamilton might very well have to beat Calgary to win the Grey Cup. (I get that this one is far from assured, but Calgary is the favourite in the West, so it is not far fetched.)

The parallels don't end there. In 1999, the Toronto Argonauts were coached by Jim Barker (he only lasted that one season). In 2010, the Toronto Argonauts are coached by Jim Barker.

In 1999, Danny McManus and Ron Lancaster were in their second years with the Tiger-Cats. In 2010, Kevin Glenn and Marcel Bellefeuille are in their second years with the Tiger-Cats. (I know that Bellefeuille was Head Coach in 2008 as well, but he was only interim coach at that time.)

Many have claimed that the 2010 Tiger-Cats have underachieved. The same could be said about the 1999 Tiger-Cats. In 2009, the Cats finished second in the East, with a 9-9 record, so much more was expected of them in 2010. However, the Cats stumbled out of the gate, and once again finished the season second in the East, with a 9-9 record.

In 1998, the Tiger-Cats finished first in the East, with a 12-5-1 record. So, much more was expected of them the following season. In 1999, the Cats slipped to second in the East, with an 11-7 record.

In 1999, the Tiger-Cats were making their second consecutive playoff appearance after finishing in last in the CFL in 1997, with a 2-16 record. In 2010, the Tiger-Cats are making their second consecutive playoff appearance after finishing last in the CFL in 2008, with a 3-15 record.

Perhaps I am drawing comparisons between things that have nothing in common, but some of them (like the potential row the Tiger-Cats must hoe in order to win the Grey Cup) are eerily similar. I'm not saying conclusively that the 1999 and 2010 seasons are going to end the same, just that some of the parallels are striking.

Friday 12 November 2010

Smitty's Selections: Division Semi-Finals

Well, folks, the playoffs are here. Only five more games remain until we all pack it in and wait until next June. Man, time goes by awfully fast.

East Division Semi-Final: Toronto at Hamilton

The single greatest rivalry in all of professional sports gets the playoff atmosphere for the first time since 2004, which is the last time the Argos won the Grey Cup. These two teams haven't met in a playoff game at Ivor Wynne Stadium since 1999, which, coincidentally, is also the last time that the Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup. Very interesting. Both the Argos and the Tiger-Cats finished the season with identical 9-9 records. These two teams also met three times in the regular season, with the Tiger-Cats winning all three matchups. This should be an intense game, and I, of course, give the edge to the Cats.

Winner: Hamilton, 27-6

West Division Semi-Final: British Columbia at Saskatchewan

This one has been giving me fits all week. One day, I think the Riders will win; the next day, BC. Saskatchewan is the better team... with the better players... playing at home... where it is very hard for opposing teams to win. All that said, I just can't shake the feeling that BC is going to pull off the upset. I don't have any concrete reasons for believing this, just a gut feeling.

Winner: British Columbia, 28-24

Hamilton, British Columbia

Season Record: 38-34

How They Stack Up (Special Teams)

The somewhat forgotten member of the football triad might be the one that has the biggest effect on Sunday's outcome. Special Teams have always been important, but usually get lost in the shuffle because they aren't viewed with the same respect that is given to Offense and Defense. But in the playoffs, field position and field goals play a large part in who goes on and who goes home.

Kicking: Noel Prefontaine (TOR) vs. Sandro DeAngelis (HAM)
To say that Sandro DeAngelis's first season in Hamilton has been a disappointment would be stating the obvious. DeAngelis came to Hamilton with a résumé that had him among the elite at the position. His first season saw him miss some crucial kicks (namely in a one-point loss to Calgary in Week 2), and he connected on a middling 76.2% of his field goals. He did finish fourth in the league in scoring, but DeAngelis was not the clutch kicker this season that the Tiger-Cats hoped he would be.

Prefontaine started the year in Edmonton and was traded to Toronto just prior to the trade deadline in October. Prefontaine has always had a big leg, and even at his advanced age, he can still boom them. Also, he missed only five field goals all season, so his accuracy is still top notch as well.

Advantage: Argonauts

Punting: Noel Prefontaine (TOR) vs. Eric Wilbur (HAM)
Prefontaine doubles as the Punter for the Double Blue. His punting average is a very respectable 42.9 yards per punt, and he did have the year's longest punt, at 81 yards. Like with field goals, Prefontaine still has plenty of life left in his leg.

Eric Wilbur came into a perfect situation when he signed with Hamilton in August. His only goal was not to have a punt blocked. During the first five games of the season, Justin Palardy (now the Kicker in Winnipeg) had three punts blocked, the final one being in Regina in what turned out to be the turning point of the game against the Riders. Wilbur was brought in following the Saskatchewan debacle, and has performed marvelously. His average is just above Prefontaine's, at 43 yards per punt, and he has boomed more than his fair share. He also puts plenty of hang time on his punts, which allows for the coverage unit to be in perfect position to not give up a big play. This will come in handy this week against the league's most dangerous return man, Toronto's Chad Owens.

These two are so close, but one player is a rookie and another is a proven playoff veteran.

Advantage: Argonauts

Returners: Chad Owens (TOR) vs. Marcus Thigpen (HAM)
Probably the two most dangerous return men in the East face off once again. Owens has not had that big of an impact on the games between these two teams as many would expect. In fact, I would say that Thigpen has outdueled Owens in the previous three meetings.

Even with that being the case, Owens is still a bigger threat than Thigpen. Owens has been, hands down, the scariest player in the entire league this season. He finished the year with over 3,000 total yards and is a threat to score whenever he gets his hands on the ball. Thigpen has been great; Owens has been greater.

Advantage: Argonauts


I am not the least bit surprised that the Argonauts swept the three Special Teams areas. They have lived and died by Special Teams this season. Coordinator Mike O'Shea has been the gutsiest play caller in the entire CFL with some of the trick plays he has pulled out. I can't believe I am about to type this, but O'Shea deserves a lot of credit for making the Argonaut Special Teams group the best in the CFL.

Dave Easley is no slouch either, and Hamilton's unit has been pretty good as well, especially in the return game and in kick coverage, but Hamilton's Special Teams do not hold a candle to Toronto's.

Advantage: Argonauts

East Offensive All-Stars

Balloting is now closed for divisional All-Star nominations, so over a four-day span I will unveil one of four groups of players. Today is my East Offensive All-Stars.

Quarterback: Kevin Glenn (HAM)
I am sure that this selection will be heavily scrutinized. I'm sure the detractors will call this a homer pick. To be fair, there were, in all honesty, only two players worthy of consideration: Glenn and Anthony Calvillo. (Anyone who thinks Cleo Lemon or anyone in Winnipeg should be considered is out of their mind.) So how do Glenn and Calvillo stack up against one another?

Glenn had more passing yards and touchdowns. Calvillo had fewer interceptions, a higher QB rating and a higher completion percentage. Basically their statistical comparisons are a wash, though Calvillo throwing only seven picks is impressive, even for him.

Glenn, however, did play in all 18 games; Calvillo missed three games and most of a fourth. Calvillo's numbers would be higher than Glenn's had he suited up for all 18 games, but Glenn playing in every game needs to be a positive not a negative. Durability is key, and no QB in the East was more durable than Glenn in 2010.

Now, having said all that, I am 99.99% positive that Calvillo will be the East All-Star QB when the votes are tallied. I'd be surprised if Glenn got the nod, but an argument can be made for him.

Running Back: Cory Boyd (TOR), Fred Reid (WIN)
While the West had somewhat middling performances from their Running Back stable, the same cannot be said of the East. Three of the four finished with over 1,000 yards rushing (Reid, Boyd and DeAndra' Cobb), while the other one (Avon Cobourne) missed by only 44 yards.

I've stated before that players that I gave award nominations to would also get my All-Star vote. So since Boyd was my nominee from the East for MOP, he's one of my All-Star RBs. Boyd, to put it simply, was the Argonaut offense in 2010. Even though teams knew he was going to get the ball, he was virtually unstoppable. Boyd was fantastic during his first CFL season.

Reid led the league in rushing and played brilliantly for a losing team in Winnipeg. He's never been a big TD guy, but his numbers stayed about the same as last year, when was also an All-Star. Reid also led the league with a 6.6 yards-per-rush average.

Receiver: Arland Bruce (HAM), Terrence Edwards (WIN), Jamel Richardson (MTL), Dave Stala (HAM)
The competition at Receiver in the East was the same as the competition for Running Back in the West. That is to say, there wasn't much. With Toronto having a passing game that resembled a mediocre high school team's, that left only three teams to choose from.

Arland Bruce, who led the league in receiving for most of the year, gets one of the spots. He is, if not the best, then one of the top three or five Receivers in the CFL.

Terrence Edwards had a terrific season in Winnipeg. He led the East in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns (and finished second, league-wide, in both categories), and he did it all despite never having a solidified QB. He started the season with Buck Pierce, who was replaced by Steven Jyles, who was replaced by Buck Pierce, who was replaced by Steven Jyles, who was replaced by Alex Brink, who was replaced by Steven Jyles, who was replaced by Alex Brink, who was replaced by Joey Elliott. Phew, were you able to follow all that? Yet, regardless of who was taking snaps, Edwards continued to put up great numbers.

There were a lot of good Receivers to choose from from Montreal. I chose Richardson. He was the most consistent out of the bunch (where he edges out S.J. Green) and the most durable (where he edges out Kerry Watkins). Richardson led the Als in receptions and yards, and finished third in touchdowns.

I will admit that a bit of homerism played a role in selecting Dave Stala as my fourth, and final, All-Star Receiver. It came down to him and S.J. Green, and I went with Stala because of how important he was to Kevin Glenn throughout the season. He was Glenn's security blanket. When the Tiger-Cats needed a first down, Glenn looked to Stala. Green made a lot of big plays, but he wasn't as dependable as Stala over the entire season.

Centre: Marwan Hage (HAM)
Year after year, Hage would lose this to Alouette Centre Brian Chiu. With Chiu now retired, there is no better Centre in the East, and perhaps the CFL, than Marwan Hage. Like Bob Dole in 1996, it's Hage's turn in 2010.

Guard: Peter Dyakowski (HAM), Scott Flory (MTL)
Dyakowski played in all 18 games and was part of a Tiger-Cat Offensive Line that gave up a league-low 26 sacks all season. Considering 11 of those sacks came in two games, that's remarkable.

Flory, a perennial All-Star, had his typical great season, and there was no reason to elevate anyone ahead of him.

Tackle: Josh Bourke (MTL), Alexandre Gauthier (HAM)
Much like Hage and Dyakowski, Gauthier was a rock on a great Tiger-Cat O-Line. Not much else needs to be said.

Bourke was very good for the Als this season. He was even able to wrestle away Montreal's nomination for Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman from Scott Flory (which is no small feat). Bourke also has a legitimate shot to take home the award at the end of November.

Kicker: Damon Duvall (MTL)
I think if I would have waited, I probably would have picked Winnipeg's Justin Palardy. Duval was hurt this season, and his field goal percentage was the lowest of any of the regular Kickers. I think I goofed on this one, but no Kicker in the East was truly worthy of consideration. DeAngelis stunk, and the Argos rotated Kickers (Shaw to Medlock to Prefontaine) like people rotate their mattresses. Yeah, this should have gone to Palardy.

Punter: Eric Wilbur (HAM)
This has as much to do with his punting (which was phenomenal) as it does with his toughness. Not since Jamie Boreham has a Punter been willing to stick his nose in and make a play.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Most Outstanding Awards Finalists Named

The award finalists have been announced, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats snagged a league-leading four nominations – out of a possible six – in the East. Markeith Knowlton (Most Oustanding Defensive Player), Dave Stala (Most Outstanding Canadian), Marwan Hage (Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman) and Marcus Thigpen (Most Outstanding Rookie) were the four Tiger-Cats nominated. Anthony Calvillo (Most Outstanding Player) of the Montreal Alouettes and Chad Owens (Most Outstanding Special Teams Player) of the Toronto Argonauts were the other two nominees from the East.

In the West, Calgary led with three nominations: Henry Burris (Most Outstanding Player), Juwan Simpson (Most Outstanding Defensive Player) and Ben Archibald (Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman). Andy Fantuz (Most Outstanding Canadian) of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Solomon Elimimian (Most Outstanding Rookie) and Yonus Davis (Most Outstanding Special Teams Player) of the BC Lions were other nominees.

All 12 men are more than deserving of their nominations. I would also like to point out that my selections – which I made on Tuesday – were not far off the mark.

I think the only Tiger-Cat who doesn't have a legitimate shot is Dave Stala for top Canadian. Fantuz has just been too good this season to ignore. He finished the season with the most receiving yards, a feat that hasn't been accomplished by a Canadian since Dave Sapunjis back in 1995.

Knowlton, to me, is a shoe-in for Defensive Player. No offense to Simpson, who I know has had a great season, but Knowlton is the best defensive player in the CFL, period.

Hage has a better than 50-50 shot to win top O-Lineman, and Thigpen is probably the underdog to win top Rookie.

That said, I would really only be shocked if Stala won and Knowlton lost.

Here are my predictions:
MOP – Burris
MODP – Knowlton
MOC – Fantuz
MOOL – Archibald
MOSTP – Owens (this one was easy)
MOR – Elimimian

How They Stack Up (Defense)

I kicked things off yesterday with the Offense, so now it's time to give those who stop them some time to shine.

Defensive Line: Ronald Flemons, Eric Taylor, Kevin Huntley, Ricky Foley (TOR) vs. Stevie Baggs, Garret McIntyre, Justin Hickman, Demonte' Bolden (HAM)

This one is actually very even. Flemons and Huntley have been very good this season, and Taylor has done a decent job of clogging the middle. Foley has been a disappointment since signing with the Argos at mid-season, however.

The Tiger-Cats' mid-season acquisition has been the anti-Ricky Foley. Stevie Baggs has been lights out for the Tabbies. Hickman and McIntyre were taking care of business for most of the season, but the addition of Baggs has made the D-Line downright lethal.

This one is close, but I give it to the Cats by a nose, thanks to Baggs.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats

Linebackers: Jordan Younger, Jason Pottinger, Kevin Eiben (TOR) vs. Markeith Knowlton, Otis Floyd, Jamall Johnson (HAM)

Hamilton fields the best set of Linebackers in the CFL, period. I said it at the beginning of the season, I said it at mid-season, and I'll say it again next season (provided these three guys stay in Hamilton).

Markeith Knowlton is the single best defensive player in the CFL. Jamall Johnson is not that far behind. While Otis may have lost a step, he's still one of the most feared hitters in the entire league.

That said, the Argos do field a nice trio of their own. Eiben is a lot like Johnson. Both are tackling machines. Pottinger is a nice player. Not too flashy, but he brings a workmanlike attitude to the field. Younger, who is a converted DB, has performed admirably this season.

But as I said, I believe that the Cats' LBs are better than any team's, so this one was easy for me.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats

Secondary: Byron Parker, Lin-J Shell, Evan McCollough, Willie Pile (TOR) vs. Geoff Tisdale, Jason Shivers, Ryan Hinds, Dylan Barker, Jerome Dennis (HAM)

To say that the Tiger-Cat Secondary has been a liability for most of the season might be an understatement. While there have been some great performances (the month of October was particularly good for the Tiger-Cats), the unit has been inconsistent. The guys play hard, but the unit as a whole has been lackluster. Geoff Tisdale has been good, but that depends on what position he plays. Dylan Barker has done a decent job since replacing the retired Sandy Beveridge, but he has had his mental lapses as well (most notably on interceptions). Jason Shivers mixes the good with the bad, while Ryan Hinds sometimes plays like the rookie he is.

The Argos haven't been world beaters either, but they have stayed relatively consistent throughout the 2010 campaign. Lin-J Shell picked up where he left off in 2009. Byron Parker has been very good in his return from Edmonton. Willie Pile has really taken to the Safety position since being moved there from Linebacker, and rookie Evan McCollough has been better than anticipated. Where the Argos are in trouble is with the recent injury to Willie Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks was one of the team's best defensive players, and his loss will hurt when facing the vaunted Tiger-Cat passing attack.

Advantage: Argonauts

The Defenses stack up very evenly with one another. Both have an experienced and tenacious front four, each team's Linebackers are very skilled and the Secondaries both have question marks. It's tough to give the advantage to either, but with the home crowd being able to make it LOUD for the Tiger-Cats, I will give them an ever-so-slight advantage on Sunday.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats

West Offensive All-Stars

Balloting is now closed for divisional All-Star nominations, so over a four-day span I will unveil one of four groups of players. Today is my West Offensive All-Stars.

Quarterback: Henry Burris (CAL)
For my money, Burris was the best QB in the CFL in 2010. He was my choice for MOP, so he's obviously my pick for West Division All-Star.

The numbers tell part of the story. Burris threw for more TD passes than anyone else (38) and led his team to more victories (13) than any other QB. He finished third in passing yards behind Darian Durant and Kevin Glenn, but he was also pulled from a lot of games (namely two mid-season contests against Edmonton and in the final week against Winnipeg), which hurt his numbers.

Even so, Burris was still far and away the best QB in the West in 2010.

Running Back: Wes Cates (SSK), Joffrey Reynolds (CAL)
The Running Backs in the West weren't as strong as the ones in the East, so these choices were tough. But BC and Edmonton didn't have a bellcow back, so almost by default, the choices were Cates and Reynolds.

That's not to say that either player isn't deserving. Both went over 1,000 yards, and Cates scored 16 TDs (15 rushing, one receiving). But in all honesty, these two were the best of a mediocre bunch.

Receiver: Nik Lewis (CAL), Andy Fantuz (SSK), Weston Dressler (SSK), Fred Stamps (EDM)
The West, while lacking at Running Back, more than made up for it at Receiver. Eight Receivers from the West eclipsed 1,000 yards (Lewis, Fantuz, Dressler, Stamps, Ken-Yon Rambo, Geroy Simon, Romby Bryant and Emmanuel Arceneaux), so picking only four was difficult.

Fantuz led the league in receiving; Lewis had arguably his best season; Stamps, in my opinion, likely would have won the receiving title had he been healthy all year; and Dressler is as clutch as they get.

That said, an equally strong case could be made for the four players I didn't select. It was just that good of a year for Receivers in the West Division.

Centre: Jeremy O'Day (SSK)
One of the hardest choices to make is Offensive Line. On the line, picking interior linemen is even more difficult. O'Day has been the West All-Star three of the past four seasons, so I probably gave this to him on rep alone. That said, I don't know who else I would have picked.

Guard: Dimitri Tsoumpus (CAL), Patrick Kabango (EDM)
The weak link heading into the season for the Calgary Stampeders, according to most pundits, was their Offensive Line. The loss of Tsoumpus, who went to try out for the Miami Dolphins, was one of the reasons why. But the Stamps line gelled, and reintegrated Tsoumpus with ease. Once he was back, he dominated like he did the year before.

I was going to pick Gene Makowsky for my second Guard, but when I did my picks online, Makowsky wasn't available. So I went with the only other guy I knew, which was Patrick Kabango. He probably doesn't deserve this, but as I said, picking interior linemen isn't easy.

Tackle: Ben Archibald (CAL), Gene Makowsky (SSK)
Archibald was my choice for Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in the West, so to not pick him as an All-Star would have been foolish.

As I said above, I was picking Makowsky for Guard, but he was listed as a Tackle. I picked him anyway.

Kicker: Paul McCallum (BC)
No Kicker was better than Paul McCallum in 2010. He connected on a league-high 88.2% of his kicks, and he was the BC Lions' nominee for Most Outstanding Player. At 40 years of age, McCallum seems to have found the fountain of youth.

Punter: Eddie Johnson (SSK)
Calgary's Burke Dales leads the league in punting average, but Eddie Johnson of the Roughriders was put into a difficult position when Luca Congi went down with injury. Johnson's versatility was the reason I voted for him as an All-Star.

Lest We Forget

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the first World War came to an end.

I would like to take this time to thank everyone who gave their life to protect the freedoms that we enjoy to this very day. Your sacrifices will never be forgotten.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Ti-Cats Unveil Their Stadium Plans

I said awhile ago that I would stop talking about the Pan Am Stadium. To be perfectly honest, I was sick of reading about it, of hearing about it, and of feeling like I had to write about it. So I imposed a moratorium on stadium topics on myself.

Well, I will break that today, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have unveiled their plans for the proposed stadium at the Aberdeen and Longwood location.

I'm not going to get into whether I like it or not. To be perfectly honest, I don't really care what the facility looks like as long as it has seats, a field and sight lines that don't mimic the Rogers Centre SkyDome. That's all I need to enjoy a football game. I just want this whole mess to be sorted out once and for all.

If this design works for the team (which it obviously does) and it works for the city, then let's get this puppy built and put this whole nasty mess behind us once and for all.

I will say, it's kind of a cool-looking design. But that's all I'm going to say on the matter. Moratorium back on.

Four Tiger-Cats Named East Division All-Stars

A big congratulations to Arland Bruce, Dave Stala, Marwan Hage and Markeith Knowlton on being named 2010 East Division All-Stars.

I'm surprised that these were the only four Tiger-Cats named East Division All-Stars. I figured some others merited inclusion, but looking at who did make it, it's hard to argue with any of the selections.

I think all four have a reasonable shot at being named CFL All-Stars as well. I would be shocked if Arland Bruce and Marwan Hage weren't named league All-Stars, and Knowlton definitely should be, but because he's not flashy like some other Linebackers, I get the feeling he'll be left off the team. Stala is in tough at WR, but might squeak in. We'll find out in about a week.

How They Stack Up (Offense)

With the East Division Semi-Final matchup between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts on the horizon, I think it would be pertinent to see how the teams match up against one another at each position.

Let's start with the Offense.

Quarterback: Cleo Lemon (TOR) vs. Kevin Glenn (HAM)

Is this even up for discussion? I can't think of one person who watches the CFL that would put Cleo Lemon in the same class as Kevin Glenn.

Glenn had better stats than Lemon in every major statistical category in 2010. Glenn had more TD passes (33 to 15), more passing yards (5,102 to 3,433), a higher completion percentage (64.5 to 61.7), fewer interceptions (17 to 19) and a better QB rating (97.6 to 78.1).

Shall I continue or shall I just leave this as is and move on? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats

Running Back: Cory Boyd (TOR) vs. DeAndra' Cobb (HAM)

Cory Boyd came into this season a complete unknown. He will exit this season a star. Boyd led the league in rushing for most of the season, only ceding the crown to Fred Reid because Boyd did not play in the final week. Boyd has been great all year, despite being the one player every team must contain in order to beat the Argos. The only team so far to do so... the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Cobb's season got off to a rough start, but he showed flashes of his 2009 self in a few games this season. Cobb has been consistently inconsistent. He also has a problem holding on to the football, as fumbles and dropped passes have been his Achilles' heel all season.

Advantage: Argonauts

Receivers: Jeremaine Copeland... not much else (TOR) vs. Arland Bruce III, Dave Stala, Marquay McDaniel, Maurice Mann (HAM)

The disparity here comes from Lemon's inability in the passing game versus Glenn's mastery of it.

The Argos are pretty much Jeremaine Copeland and a whole lot of nothing. Chad Owens has had some good weeks, but he does most of his damage on Special Teams, not on offense. Spencer Watt had a big game in Week 19 against Montreal, but how much can be taken from that? Brandon Rideau? Mike Bradwell? Reggie McNeal? Please.

On the other side, Hamilton sports the best set of pass catchers East of the prairies. Bruce continues to produce at an All-Star level, while Stala is as clutch as they come, especially on second down. McDaniel, in only his second year, has blossomed into a very good player, and Mann, who has had his ups and downs, has put together a couple of good games this season, especially his Week 19 performance against BC.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats

Offensive Line: Rob Murphy, Cedric Gagne-Marcoux, Dominic Picard, Taylor Robertson, Chris Van Zeyl (TOR) vs. Alexandre Gauthier, Peter Dyakowski, Marwan Hage, Simeon Rottier, Jason Jimenez

On the offensive side of the football, this is a pretty even matchup. The Argos line paved the way for Boyd to have a great season. The passing game sputtered, but that wasn't the line's fault. They gave Lemon a lot of time to make plays; he just made poor decisions.

The Tiger-Cats line allowed a league-low 26 sacks all season, and also had their RB rush for over 1,000. Glenn also had perhaps his best season because he was able to stay upright.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats (but only slightly)

The Cats have a huge advantage at Quarterback and Receiver, but only a slight one on the Offensive Line. The only area, at least offensively, that the Argos have the advantage over the Cats is at Running Back.

Advantage: Tiger-Cats

East Defensive All-Stars

Balloting is now closed for divisional All-Star nominations, so over a four-day span I will unveil one of four groups of players. Today is my East Defensive All-Stars.

Defensive Tackle: Kevin Huntley (TOR), Doug Brown (WIN)
For a man ending his tenth season in the league, Doug Brown showed no signs of slowing down. His motor might be a tad slower, but he still hustles on every play.

Huntley led the Argos in sacks, with nine, and as an interior Defensive Lineman, that is impressive enough. The Argos had a very good front four in 2010, and Huntley deserves to be recognized for that.

Defensive End: Phillip Hunt (WIN), Odell Willis (WIN)
There were a lot of good performances from Defensive Ends this year. Ronald Flemons of the Argos had a tremendous season. Garrett McIntyre of the Tiger-Cats led the team in sacks, with eight. John Bowman from Montreal finished second in sacks, with 12. And while he wasn't eligible, Stevie Baggs had a great half season with Hamilton. The East had the most dominant Defensive Ends in 2010.

The most dominant among the most dominant were the Winnipeg duo of Hunt and Willis. Hunt led the league in sacks, with 16; Willis was third, with 11. Hunt had a sack in 10 straight games; Willis forced a team-leading four fumbles.

In a year when a half dozen players could be seriously considered for All-Star nominations, the Winnipeg sack masters stood head and shoulders above them all.

Linebacker: Markeith Knowlton (HAM), Chip Cox (MTL), Jamall Johnson (HAM)
Knowlton is the most complete Defensive player in the league. His stats, while not dominant in any one category, were amazing. His most impressive are probably his two blocked kicks and his six fumble recoveries.

Johnson led the East in tackles and would probably have been a team's award nominee if not for the fact that he plays alongside Knowlton.

The final spot was a coin flip between Chip Cox and Kevin Eiben. I like Eiben more than Cox (I really hate Chip Cox), but to deny Cox his due wouldn't be fair. The guy has had an amazing season.

Cornerback: Geoff Tisdale (HAM), Jovon Johnson (WIN)
Johnson is a versatile player who plays corner and returns kicks. Johnson held the Winnipeg group together after the loss of Jonathan Hefney to the NFL. Johnson finished with four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.

Tisdale made a lot of big plays in 2010. He, like Johnson, finished the season with four interceptions, and while he didn't have a great game against BC to end the season, Tisdale did shut down a lot of big-play Receivers.

Defensive Back: Lin-J Shell (TOR), Jerald Brown (MTL)
Jerald Brown led the East in interceptions, with five. He blanketed Receivers for the Als, and during 2010 probably became their best player in the Secondary.

Before the season started, I had high hopes for Lin-J Shell. He didn't disappoint. Shell intercepted four passes this season and was part of a very good Argo Secondary.

Safety: Willie Pile (TOR)
Pile is the undisputed captain of the Argonauts Secondary. Guys like Byron Parker get more publicity, but Pile is the linchpin of the Argos' defensive backfield. Pile was moved to Safety after being a Linebacker, and he took that Linebacker mentality to the Secondary.

Special Teams: Chad Owens (TOR)
Do I even have to say anything? As far as no-brainers go, this one was the no-brainer to end all no-brainers.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Choose the Music

"Enter Sandman" or "Lose Yourself"?

"Thunderstruck" or "Another One Bites the Dust"?

Those are just four of the 11 options that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Y108 have provided fans to choose which song the Tiger-Cats will enter Ivor Wynne Stadium to on Sunday for the East Division Semi-Final.

Voting runs from now until Thursday, November 11th at 5:00PM. After that the 11 songs will be reduced to the four most popular choices. Voting will then reopen for the final four songs, with the song that gets the most votes being played as the Tiger-Cats get ready to step out onto the field to take apart on the Toronto Argonauts.

Here are all 11:
  1. "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC
  2. "Uprising" by Muse
  3. "Enter Sandman" by Metallica
  4. "Right Here, Right Now" by Fatboy Slim
  5. "Let's Go" by Trick Daddy
  6. "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes
  7. "Back in the Saddle" by Aerosmith
  8. "Sirius" by Alan Parsons Project
  9. "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen
  10. "Lose Yourself" by Eminem
  11. "For Those About to Rock" by AC/DC
A lot of good songs and a lot of songs that personally get my blood pumping. I've got to go with Enter Sandman, though. There is just something about that song that gets me all riled up and ready to fight. It's the perfect song, as far as I am concerned, to hear before kickoff.

Baggs Named Defensive Player of the Month

The Players of the Month for October have been announced, and to no one's surprise, Stevie Baggs has snagged Defensive Player of the Month.

Baggs was a dominant force on Hamilton's Defensive Line over the last month. Baggs finished the month with 20 tackles, four sacks and three fumble recoveries – two of which he took back for touchdowns – and an interception. He won Defensive Player of the Week twice in October, after dominating performances against the Argonauts (where he had two sacks) and the Alouettes (where he returned a fumble for a touchdown and had an interception).

I would have been more surprised had Baggs not won this award. Baggs was simply spectacular over the final month of the season (his first since returning to the CFL from the NFL), and his addition provided a spark to the Tiger-Cat Defense.

A well-deserved award for the man we call Shakespeare.

West Defensive All-Stars

Balloting is now closed for divisional All-Star nominations, so over a four-day span I will unveil one of four groups of players. Today I present my West Defensive All-Stars.

Defensive Tackle: DeVone Claybrooks (CAL), Tom Johnson (CAL)
One of the hardest positions to pick an All Star at is Defensive Tackle. Guys who play this position are not stat machines. Their presence is felt in other areas. The Calgary combination of Claybrooks and Johnson made life miserable for Running Backs when they played against the Stampeders. Each man also recorded four sacks, which is fairly impressive for an interior Lineman.

Defensive End: Brent Johnson (BC), Keron Williams (BC)
While the Stampeders clog up the middle, this Lions pair help get to the passer. While BC did not lead the league in sacks, both Johnson and Williams provided excellent pressure on opposing Quarterbacks, combining for 12 sacks over the course of the season.

Linebacker: Solomon Elimimian (BC), Barrin Simpson (SSK), Juwan Simpson (CAL)
Linebackers are the Quarterbacks of the defense, and these three guys were the best of the best in 2010.

What Solomon Elimimian accomplished in his rookie season was nothing short of phenomenal. He led his team in tackles and wreaked havoc on opposing players. He laid out vicious hit after vicious hit. A nice find by Wally Buono.

Barrin Simpson came into this season with something to prove. After being in Mike Kelly's (remember him?) doghouse for most of last season, Simpson was unceremoniously dumped by Winnipeg after the 2009 season. The Roughriders took a chance on the aging Linebacker and all he did was lead the league in tackles.

Juwan Simpson took his game to another level in 2010, tying for the West-Division lead with seven sacks, and leading the Stampeders in tackles with 71. Simpson is also great on Special Teams, where he notched an additional 18 tackles.

Cornerback: Brandon Browner (CAL), Dwight Anderson (CAL)
Probably the two players I hate more than any others, the Stampeder duo of Brandon Browner and Dwight Anderson are the best cover tandem in the West. Week in, week out, these guys shut down the top Receivers in the CFL. They both get a lot of leeway from officials, but their stellar play has earned them the benefit of the doubt.

Defensive Back: Chris Thompson (EDM), Milt Collins (CAL)
Collins seamlessly made the switch from Safety to Halfback this season, and continued to lay the big hits on guys.

Thompson, who was acquired from Hamilton in the off-season, found his ballhawk skills again. Thompson finished second in the league with seven interceptions, after notching only one last season.

Safety: James Patrick (SSK)
Patrick was the top ballhawk this CFL season, leading the league with nine interceptions. Patrick was a force to be reckoned with in the Secondary, tallying 68 tackles to go along with those interceptions.

Special Teams: Yonus Davis (BC)
In the West, there was no more potent a weapon on Special Teams than Yonus Davis. He is a poor man's version of Toronto's Chad Owens. Davis finished with over 1,600 return yards, while adding three return touchdowns.

Go Hard or Go Home (UPDATED)

Getting to marry one love with another is a dream for many people. I love to write and I love football, hence this blog.

For Scotty Tyler Dickens, being able to bring his love for Hamilton Tiger-Cat football and rap music together was a dream come true.

Back in the summer, Scotty, who raps under the alias "Casper," dropped a song entitled "Go Hard or Go Home."

I talked to Scotty back in August about his song, and I was just waiting for the right time to unleash this on the world. Then it hit me, with the Cats about to start their playoff run, what better time than now to get this song some pub? Can you think of a better playoff anthem than this? I can think of no better way to honour a die-hard Tiger-Cat fan – whose first words were "fumble" and "tuckdown" (touchdown) – than by making it the official song of the playoffs. Let's face it, at this time of year, the words "Go Hard or Go Home" have a literal meaning, when one loss ends the season.

I would also like to express my gratitude to Scotty for sharing aspects of his life with me. While I didn't use all the stories he shared, I know that Scotty bleeds Black & Gold, and I am glad I am able to get this song to a couple of more sets of ears. Hopefully someone in the Tiger-Cats organization will catch wind of this, and maybe we'll be hearing this from the stadium speakers on Sunday.

UPDATE: I sent a copy of this song to the Tiger-Cats earlier this morning, and it is possible that they will be playing it at some point during the game on Sunday. I was not promised anything, but my hope is that at some point we'll hear "Go Hard or Go Home" blaring from the speakers at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

Blogskee Wee Wee's Most Outstanding Player Awards (CFL Edition)

When the team nominees for the Most Outstanding Player awards were announced last Wednesday, I figured I would add my two cents and pick the players I think were the most outstanding in 2010.

Most Outstanding Player
West Nominee: Henry Burris (QB, Calgary Stampeders)
East Nominee: Cory Boyd (RB, Toronto Argonauts)

I think there are really only four legitimate candidates for MOP: Burris, Boyd, Anthony Calvillo and Kevin Glenn. One could make a case for any of those four, and it would be compelling enough for me to probably agree with it.

I went with Burris and Boyd. I think that Burris has been far and away the best player in the West Division this season. I don't think any player has come close to matching him. Boyd, while not as dominant as Burris in the West, has been the linchpin for the Argonauts' offense. Imagine where they'd be without Boyd. I know that what I just described is most valuable player, but Boyd has also been outstanding. When everyone knows he's getting the ball, he still cannot be stopped.

When stacking up the 2010 résumés of Boyd and Burris, I think the advantage goes to the Calgary pivot. If this award was for Most Valuable Player, I think I'd give it to Boyd. Without him, the Argos simply cannot win. But this isn't MVP, it's MOP, and no one has been more outstanding this season than Henry Burris.

Winner: Henry Burris

Most Outstanding Defensive Player
West Nominee: James Patrick (S, Saskatchewan Roughriders)
East Nominee: Markeith Knowlton (LB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

There were many outstanding defensive performances this season. Whether it was Philip Hunt and Odell Willis making life miserable for opposing Quarterbacks, or whether it was Jamall Johnson, Barrin Simpson and Kevin Eiben tackling anything that came within a 10-yard radius of them, or whether it was Chip Cox taking the heads off people with crushing hits, there were plenty of players worthy of garnering consideration as the Most Outstanding Defensive Player for 2010.

In the end I settled on two guys: James Patrick and Markeith Knowlton.

Patrick was the ballhawk to end all ballhawks this season, leading the league in interceptions, with nine. His play, especially at the beginning of the season, was outstanding.

Knowlton's stats don't wow anyone individually, but taken together, they are phenomenal: 71 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks and one touchdown. Those numbers are out of this world.

In my mind, there has not been a more outstanding defensive player this CFL season than Markeith Knowlton.

Winner: Markeith Knowlton

Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
West Nominee: Ben Archibald (T, Calgary Stampeders)
East Nominee: Marwan Hage (C, Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

I have said it time and time again: this is the hardest award to choose nominees for. The best Offensive Linemen produce in relative anonymity.

So how best to judge an Offensive Lineman? I say by looking at the numbers of the player they are charged with protecting (Quarterback) and blocking for (Running Back).

Both Calgary and Hamilton have put up fantastic numbers in the passing game. Kevin Glenn threw for over 5,000 yards, and Henry Burris nearly did. Burris led the league in TD passes (38), and Glenn finished second (33).

Both Calgary and Hamilton had 1,000+ yard rushers in Joffrey Reynolds and DeAndra' Cobb, respectively.

The Cats also allowed a league-low 26 sacks. Considering 11 of those came in two game (Week 1 vs. Winnipeg; Week 4 vs. Montreal), that means the Cats allowed only 15 in the remaining 16 games. That's pretty remarkable.

With everything being equal, I'm going with Hage because he's the leader of the Line that gave up so few sacks.

Winner: Marwan Hage

Most Outstanding Canadian
West Nominee: Andy Fantuz (SB, Saskatchewan Roughriders)
East Nominee: Dave Stala (SB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

Before the season started, I pegged Fantuz as the West nominee and Stala as the East nominee. I figured going in that these two guys would be neck and neck for top Canadian Receiver.

At mid-season I pegged Fantuz as the West nominee and Stala as the East nominee. I felt that at mid-season, these two were still the best Canadians in the league at any position, so my position at the start of the season had not moved an inch.

At the end of the season, I've got Fantuz as the West nominee and Stala as the East nominee. After 18 games, I don't think any other Canadians have outproduced, or been as important as, Fantuz and Stala.

Fantuz became the first Canadian to lead the league in receiving since 1995 (Dave Sapunjis), and he was the go-to guy for the Riders in 2010. While Stala had perhaps his best season, Fantuz's season was even better.

Winner: Andy Fantuz

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
West Nominee: Yonus Davis (RB, BC Lions)
East Nominee: Chad Owens (WR, Toronto Argonauts)

I was going to wax poetic about this award, but this one is such a no-brainer that it would be a waste of my time to write anything and of your time to read it. Anyone who picks anybody but Chad Owens either hates the Argos so much that they let their biases blind them (as I was recently accused of) or they're an idiot. Since I am most definitely not an idiot, Owens wins this one without an argument.

Winner: Chad Owens

Most Outstanding Rookie
West Nominee: Solomon Elimimian (LB, BC Lions)
East Nominee: Marcus Thigpen (RB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

To make an impact as a rookie in the CFL is not easy to do. Players who come from the United States have to get used to vastly different rules than they have been playing with since they were children. Solomon Elimimian and Marcus Thigpen have made it look easy.

As a rookie, Elimimian led the BC Lions in tackles, and was also voted by players as the Hardest Hitter in a recent TSN poll. For a player to garner that much respect in his rookie season is nothing short of amazing.

In his first season, Thigpen scored a touchdown in five different ways – rushing, receiving, punt return, kick return and missed field goal return – which is something no player had ever done before. Thipgen, on his first touch, took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown in Week 1 against Winnipeg.

Not many players set records in their professional careers, and Thigpen did it in his first year. For that reason alone, he is the top rookie.

Winner: Marcus Thigpen

Coach of the Year
Nominee 1: John Hufnagel (Calgary Stampeders)
Nominee 2: Jim Barker (Toronto Argonauts)
Nominee 3: Marc Trestman (Montreal Alouettes)

I know that they don't announce Coach of the Year until March – something I have never understood – but since I'm handing out awards, I might as well hand this one out as well.

I'm giving this one to Jim Barker. What he has done in Toronto this season is beyond remarkable. He took a team that had won seven games in the previous two seasons, combined, and got them to nine wins and a playoff berth.

The job Barker did this year is nothing short of amazing, and he deserves to be recognized for the tremendous job he has done. He is my Coach of the Year.

Winner: Jim Barker