Wednesday 7 September 2011

Mid-Season Awards

With the CFL hitting the halfway point of their season, it's time to give out some mid-season awards.

Coach of the Mid-Year
Kavis Reed, Edmonton Eskimos
This was a two-horse race between Reed and Winnipeg's Paul LaPolice. I give the nod to Reed, but just slightly.

No one expected Edmonton to even make the playoffs, let alone compete for a division title; Reed has them in a position to do both. While the same could be said about Winnipeg – no one thought they'd be 7-2 and first in the East at mid-season – they had a lot more going for them coming into this season than Edmonton did.

LaPolice had some continuity coming into this season, whereas Reed had little. Winnipeg lost 10 games by seven points or less in 2010, so it's not as if LaPolice did a terrible job in his first season as Head Coach.

Reed came into a situation that was not supposed to bear fruit this early. Pundits have the utmost faith in Eskimos General Manager Eric Tillman, but even the most ardent Edmonton supporter expected the rebuilding process to take at least one more season. But then Edmonton got off to a 5-0 start, and everything was accelerated.

If one wants to say that LaPolice should be Coach of the Mid-Year, I won't argue; both men are deserving. I just think what Reed did in Edmonton is slightly more impressive.

Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman of the Mid-Year
Marwan Hage, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Probably the hardest award to select a winner for because judging Offensive Linemen is an inexact science. I am sure that if you asked one fan of each team, they'd probably name a guy from their team or you'd probably get eight different answers.

That's not to say that Hage isn't a worthwhile choice. The Tiger-Cats surrender very few sacks, and they have paved the way for Avon Cobourne to be second in the league in rushing. The Cats' Offensive Line is usually praised as one of the best, and Hage is the best of the bunch.

Most Outstanding Rookie of the Mid-Year
Chris Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Probably about as easy a pick as there is. Williams is in the top 10 in the three main receiving categories: receptions (seventh), yards (second) and touchdowns (seventh). That is impressive for any player, let alone a rookie.

No other rookie has had as big an impact on their team as Williams has had on the Tiger-Cats. Williams's emergence allowed for the team to trade future Hall-of-Famer Arland Bruce, which has only given Williams more opportunities. He has had games of 189 and 162 yards, he has made some incredible highlight-reel catches, and he is one of the biggest home-run threats in the league.

Williams is far and away the most impressive rookie in the CFL so far this season.

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
Sean Whyte, Montreal Alouettes
In a year when the return game has been rather anemic, there are two kickers who have stood out from the rest: Montreal's Sean Whyte and Hamilton's Justin Medlock.

While the Tiger-Cat fan in me would love to give this to Medlock, looking at this objectively, Whyte is the man after nine games.

He has missed two field goals all season, and those were his first attempt and his most recent attempt. In between, he made an astounding 24 straight field goals. While Medlock has been almost equally outstanding – he's missed three field goals, two of which were from beyond 50 yards – you can't discount what making 24 consecutive attempts means. To put it in perspective, the record is 28, held by former Saskatchewan Roughrider Dave Ridgeway. Connecting on 24 straight field goals is as impressive a streak as has been seen in some time, so Whyte gets the slightest edge over Medlock.

Most Outstanding Canadian of the Mid-Year
Dave Stala, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Johnny Forzani's recent play and Andre Durie's breakout campaign must be noted, but rarely does a Canadian Receiver lead the league in touchdowns. That is why Dave Stala is my choice.

Stala's nose for the end zone is second to none. He has become Kevin Glenn's go-to guy inside the 20s, and that has allowed Stala to surpass his single-season touchdown record of six (2010) in just half a season.

There has been a lot of outstanding play from a bevy of Canadians, but Stala stands above them all at the midway point of the season.

Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Mid-Year
Solomon Elimimian, British Columbia Lions
This was a hard selection to make because of how many deserving candidates there are. Hamilton's Jamall Johnson and Justin Hickman, Winnipeg's Odell Willis and Jonathon Hefney, and Calgary's Keon Raymond could all be justifiable selections, and if someone wants to say any of those five players, you won't get an argument from me.

But Solomon Elimimian has been about as dominant a force on Defense as any of the other players. He leads the league in tackles with 60, which is 10 more than his closest competitor. He is on pace to record the fourth highest single-season tackle total in league history, and if he gets hot, he could very well challenge Calvin Tiggles's all-time record.

Elimimian has been a beast for the Lions all season. In addition to the 60 tackles, he has also intercepted two passes and collected two sacks. While those might not be huge numbers, they show that Elimimian isn't just a tackle machine, but an all-around playmaker.

Out of all the great defensive performances so far this season, Elimimian stands at the top.

Most Outstanding Player of the Mid-Year
Jamel Richardson, Montreal Alouettes
This was also a tough decision because no one player has really gone above and beyond. If he didn't get injured, this probably would have gone to Fred Stamps. A case could be made to give it to Odell Willis for his outstanding play on Defense. Henry Burris, Anthony Calvillo and Ricky Ray all have merit, but come with some big flaws as well (Burris's recent Edmonton stinker, Calvillo's terrible games against the Ti-Cats, and Ray's atrocious two-week stretch in August).

So I settled on the guy who has been outstanding almost every week: Montreal Receiver Jamel Richardson.

Richardson leads the league in receptions and receiving yards and is tied for the lead in touchdown catches. He is also within striking distance of a 2,000-yard season. He is on pace for just over 1,800 yards, but a couple of big games and Richardson could be traveling where only three Receivers (Allan Pitts, Terry Greer and Derrell Mitchell) have traveled before. In fact, Richardson could break the single-season record for receiving yards if things go the right way.

In a half year where no obvious candidate has emerged, Richardson is deserving of the league's highest individual honour.

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