Sunday 3 May 2015

A New Era and a Couple Thank Yous

I am not entirely sure what to say.

When I started writing, I did it for fun. I kept doing it until it was no longer fun. Then I missed it, went back, and it became fun again. But this... this is nothing I ever thought possible.

As of tomorrow at noon, Blogskee Wee Wee will have a new address over at I am very excited to be a part of this project, which was the brainchild of the Hamilton Spectator's Drew Edwards, and am excited to see what the future holds for not just myself, but for all the other talented people that have joined the 3 Down Nation roster. This is going to be something like you have never seen before.

But before I move on to the future, I do have to say a couple thank yous. First and foremost, I have to thank both Mark and Eric for their contributions since the relaunch this past December. Without them, I might not be here today talking to you about joining 3 Down Nation. I was out of the writing game, but got the itch to go back, but I knew I needed help, and when both Mark and Eric said they were interested in contributing, it was a no-brainer to start back up.

But just because the doors are shutting here, doesn't mean that Mark and Eric are going away. Oh no. Mark will be joining 3 Down Nation as an analytics guru, and if you read his stuff on here or follow him on Twitter, you know that there are few, if any, who know advanced stats better than Mark.

In conjunction with his work here, Eric spent some time getting his own site, The Goal Line Post, off the ground. While he is a Bombers fan (don't hold that against him), he is one of the smartest CFL fans I have had the pleasure of interacting with. So he is going to do big things in the future. I also hope that he will come on the podcast to talk Bombers when Hamilton and Winnipeg play each other. Pester him on Twitter to make sure he knows that you want to hear his take on things.

Speaking of the podcast, that too is coming with me over to 3 Down Nation. Mike and I will continue to do what we have done since launching Podskee Wee Wee in January. In fact, we are recording an episode tomorrow, and I will tell the tale of how I became involved with 3 Down Nation. It is a story that I have been keeping to myself for the better part of three months, and as someone who loves to be surprised, keeping this a secret was half the fun. But the cat is out of the bag, so now you will get me sharing just how this all came to be, at least from my end.

Finally, to everyone that came around during the initial phase of Blogskee Wee Wee, and to those that came on board during BWW 2.0, I hope you all join me over at 3 Down Nation. It is a site that I am proud to be a part of, and it is a site for fans of the entire CFL.

So starting at noon tomorrow, a new era begins. The 3 Down Nation era.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Cats Have Options in Wake of Watt, Gaydosh Injuries

Tuesday will not go down as a banner day for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The team lost defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh and receiver Spencer Watt for the season with a pair of Achilles' injuries.

Losing quality, National players is never a good thing, but Watt's injury is definitely more harmful to the Cats going forward. While Gaydosh is a good, young player, Hamilton employs about 637 Canadian defensive linemen, so finding someone to fill in for the former No. 1 overall pick won't be difficult. But it is Watt's injury that truly presents a conundrum for the Tabbies.

Watt was signed away from the Argos during free agency to replace Sam Giguère, who signed with Montreal. Watt was going to be a starter, paired with Andy Fantuz as one of Hamilton's two National receivers, but with the Simon Fraser product being lost for the entire 2015 season, the Ti-Cats will be forced to reconfigure things to reach the ratio minimum of seven National starters. It is safe to say that Fantuz, Peter Dyakowski and Mike Filer will start on offence, and that Ted Laurent, Courtney Stephen and Craig Butler will do the same on defense. That leaves one spot open, so what can the Ti-Cats do to make up for the loss of Watt?

(1) Start two Canadian defensive tackles

Seeing as Hamilton employs a ridiculous number of Canadians along the defensive line, perhaps the best place to begin is by starting Canadians at both interior defensive lineman positions. Brian Bulcke was a starter before being lost to injury last year, so it would be well and good for the Cats to simply just reinstall him next to Laurent and not worry. The problem there is that Bryan Hall played tremendously all last season, and really stepped up when Bulcke went down. So to allow Hall to be part of the rotation, but not the starter, means that the Cats would have to make changes elsewhere on the defence. Perhaps bringing in Frédéric Plesius when Hall comes in for Bulcke or Laurent.

While this is less than ideal, this is probably the safest route Hamilton can go. Bulcke is a proven commodity and should be a starter; Laurent is the defending East Division Most Outstanding Canadian. Both are starting-calibre players, and this might be the easiest change for Hamilton to make.

(2) Rejig the offensive line

In addition to point No. 1, this is also an easy path for the Ti-Cats to take. The Cats had to do a bit of ration gymnastics last year because of Peter Dyakowski's injury in the 101st Grey Cup, but Canada's Smartest Person returned late last year and looks to be ready to resume his old role at guard. The Cats started two Nationals along the line, so with Dyakowski back they can start three and problem solved, right?

Not so fast. Last year, after a disastrous Week 1 outing against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Ti-Cats made changes to their offensive line, one such move saw Brian Simmons move from tackle to guard. Simmons was named a division All-Star, should have been named a league All-Star and probably should have been the East Division nominee for Most Outstanding Lineman. CFL teams rarely start International interior offensive linemen, but rarely are they as talented as Simmons.

Sure, the team could move Simmons back to tackle, as he was excellent in the role as well, but that would then mean displacing one of the two man-mountains the team employs at tackle, Jake Olson (6'8", 315 lbs) or Joel Figueroa (6'6", 320 lbs.). While I am not as high on Olson as some, the former Central Michigan Chippewa did enough to warrant a second season to prove himself.

While I think replacing Olson with Simmons would work out just fine, I really do not like the idea of moving Simmons from guard back to tackle. This, however, might be the move the team has to make.

(3) Draft, and start, a rookie receiver

Many say that this year's draft is one of the most talented in years. One of the areas of strength is at the receiver position. LeMar Durant, Nic Demski and Addison Richards are all considered to be bright prospects and some even think they could start in Year 1. While drafting a receiver should be something Hamilton does, especially considering star slotback Andy Fantuz is in the final year of his contract, starting a rookie wideout is usually not a terribly good idea.

I don't think it is ridiculous to say that the aforementioned Fantuz was probably the most "pro-ready" receiver to come out of college but even he wasn't entirely ready to make significant contributions his rookie season. His 30 catches for 408 yards and three touchdowns didn't really wow anybody, and while Durant, Demski and Richards are enticing prospects, none of them are on the same level as Fantuz was coming out of Western.

While drafting one of the top receiver prospects is a solid idea on its own, it is not a good idea to expect one of them to come in and replace Watt in the starting lineup Week 1.

(4) Move Anthony Woodson to WR

This move might seem farfetched, but hear me out. The team signed Woodson to be a solid special teams contributor and a valuable Canadian asset, but it was unlikely that he was expected to see much time on offense, especially at running back (he was, in no way, jumping C.J. Gable, Nic Grigsby or Mossis Madu on the depth chart).

But during this week's mini-camp, Woodson has been working a bit at receiver and slotback. He also played a little there last year in Toronto after Andre Durie was injured. This means Woodson is not entirely unfamiliar with playing multiple receiver positions, so he could be a stop gap solution for the Ti-Cats in the wake of Watt's injury.

This is far from an ideal solution, but running backs have been converted into receivers in the past and had success. Durie might be the best example, but his current Argo teammate Anthony Coombs is making the transition and, going back a bit, former Tiger-Cat Archie Amerson became a darn good receiver after making the switch.

And Hamilton might consider this move to find a way to get Woodson onto the field, into the offense and replace Watt.

Hamilton is in a really unenviable position right now, trying to find a way to replace players who, especially in Watt's case, were going to be major contributors this season. Hopefully both will make a speedy recovery and we will see them in black and gold next year.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Chris Williams is Back in Black... and Red?

After two years of trying to find a job in the NFL, 2011 Most Outstanding Rookie and 2012 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player Chris Williams has returned to the CFL... with the Ottawa RedBlacks.

The RedBlacks announced this morning that they have inked the former all-star to a contract that will see him join a receiving corps that has the potential to be the league's deadliest.

Williams' signing is the latest in a long line of big free-agent splashes Ottawa made this offseason. They signed offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers, receivers Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli, while also trading for receiver Maurice Price. Ottawa went into the offseason looking to upgrade a league-worst offense and they have done just that. The addition of Williams now puts them in a very enviable position.

But with big signings comes big expectations, and the addition of former New Mexico State Aggie now puts even more pressure on a team that went just 2-16 during their inaugural season. For all of these moves to have been worth it, the RedBlacks MUST make the playoffs in 2015. Anything less, and heads will roll. There will be no excuses acceptable enough for ownership if Ottawa fails to be playing a game following the conclusion of the regular season.

Also, while Ottawa has done a tremendous job of upgrading their talent pool, they have spent a lot of money on very little production. Aside from Williams and Rogers, the rest of their acquisitions are long on potential, but short on actual results. Ellingson was on his way to a rookie of the year award in 2013 until injuries slowed him down. He also dealt with injuries in 2014, and it was his inability to stay on the field that ultimately led to his departure from Hamilton. Jackson had a great end to the 2014 season, but does one month of production mean he is ready to be the next Geroy Simon, or is he the next Chris Brazzell? Sinopoli accomplished very little during his time in Calgary, so who is to say he is ready to take a giant leap forward? Price looked poised to become Calgary's go-to guy, but injuries saw him lose his spot and he became expendable. The RedBlacks could possess the best receiving unit in the entire, but it is April and it all looks like upside at this time of year.

Another thing that cannot be overlooked is Williams' absence from the game. While he saw some playing time in the NFL, he hasn't really played all that much since the final game of the Tiger-Cats' 2012 season. It will be 966 days between CFL contests, and few players return from such an absence and regain their former form. None spring to mind off the top of my head, so while Williams could still produce over 1,000 yards receiving and double digit touchdowns, he would be bucking a trend.

That is not to say that this was a bad signing. Far from it. If Williams gets back to his 2012 form, the league needs to watch out. This guy can be a game breaker, and that type of talent doesn't come around very often. Williams could be the final piece to get the RedBlacks into the playoffs in Year 2.

As for the Tiger-Cat aspect, I bore no ill will towards Williams during his acrimonious split a few years ago and I bear no ill will now that he is in Ottawa. It is not like the team doesn't have an excellent returner/receiver already on the roster, and couple that with a pair of Grey Cup appearances, and I think the Ti-Cats are doing just fine.

Don't get me wrong, I would loved to have seen Williams back, but this isn't fantasy football, and employing both Brandon Banks and Chris Williams was never going to happen. And frankly, if Williams wasn't coming back here and was going to sign with an East Division team, I am happy it is Ottawa. Could you imagine how bad it would be if he *gulp* signed with the Argos?

Williams comes back to the CFL at a time when the game will be opening up for receivers and returners, so this might be the right time for him to make his return north of the board. He was an all-star receiver as well as an award-winning returner, so nabbing him to become the focal point of the offense was a good move by Ottawa.

Gifted, exciting players playing in the CFL makes the league better, and there are few more gifted or exciting than Chris Williams.

When a Cap Isn't a Cap

Late last week it was announced that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the lone team to exceed the salary cap in 2014. This is Hamilton's first time over the cap, joining Winnipeg (2009) and Montreal (2007) as one-time offenders. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the only other team to exceed the cap, having done so four times (2007, 2008, 2010, 2013) since its institution in 2007.

Now, the sum was small, but that still does not get the Ti-Cats off the hook for spending above the allowable amount. The team can say all they want about injuries and all-stars (and sure, going from zero league all stars in 2013 to three in 2014, and five division all-stars to 10, plus the slew of injuries probably did play a role), but it is still pretty inexcusable for the team to violate the league's cap.

But problem isn't just that teams go over; it is that they can go over in the first place. If the league wants to stop teams from going over, they should simply not let them. The NFL and NHL don't allow teams to exceed the cap, so the CFL could do the same. Otherwise, you will continue to see teams spend above the number. The penalties to do so, at least until you go $100,000 over, are simply not harsh enough. If the league really wants teams to not spend over the cap, either not allow them to or harshen the penalties. Neither one of those outcomes is likely, so where do we go from here?

And maybe we, as fans and followers of the CFL, need to change our attitudes towards the cap. For starters, we should probably stop referring to it as a salary cap. It isn't one. There is no cap on salaries in the CFL, similar to how there isn't one for NBA or MLB teams. Yes, there is a number in all three leagues that teams are not supposed to spend above, but all three leagues allow for teams to exceed that number provided they pay a penalty. When the Yankees or Lakers overspend, no one really kicks up much of a complaint. Sure, you get the outcry of them trying to buy a championship, but it isn't like the teams that overspend always win. In fact, only Saskatchewan has won the Grey Cup in a year they overspent, doing so twice (2007, 2013).

I am as guilty as anyone of ranting and raving when a team spends above the allowable amount, but perhaps I was wrong. Maybe we need to accept the CFL's Salary Management System for what it is (a luxury tax) and not what we want it to be (a hard cap) and start looking at it through an NBA or MLB lens as opposed to an NFL or NHL one.

Monday 30 March 2015

Podskee Wee Wee, Episode 5

A new commish, some potential rule changes, Bakari Grant staying in Hamilton and the Argos finally maybe landing at BMO. It is all discussed in the latest episode of Podskee Wee Wee.

Like I say every time, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking the button down below and if you can, leave a rating or comment. Hit the blog's comment section and fire off your criticisms and leave a question for possible inclusion on the next episode.

So here is Episode No. 5 for your listening pleasure.

Monday 23 March 2015

Fans Rejoice! Bakari Grant is Back

One of the longest-tenured Tiger-Cats is returning for at least one more season after the team announced this afternoon that receiver Bakari Grant has signed a new contract.

The pact is reported to be for one season, which means Grant will once again be free to test the market next offseason. It also allows him to make more money next season should he have a big season in 2015, while also giving the team some flexibility going forward.

The Oakland native has spent all four years of his CFL career with the Ti-Cats, hauling in 207 passes for 2,535 yards and 12 touchdowns, with a single-season best 69 catches and 947 yards in 2013 leading to an East Division All-Star selection. Grant likely would have notched his first 1,000-yard season had he not sat out the final game of the 2013 season (due to the Tiger-Cats having locked up second in the East).

The signing of Grant more than likely ends Hamilton’s acquisition of CFL veterans. I cannot see the team dipping into the free agent pool again, and anyone else signed will likely come from their negotiation list and/or US tryouts.

Grant is a hugely popular player amongst Tiger-Cat fans. He is a hardnosed, unselfish, intense player, one who is unafraid of doing the little things to help the team win, and players like that are always loved by Tiger-Cat fans. Grant also works a ton in the community, and even spent the offseason between the 2013 and 2014 seasons in Hamilton instead of heading home to California. These types of things endear players to the fans of their teams and you can see why reaction to the signing has been universally positive.

After four seasons and two heartbreaking Grey Cup loses, fans want to see big No. 84 finally lift the Cup with the Ti-Cats. Hopefully, for all involved, 2015 will be that year.

The Next Canadian Superstar?

Many experts feel that Simon Fraser product Lemar Durant is not only far and away the best draft-eligible receiver, but the overall most talented player available in the 2015 CFL draft class. That includes all eligible Canadians in both the NCAA and CIS, such as NFL bound studs Tyler Varga from Yale and Brett Boyko from UNLV.

The last time that I can recall a Canadian pass catcher receiving such hype was when University of Western Ontario legend Andy Fantuz was selected with the third overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Despite being the best CIS receiver of all time, Fantuz was selected third overall behind defensive end Adam Braidwood and linebacker Jay Pottinger.

Similarly to Fantuz, Durant will likely not be drafted first overall due to the importance of offensive and defensive lineman in the player ratio. Teams typically start three or four national offensive lineman versus two Canadian receivers, while the offensive line position is also without a doubt far more vital to a team’s success than a good receiving corps, particularly the Canadian players on the line.

It's also often considered perhaps a risky pick when clubs decide to use their first round draft pick on a receiver. While being selected in the first round does not mean that the receiver is expected to have a career as successful as Fantuz's or Chris Getzlaf's, it is expected that they develop into a solid starter at some point during their career.

From 2007 to 2014, 11 receivers were taken off the board in the opening round of the draft. The combined average yards-per-season for all 11 is a mere 246 yards. Meanwhile, Andy Fantuz has averaged a whopping 757 yards per season which included a 1,000 yard campaign in 2010.

While Durant's college career was impressive when he was in the lineup, it was not nearly as good as Fantuz's for reasons I'll touch on soon. Although from what I've seen on tape, I think he possesses the skill set to match the former Hec Crighton winner's production in the professional ranks and become the next Canadian superstar.

Durant was originally recruited by the University of Nevada, but transferred to Division II Simon Fraser after redshirting his freshman year with the Wolfpack. He then utilized a medical redshirt in year two to treat juvenile arthritis in his knee, which has not bothered him since he took a year off to treat it in 2011.

Nevada was hoping Durant would return to be an asset in an offence that was centred around some quarterback named Colin Kaepernick. In fact, Nevada coaches even told Durant he would compete for a starting job as a redshirt freshman with Rishard Matthews, who's currently a wideout for the Miami Dolphins. However, he opted to return home and officially start his collegiate career with his high school coach and friends at Simon Fraser, which had just entered the NCAA ranks.

Durant had an incredible freshman year, recording 91 receptions for 1,318 yards (120 YPG) with 17 touchdowns in 11 games. After starting quarterback Trey Wheeler left to pursue bigger and better things in Division I, Durant caught 29 passes for 389 yards and five touchdowns in only four games during his sophomore season while playing with two struggling quarterbacks, which ultimately led to the Clan becoming a very run heavy offence during Durant's final two seasons. Simon Fraser's quarterbacks led the conference in interceptions while Durant missed seven games with an ankle injury; the only sport-related injury of his athletic career.

Durant looked to get back on track in his junior season, but had another case of bad luck as he contracted infectious mononucleosis (mono) and missed another four games. In 23 college games, the Coquitlam, BC native had 175 catches for 2,392 yards and 28 touchdowns, which averages out to 7.6 catches per game, 104 yards, and 1.2 touchdowns. He was named Simon Fraser's offensive MVP in 2012, was a three-time 1st-team All-Conference selection, was named an All-American in 2012 and was selected by Beyond Sports College Network in 2014 as the No. 1 draft sleeper for the 2015 NFL draft. While Durant's stats on paper under these circumstances are quite impressive, it's his game on film that really blows me away.

You don't have to be an expert scout to recognize Durant's raw talent. His highlight tape is essentially six minutes worth of entertainment featuring the 23-year old burning cornerbacks down field.

Durant is a bigger receiver at 6'3”, 231 pounds, and has great speed for a receiver of that size with a sub 4.5 40-yard dash time. Durant has a large catching radius and maximizes his vertical leap and physicality when fighting for the jump ball. Durant's freakish athleticism, size, speed and big-play ability have me sold that he can immediately be a respectable deep-threat and red-zone target in year one in the CFL.

In order to be labelled as "Fantuzable," Durant will have to find success in the CFL quickly and average around 600 yards with three touchdowns per season for his first three years.

The last rookie national receiver to start a good chunk of games was Edmonton's 2012 first-round pick Shamawd Chambers, who started 11 games, missing time due to injuries, and chipped in 390 yards and two touchdowns.

While Chambers was a first-round pick himself, he was nowhere near the prospect Lemar Durant is. Chambers' best season at Wilfrid Laurier University was his senior year when he recorded 652 receiving yards in eight games, good for 13th overall out of all CIS schools.

Chambers was fortunately put in a good situation to step up mid-season after injuries piled up in Edmonton. He had time to learn and adjust to the professional game before being thrust into the starting lineup for 11 starts. Despite him being far more prepared physically than Chambers, the same is likely to occur for Durant.

With that being said, I do believe there are a couple teams where Durant could beat the odds and start early on as a national rookie. One team that comes to mind is the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who hold the second overall pick.

Winnipeg's starting inside national receiver is Julian Feoli-Gudino, who had zero career catches in two seasons before registering a mere 240 yards in 2014. The Laval product's three seasons of experience likely mean he has a good understanding of CFL coverages and can find soft spots in zones better than Durant (not that Julian has really proved any of that to be true), yet the latter has given me no reason to believe that he would not be able to learn quickly, like many international rookie receivers do during their first season. Feoli-Gudino, a fifth round draft pick in 2011, is not nearly as talented as Durant and cannot do anything, skill-wise, that Durant can’t do right now.

The 400 yards Fantuz accumulated during his rookie season is certainly doable for Durant, and I expect him to breakout in year two with around 600-700 yards.

As far as I am concerned, Durant is the best draft-eligible receiver since Fantuz in 2006. The former SFU Clan and Nevada Wolfpack member is reportedly viewed as the best player available in the best draft class in a very long time; far better than that of 2007 when a certain bust named Chris Bauman was selected with the top pick by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Durant was even viewed as a legitimate mid-to-late round future NFL draft pick after his incredible freshman year.

This kid is special, and I'm completely confident that he can follow in the footsteps of CIS-great Andy Fantuz.

I guess there's just something about football players named Durant.

Monday 16 March 2015

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 4

Last week, in lieu of a mailbag, you got a podcast. Fair trade, I would say. Going forward, weeks that there is a podcast will be mailbag-free simply due to the fact that Mike and I cover a few of your questions when we record.

Anyway, no podcast this week, so let’s mailbag it up!

Any rules changes you’d like to see in 2015?

I am not all that big on making rule changes every year, but there is one I would like tweaked and one I would like eliminated completely. Let’s start with the latter: reviewable pass interference.

It was an interesting experiment, but I don’t think that making pass interference reviewable really made all that much of a difference. If it is the first step towards making all plays reviewable, fine, but by itself it was a bit unnecessary. I didn’t much care for it and would like to see it gone (which won’t happen, but I was asked what I would like to see, not what will occur).

One change I would like to see is something I wanted to see way back in 2011, and that is that all plays occurring in the endzone should be automatically reviewed. Both the CFL and NFL make scoring plays and turnovers subject to automatic review, but I think the CFL should take it one step further and review any play that takes place in the endzone. The play that sparked my initial desire to see this rule enacted took place in a game between the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. I called for the change then and I am still calling for change now.

You can pick one CFL quarterback, past or present, to lead one drive with the Grey Cup on the line. Who do you choose?

It has got to be Doug Flutie. No one I have ever seen play displayed what can best be described as magic on a football field quite like Doug Flutie. Whether it was with his arms or with his legs, Flutie made plays happen. In the most-important drive in the most-important game, I am giving the ball to the six-time Most Outstanding Player and three-time Grey Cup champion.

Did Taylor Reed play much on special teams in '14 or was he only on the field because Plesius wasn't in the Grey Cup lineup?

I received this question when I was putting together the initial mailbag and it took me some time to find an answer, but I found it and the answer is: yes, Reed was on the punt return team prior to the Grey Cup.

I decided to look at a handful of punt returns to see if I could spot Reed and he was a member of the unit prior to the Plesius’ injury. In fact, during one of Brandon Banks’ scintillating punt returns in the East Division Final against Montreal, Reed was out there blocking. While I cannot say if he was a mainstay on the unit, I can say that the Grey Cup was not the first time Taylor Reed was blocking for Brandon Banks on a punt return.

Why should @AmericanCFLFan become a Ti-Cats fan?

Telling someone why they should cheer for a team is always hard. As Mike and I discussed on a recent episode of Podskee Wee Wee, my Tiger-Cat fandom is almost strictly due to being born in Hamilton. But place of birth is not the only reason someone should like the Tiger-Cats.

The Tiger-Cat fanbase as a whole is pretty awesome. Sure we can be loud (check), annoying (check) and sometimes extremely unlikable (check plus!), but you won’t find many fans out there as loyal as Tiger-Cat fans. Success has not come easy for the Cats since they last hoisted the Grey Cup, but the fans have stayed loyal. The team is in a fairly decent boom period right now – five playoff appearances in the last six years and back-to-back Grey Cup appearances – but yet fans still don’t take it for granted.

You also will not chided for backing a winner. Sure, the Cats have been to the last two Grey Cups, but they lost both. You pick a team like Montreal or Toronto, teams that have won multiple Grey Cups since Hamilton last won theirs – and people might consider you a front runner. That said, the Ti-Cats may win the championship this year, so if you pick the Tabbies, you can tell everyone that you were the magic fan who got them over the top.

The team also has a plethora of players that you can’t help but like, such as Simoni Lawrence and Peter Dyakowski. There are others, but those two guys standout as players that, even if they didn’t play for the Tiger-Cats, I would still be a fan of.

Also, we are Canada’s Team! Haha!

If you have a reason why you think @AmericanCFLFan should become a Tiger-Cats fan, tweet at him and let him know.

What's your opinion of the Bombers current sale, trade any Riders gear for 30 per cent off anything in the store?

It is an interesting concept, though I am not entirely sure of its purpose. Is it to convert Rider fans? Get Bomber fans to buy Rider gear and then trade it in? Something else altogether?

I know the Bombers and Riders are rivals, but this struck me as a little silly. I haven’t seen much outrage, which is quite surprising, but I just don’t get it. If it helps boost Bomber merchandise sales, then it will be a success, but I would really like to know the reason behind it and the genesis of the idea.

Monday 9 March 2015

Podskee Wee Wee, Episode 4: The Favourites Show!

Episode 4 is here for your listening pleasure. Mike and I picked the mics to mostly talk about some of our favourite things about the CFL, both past and present. We also touched on the hailstorm of anger that came from a certain prairie province, and as always, answered some excellent questions from you, our listeners.

This episode actually goes pretty long, clocking in at over 83 minutes, so I hope you like the sound of our voices, because you are about to hear both for longer than usual.

If you haven't already, remember that you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking the button below. And any comments or ratings you could leave on iTunes would be greatly appreciated. And of course, feel free to sound off in the comment section. Any and all feedback is welcome.

Enjoy the show!

P.S. We have a special treat for you guys and gals this time around. The reason for posting these will make much more sense once you listen to the show.

Here is your giant-headed scribe with former Tiger-Cat linebacker Otis Floyd:

And this is a 1972 Grey Cup commemorative lunchbox I own:

Monday 2 March 2015

From One of Their Own

So as I touched on in the Monday Mailbag, I was attacked by a few Rider fans over the weekend for my take on their fanbase. I was called jealous, a hater and some other nasty things that I simply will not reprint here. It was not the majority opinion, and not even the majority opinion from Riders fans, but there is still a segment of Rider Nation that views themselves as holier than thou.

Well, one of their own has decided to voice an opinion. Rider fan Jeremy Gourlay is also not a fan of the Riders adopting the "Canada's Team" moniker and makes many excellent points as to why. While he was not as harsh on the fans of the green and white as I was, his reasons are not much, if at all, different from my own.

So maybe, just maybe, all the Rider fans who took exception to what I said in my piece should check out Mr. Gourlay's. A voice from within Rider Nation is telling them to cool it, so maybe they will take it to heart more than they did mine.

It is a heckuva read and shows the side of Rider Nation that I want to be representative of the fanbase. More attitudes like Mr. Gourlay's will go a long way to changing the beliefs held by many CFL fans outside of Saskatchewan.

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.

Friday 27 February 2015

A Condemnation of Rider Nation

All fanbases have their obnoxious fans. The ones who, no matter what, refuse to believe that their team is anything less than perfect. Their favourite team will go undefeated and win the championship every year, and any time they fail to do so, it is always someone else's fault.

I hate fans like that, and nowhere is that attitude better exemplified than with the people who make up "Rider Nation."

Earlier this week, the team itself sent out a tweet and in said tweet they referred to themselves as "Canada's Team."


Sorry to break it to everyone, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders are not, in any way, Canada's Team. In fact, NO team in the CFL is Canada's Team. To be considered the nation's team, one would have to be beloved by a vast majority of the nation. No team in CFL can claim anywhere near 50.1 per cent of the national population as being fans of their team. So just cut this Canada's Team shit out.

But it is not only this Canada's Team nonsense that irks many about the Riders are their fans. No, it goes deeper than that. And the sad part is, it wasn't always this way.

For quite some time, if you asked a CFL fan who they liked besides their own team, more often than not their answer would have been Saskatchewan. They were the plucky underdog, the lovable loser, the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Browns of the Canadian Football League. The Roughriders WERE the identity of Saskatchewan (still are, frankly) and fans from around the country wished for nothing but good things for the team in green.

But then things changed. I don't know when it happened exactly, but that plucky underdog became a hypocritical, arrogant, insufferable juggernaut and fans turned. And I don't mean juggernaut off the field. Sure, the Riders have had plenty of success over the past decade or so, but no more so than any other team. No, it was the financial success of the team that turned their fans from fun loving into full-on jerks.

Now, I must stress that I am not trying to say every Rider fan is an asshole. This is about that segment of the fanbase that rational Rider fans probably despise.

Also, I do not in any way begrudge the Riders their financial success. I laud it, I cheer for it, as I would for any team (yes, even the Argos). I want every CFL team to be not just financially stable, but to be making money hand over fist. The better off each individual team is monetarily, the better the league is as a whole.

But it seems that once the Riders become the financial powerhouse that they are today, something changed. The fans become nastier, angrier and just downright rude to anyone who dared question Saskatchewan's superiority.

It is like they forgot that not long ago, it was their team that was on the brink of folding. It was their team that needed to hold a telethon in order to keep the lights on. It was their team that needed NFL money to help keep their team from going under.

And now, because they found stable footing and are rolling in money – again, good for them – they turn their noses up at the Hamiltons and Torontos of the league who have gone through tough times. You would think, or at least hope, that a group of people who so identify with their team would not wish the same on others. But yet, whenever someone dares say that the Riders aren't the be all and end all, one of the first things they thrown in your face is how much money they have.

Another point they love to make is how attendance goes up when the Riders are in town. There is no denying that Saskatchewan has a lot of fans nationwide, but so does every other team. I personally know Tiger-Cat fans in BC and PEI. I know of Cats fans who span the globe, be it in Taiwan or England (and these are just the ones I know personally, I am sure there are more). But the dirty little secret that Rider fans don't like to talk about is that all these fans around the country are not in Saskatchewan because they were forced to move to find work years ago. Saskatchewan is now a booming economy – and again, good for them – but that was not always the case. Many residents needed to move out-of-province in order to provide for their families. And they took their Rider pride with them.

But it is not just the arrogance, it is also the hypocrisy. The CFL has a salary cap, or more accurately a Salary Management System, and because it is not a hard cap, teams have exceeded the cap. In the seven years where data is available (the numbers from 2014 have not been released yet) there have been six violations of the SMS: one by Montreal, one by Winnipeg and four by Saskatchewan.


What also needs to be explained is that one of the teams who pushed hardest for some type of salary cap was...

The Saskatchewan Roughriders!

The Riders were so concerned that they couldn't compete financially that they essentially demanded that the league implement some type of salary cap to balance the competition league-wide and allow for more parity. They wanted to take away the competitive advantage from teams like the Eskimos, who routinely would just paid for all the best players, and make the league more equitable.

How the worm has turned.

Now that Saskatchewan is the financial workhouse of the league, you will often find Rider fans scoffing at the notion that they should have to play by the rules. And their four cap transgressions in seven seasons shows that their management is in lockstep with that idea. It is a horrible attitude and one that infuriates fans of the other eight teams.

So what you have is a team that cried poor and demanded some type of system that made it easier for them to compete becoming the one to basically say, "To hell with the rules, they don't apply to us because we're rich!"

And maybe the craziest thing is, they still think everyone loves them. They remind me of Red Sox fans. When the Sox were going through their 86-year championship drought, many opposing team fans quietly cheered for them. When they finally broke through and won it all in 2004, a lot of people were happy. But then the arrogance kicked it. For some insane reason, they thought everyone loved them because people cheered for them in '04. They thought everyone was a Red Sox fan. That by not being the Yankees, they were seen as the good guys. They were the scrappy underdog taking it to the big, bad Bronx Bombers. But the '04 run was a one-off. It was not the beginning of a growing of Red Sox Nation, it was simply people who felt sorry that they went over 80 years between championships cheering for them one time. And with the Red Sox trying to make themselves out to be the anti-Yankees, it made them look like hypocrites. The Red Sox are exactly like the Yankees. They spend obscene amounts of money to lure the best players to Boston in the hopes of maintaining their winning ways. They became the very thing they fought against all those years. Sound familiar?

I am already prepared for the backlash this will create. Normal, well-adjusted fans of the Riders will likely view this and go, "Yup, he's right. We do have a bunch of assholes in our fanbase." To those people, let it be known that I am not talking about you.

But to the other side – the one who will claim I am a hater or that I am jealous or some other such nonsense – bring it on. There is a comment section below that you are free to fire back at me. But do me one favour, don't be a coward. Put your name on it. You want to be the big, bad bully, then don't comment anonymously.

So have at me, Rider Nation. I'm not backing down.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Hamilton's Running Back Riches

The recent re-signing and contract extension of two of the Tiger-Cats' talented tailbacks – Nic Grigsby and C.J. Gable, respectively - naturally sparks the conversation of what Coach Austin will do with his spoil of running back riches.

Before we discuss the options and potential deployment within this critical roster position, let us take a look at what Austin has with Gable, Grigsby and Mossis Madu.

The All-Rounder

Although Gable had an injury interrupted 2014 campaign, when you look back at the two dozen games he has played during his time in Hamilton there is little doubt that the former USC Trojan is one of the most complete running backs in the league today. Balance is not only the key to Carl Junior’s nifty running style, but also his contribution to the offense with an almost equal 991 yards rushing and 901 yards receiving. Equally adept at totting the rock as well as swinging out of the formation as a receiver, C.J.’s best attribute however may be in his stout pass protection blocking skills and blitz pick-ups.

Gable is the every-down, all-purpose back that can continue to be the main feature of Hamilton’s offensive attack.

The Rusher

Nic Grigsby was well on his way to contending for Most Outstanding Rookie before his time in Bomber-land came to an abrupt end. While the former Arizona Wildcats’ 4.56 yards per carry is not exactly what you would consider award worthy, his nose for the first down line and end zone is a quality that the Tiger-Cats desperately needed last year. Nic was the best league-wide with 50 carries that moved the sticks as well as leading all running backs with 11 rushing touchdowns. To put that into perspective, a little more than once in every four carries does the former centre-fielder convert for a new set of downs.

Grigsby can be the Hammer in Hamilton’s running game and be that key ingredient needed to salt away and preserve victories late in games.

The Receiver

Mossis Madu definitely made his mark in his inaugural CFL season coming out of the backfield. The former Oklahoma Sooner had an impressive average of 11.32 yards per reception in his 14 games played in black and gold. But even more impressive was his 347 yards after catch which works out to 7.89 per reception or nearly 70% of his receiving yards gained after the ball settled into his soft hands.

Madu can be that matchup nightmare coming out of the backfield or out of the slot position that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.

The Reality and Solution

The roster restrictions in the CFL make it difficult to have three international running backs dressed on gameday. Training camp competition and potential injuries could very well make that a moot problem, but barring that head coach and general manager Kent Austin is faced with a difficult juggling situation.

I believe Gable is, and should be, the feature running back in Hamilton’s offense. I will just leave it there and direct people to the comments section to debate should you wish.

That leaves Grigsby and Madu. The simple solution is to dress one while stashing the other on one of the injury reserve or practice rosters. I doubt either player will spend any extended time willingly on the practice roster and would assume that there would be more than a couple teams that would make a claim upon their services, so using the PR is not a viable solution.

The issue then comes down to paying a player like Mossis or Nic while not getting any production if they are being sheltered on the IR. If you put either on the six-game IR, their salary does not go to Maximum Salary Expenditure Cap calculation, but their availability is severely limited. However, if they are inventoried on the one-game IR, their salary does count to the cap. Either way, you are not getting on-field production from either of these talented players.

A unique solution that would allow Hamilton to keep all three on the game-day roster and capitalize upon their differing skills would be to utilize Mossis Madu in the slotback position. The Norman, Oklahoma native reminds me of a slightly bigger version of former Ti-Cat Marcus Thigpen, current Eskimo Kendial Lawrence and veteran Argo slotback Andre Durie. In fact, he played his third season with the Sooners as a slot receiver before returning to running back for his senior season.

The options and variances of using all three players are truly very enticing.
  • The Great Grigsby establishing the ground game and converting in critical situations when everyone knows you are going to run. Play-action pass opportunities arise when the opposing defense brings more defenders into the box.
  • Able Gable keeping defenses honest by delivering that balanced approach. Getting the ball into C.J.’s hands via run or pass or sticking his nose into a pass rusher giving quarterback Zach Collaros that extra steamboat to go downfield to one of the other Ti-Cat targets.
  • Magic Madu coming out of the backfield in a two-back set with Gable or directly as a slot receiver creating a matchup problem for the opposition. Mossis is too quick for a linebacker to cover and too big for a defensive back to tackle.
The Ti-Cats need to get all three players into the game-day lineup and maximize the capabilities of their talented trio of resourceful running backs.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Podskee Wee Wee, Episode 3

A lot has happened since the last time Mike and I picked up the mics. We get into the winners and losers of free agency, discuss specifically what the Ti-Cats have done, have a mutual love-in over the signings of C.J. Gable and Nic Grigsby, and answer some of your questions.

As always, you can subscribe on iTunes by clicking the button below. If you don't use iTunes, let me know which podcast directory you do use and I will see about trying to get it up on there.

And like last time, any reviews or ratings you leave on iTunes is greatly appreciated. Enjoy Episode 3 of Podskee Wee Wee.

Monday 23 February 2015

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 2

No need for a long intro, let’s get to the questions.

What are your thoughts on the Ti-Cats forum? It used to be better, but there are a few users that rip on everyone, so they leave.

I used to be a frequent contributor to the forum, but my visits there have been few and far between for at least a couple of years. I found it to be too combative and rude. Differing opinions were not welcome and things took a turn for the nasty. I am not innocent by any means; I was known to be a bit of a jerk when posting. But I tried my best to be respectful of others, but sometimes it can be tough.

So instead of interacting via the Ti-Cats or CFL forum, I use Twitter. Many of the CFL discussions are great. Yes, things can get a bit testy from time to time, but I find it much more cordial than the forum. I chalk that up to less anonymity on Twitter. Sure, we can hide behind screennames, but I find that more people use their real name and photo, which gives a more personalized touch and makes it harder to just troll someone or act like a jackass.

Twitter is also where I met my two fantastic blog contributors, Mark and Eric, as well as where I had the pleasure of meeting my podcast partner, Mike. So if anyone is looking for a way out of the forum and into more civilized discussions, hit up Twitter. You won’t regret it.

Do you think the average Ontario fan would watch more games if they were free online (without TSN GO)?

Online streaming is the way of the future, and one might even say it is the present. The CFL finding a way to offer high quality streams online, either through TSN’s website or via other means like YouTube, would be massive. I am sure that the television contract the league signed with TSN gives them exclusive rights to air games, so finding a digital platform while that contract still exists would be tough.

As far as whether it would increase interest in Ontario, I don’t know. There will always be those that look down on the CFL – and those people don’t just reside in Ontario – and no matter what the CFL does, and that won’t change.

Another thing to factor in is time zones. I run a blog dedicated to the CFL, so to call me a hardcore fan is probably not an understatement, but unless the Ti-Cats are playing, I am not too keen on staying up until a west coast game finishes around 1 a.m. Would online streaming of games change that? I don’t think so.

If the goal is to make the CFL a leader in online streaming, then that’s great. If it is to get more Ontarians to watch games, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. recently ran a poll that asked which East team had the best receiving corps. The runaway winner was the Ottawa RedBlacks. Thoughts?

My initial thought is that it’s wrong. The RedBlacks, while having a much improved receiving corps, is long on potential and short on actual results. Mo Price has all the tools to be a No. 1 receiver, but injuries have held him back. Greg Ellingson had a wonderful start to his CFL career, but then injuries slowed him down and allowed others, like Luke Tasker, to take his spot. Ernest Jackson has, if we are being honest, one great month at the right time, but who knows if he will build off that. And while everyone loves Brad Sinopoli, who is to say he will ever be anything more than what he already is. The RedBlacks already have a decent, though unspectacular national receiver in Matt Carter; is Sinopoli really that much of an upgrade over him?

So no, Ottawa definitely does not have the best group of receivers in the East. So you probably want to know who I think does. I think it comes down to two teams, Hamilton and Montreal, and I am going to say the Als.

While I like Hamilton’s group, I like Montreal’s just a little bit more. Hamilton does not possess a one-two punch like Montreal does with S.J. Green and the recently acquired Fred Stamps. Green is a bona fide No. 1 receiver and it can be argued that he is the best receiver in the game. Would someone say the same of Luke Tasker, who is essentially Hamilton’s top pass catcher? Probably not.

Hamilton does have the best national receiver, Andy Fantuz, and while Montreal’s duo of Sam Giguère and Éric Deslauriers isn’t as good combined as Fantuz is singularly, they do provide better depth than what Hamilton has behind Fantuz.

So while I know I will probably take some crap for not picking Hamilton, I think it is pretty clear that Montreal’s group is, at least on paper, the best in the East.

Who are your picks for 2015 East and West MOPs?

Wow! It’s only February and people are already asking for predictions. Well, no time like the present to make a fool of one’s self. In the West, give me Bo Levi Mitchell and in the East, give me Ricky Ray.

Mitchell will have some stiff competition from within (teammate Jon Cornish) and from the outside (Mike Reilly). But I think that Mitchell is ready to ascend up the quarterback ladder and be placed amongst the very best in the game. Last year’s division finals featured a combined one playoff game started by the four starting quarterbacks (Mitchell, Reilly, Montreal’s Jonathan Crompton and Hamilton’s Zach Collaros), so the future is now for the young guns at the game’s most pivotal position. With that, Mitchell will continue to grow and add to his trophy case that already features a Grey Cup ring and Grey Cup MVP award.

In the East, until someone can knock him off his perch, Ricky Ray is the odds-on favourite to take home the MOP nom for the third consecutive year. Ray was far from stellar in either of the last two seasons (an injury-shortened 2013 and a decent, though unspectacular 2014), but had the benefit both years of their really being not much competition for the nomination. I can see the case being similar for this year. Collaros could be in the mix if he plays 15-18 games in 2015, but I don’t really see anyone from Ottawa or Montreal challenging Ray. So picking now, I’ll give the East to Ray.

Would it be beneficial to have a player onside (besides the punter) for all punts?

This is a tough one to answer. The benefits of doing so are tremendous if executed properly (as seen in Hamilton’s season-finale win over Montreal last year), but doing it every time you punt might be overkill.

Much like halfback options or wide receiver passes, I think plays like these need to be used as conservatively as possible. When the winds are swirling and gusting, I say go for it, but on a calm July day, maybe it is best to keep this one holstered for another time.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Building a Grey Cup Champion

If you were a head coach of a CFL team heading into the 2015 season, what would you want your team to be best at, league-wide? What is that one factor that you will have painted on the locker room walls and emphasized at every opportunity?

If my goal is to make it to “The Peg” this coming November 29 and ultimately win the 103rd Grey Cup, that one factor, that one phrase and statement that I will scream from the mountain top would be simple:

Lead The League In Turnover Ratio!

Of the last 10 Grey Cup champions, six led the league in turnover ratio. That is an incredibly high percentage. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, that is also the exact same percentage last 10 division-final-winning hosts. Those are pretty good odds and ones that I would be more than willing to take if you ask me.

Outside of leading the turnover battle over the course of the season, another quality that I would want to instill in my team is being stout against the run. Teams that led the league in lowest yards-per-rushing-attempt have made it to the big game 60 per cent of the time and claimed the trophy five times in the last decade.

Overall, where did the last 10 Grey Cup champions rank during regular season when it comes to many of the most important statistical factors on the gridiron?

Upon collecting and analyzing the data, I did find a few things to be a little surprising.
  1. Leading the league in rushing the football does not appear to be very important.
  2. Protecting your quarterback is slightly more important than getting to theirs.
  3. Points scored upon you are more important than the points you score.
  4. Leading the league in Touchdowns is more important than total points scored.
  5. Putting up the most offensive yardage is not a recipe for success.
As far as overall rankings, who are the best and worst Grey Cup Champions over the last 10 years? Well, the 2009 Montreal Alouettes ranked first across the league in eight of 13 categories and second or third in four others. The worst statistically ranked team to hoist the Grey Cup in the last decade goes to the 2012 Toronto Argonauts, who only ranked first in the area of turnover ratio while ranking, on average, in the lower third of the league in all others.

So, what do you want your team to be best at during the 2015 CFL regular season?

I Turn It Over To You!

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Reinebold Staying to Finish Business

Jeff Reinebold is staying with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

After overtures from Simon Fraser University to become their new head coach, a move that had the support of alumni of the university, the former Blue Bombers head coach has decided to stay in Hamilton because, as he put it, he has “work to finish.”

Before I start lavishing praise on the man, a bit of mea culpa on my part. I BLASTED the hiring of Reinebold back in 2013, saying that I doubted he would do anything spectacular and that, at best, he would be a mediocre coordinator and how terrible of a hire it was to bring Reinebold in.

Boy was I wrong.

Over the past two seasons, Reinebold has led what is easily one of the top two or three special teams units in the CFL. Last season, three different returnmen (Brandon Banks, Quincy McDuffie and Terrell Sinkfield) won player of the week awards for their work on special teams. In 2013, Mark Beswick was the East Division nominee for Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. And let's not forget his ingenious designing of onside punts to counteract the winds at Tim Horton's Field. The success of the players under Reinebold’s tutelage speaks for itself. He may not have been great as a defensive coordinator in Montreal or as a head coach in Winnipeg, but he has become, quite possibly, the best special teams coordinator in the entire CFL.

With Reinebold spurning Simon Fraser to stay in Hamilton, he also saves Austin and Co. the unenviable task of trying to find his replacement. The pool of quality coaches is very shallow by this time in the offseason, so finding a guy who could replicate the great work Reinebold has done over the past two season would have been a near-impossible undertaking. But with Reinebold staying put, the Tiger-Cats can focus their energies on tryout camps, the upcoming draft and the start of the season.

It is never uninteresting with Jeff Reinebold around, so I look forward to seeing what new tricks he has up his sleeve so the Ti-Cats can finally finish business in 2015.

A Little Love for "Thick Nik"

I find it very hard to envision Nik Lewis sporting any other colours than the red, white and black of the Calgary Stampeders; however, in 2015, that may be a reality.

Stampeders boss John Hufnagel hasn't expressed very much interest in bringing the Stampeder great back. It doesn't appear as though many other teams are very interested either, as Lewis has been a free agent for an entire week now with very few rumours surrounding his name. The lack of interest in "Geronimo Jones" somewhat baffles me, as I feel like all nine teams should at least check the price tag on Lewis and give him an offer.

First of all, Lewis is one the best to ever catch a football in CFL history. While his production has certainly trailed off recently, he is still just two years removed from nine straight 1,000-yard seasons, something very few players have accomplished.

The biggest question surrounding "Thick Nik" is if he'll ever be able to bounce back from the his broken fibula that ended his season prematurely in 2013. This will be Lewis' first offseason since he suffered the injury where he won't be rehabbing his leg and can focus solely on his game, something he admits the injury prevented him from doing prior to the 2014 campaign.

Lewis has also stated that the injury affected his speed and route running at the beginning of last season, but he felt like he regained his step near the end and, as a result, played more snaps in October and November than he did in July and August. Even if Lewis' ankle injury is a thing of the past, what can teams realistically expect from him on the field?

While playing limited snaps thanks to Calgary's loaded receiving corps, Lewis managed to haul in 400 yards and three touchdowns in 2013 prior to the injury and followed that up with 37 receptions for 377 yards in 2014. Keep in mind, at 32 years old, Lewis isn't that old and could contribute a solid 500 yards on a team where he wasn't the odd-man out every time his team needed to start a Canadian because of ratio issues. Lewis is also known for his big blocks downfield, something that age or a broken fibula can't take away from him. Around 500 yards from Nik Lewis would be a bonus, as it's what he brings on the sidelines and away from the field that makes him worth the money.

You know exactly what you are getting from Nik Lewis away from the field as a teammate and a person: a winner, a well-respected leader, a motivator, a competitor and an outgoing personality that's always entertaining and good for a quote. Lewis would walk in on the first day of training camp and already have the respect of his peers. He'll be in a position to immediately mentor the younger players with 11 seasons under his belt and he's also a two-time Grey Cup champion that brings a winning attitude to the organization, something Winnipeg and Ottawa both could use. Best of all, you could get all this on a rental contract with a low price.

We know Nik Lewis is willing to accept a smaller role on another team. He sat in the backseat in 2014 with Calgary and not once did you hear the nine-time 1,000-yard receiver complain. Nik understands he's nearing the end of his career and his best days are behind him, so I expect his asking price to match his role as a depth receiver. That asking price also may have dropped by now with few teams expressing interest while Nik still wants to play another year. Lewis would slot in as the fourth or fifth receiver on most teams, which would make 500 yards from the big-guy very impressive and worth every penny.

While many teams have made it clear they don't plan on signing any more international receivers in free agency, I still fully expect Nik Lewis to find a new home come June. In fact, all nine teams should be showing interest in Thick Nik. There won't be any bidding wars over the 32-year old, but likely some offers from teams looking to go on a Grey Cup run or are looking for an experienced veteran that brings just as much, if not more, to the table off the field than on it.

As weird as it would be to see Nik Lewis playing a game without the horseshoe on his helmet, I can only hope it's my team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, that picks up the always entertaining, 240-pound pass-catcher from Southern Arkansas.

Nik Lewis provides more than just touchdowns and big blocks, and I assume other teams know that and take a chance on the Stampeders legend.

Monday 16 February 2015

Monday Mailbag

When the decision was made to re-start the blog, I wanted to make it different than the previous incarnation. One way I wanted to do that was through more interaction with readers. There has been some decent discussion in the comment sections, and some great conversations via Twitter, but I want to expand that and make you, the readers, even more involved than before.

So with that I bring you our newest feature, The BWW Monday Mailbag. If you want to get a question answered, you can tweet at me using #BWWMailbag or drop a question in the comment section. Every Monday, I will answer a handful of your questions. If you asked a question and didn’t get it answered, don’t worry, I will answer it in another mailbag.

Let’s get started with a question I have been asked on more than one occasion.

What are your thoughts on the Tiger-Cats’ new home, Tim Horton’s Field?

In one word: beautiful. But you want more than one word.

When I first entered Tim Horton’s Field back on Labour Day, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that my breath was taken away. It is a truly amazing stadium and has become a great place to watch a game. The upgrades over Ivor Wynne Stadium are many, and while that venue will always hold a special place in my heart, I have fully embraced Tim Horton’s Field.

That’s not to say the stadium doesn’t have some flaws. The biggest one being that it wasn’t completed for any of the games that were played there. I also am not a fan of the concourses, as I found them small and hard to maneuver through. Of course, that might also have been due to the unfinished nature of the place.

With the stadium only being partially completed last year, I obviously cannot give a comprehensive evaluation. I think when it is 100 per cent finished, it is going to be one of the best places to watch a game in this country.

What offseason coaching change(s) will have the most impact in 2015?

The easy answer to this one is obviously Jeff Tedford’s hiring as head coach of the BC Lions. When a team replaces the guy in charge, that move is likely to have the biggest impact of any change any team made.

But outside of Tedford, the one hire that has me the most curious is one he made for his own staff: hiring George Cortez as offensive coordinator.

Say what you want about Cortez’s disastrous one-year tenure as Hamilton’s head coach, or the seemingly acrimonious split he just went through with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but the man knows how to run an offense. The 2012 Tiger-Cats, a team that finished a dismal 6-12, had one of the most explosive and exciting offenses in the CFL that season. He won a Grey Cup in 2013 with the Riders and might have gone to another one with them had Darian Durant not gotten hurt midway through last season.

BC’s offense is loaded with weapons – Andrew Harris, Manny Arceneaux, Shawn Gore, Courtney Taylor – and a fully healthy Travis Lulay guiding a Cortez-installed offense should have Lions fans salivating at what they can accomplish. Cortez has his faults – he really does not know how to handle backup quarterbacks – but the positives outweigh the negatives. Watching what he does with the Lions offense provides the most intrigue for me.

What is the problem with Hamilton in the red zone? Is it scheme or personnel? And why do they seem to be so predictable?

This seems like a question that has been asked by Tiger-Cats fans for the better part of a decade. It seems no matter who is calling the shots or who is on the field, the Tiger-Cats just can’t execute in the red zone. The clichéd answer is that executing near the goalline is a matter of will. That the offensive line must dominate at the point of contact to allow the running back to find a hole or give the quarterback enough time to go through his reads.

Over the years we have seen flashes of red zone efficiency, but last year’s unacceptable 40 per cent success rate is hopefully the nadir of red zone ineptitude. Short yardage has been a bit of a struggle for the Cats over the last two seasons, especially, and a lot of Hamilton’s red zone woes come from their inability to punch it in from short distance, like Jeremiah Masoli’s goalline fumble on Labour Day.

It can’t be scheme or personnel or predictability because these problems have existed for years with major changes to all three areas. It might simply be a matter of the team just not executing when given the chance. But this is definitely something to keep an eye on in 2015.

Will the Argos take another step back in 2015?

As long as Ricky Ray is piloting that offense, they have a chance to win any game they play. A return to health for Andre Durie, Chad Owens and Anthony Coombs will certainly help their offense, and Ricky Foley should help take pressure off last year’s top rookie out of the East, Tristan Okpalaugo. So the Argos do have some nice pieces that might be able to keep them from falling.

However, the problem stems more from the outside than the inside. Hamilton and Montreal have surpassed the Argos. Both teams have reloaded and Ottawa has made some big moves in the hopes of bettering their two-win performance from last year. Add in a rejuvenated Winnipeg, a potential explosive offense in BC, the Stamps and Esks looking like they will still be top-level clubs and it doesn’t look good for the Argos. Even Saskatchewan was able to retain a lot of their top players, as well as acquire a really good one from Toronto.

While I won’t say that the Argos will finish in last place, it is entirely possible. All the teams around them have made changes to get better, while the Argos have pretty much stood pat. Not a wise decision for a team that missed the playoffs in 2014.

Bakari Grant… still in limbo. Why the dance? No other team interested? Cats want a bargain?

I think the answer to this is three-fold. For starters, I truly don’t think Bakari Grant wants to leave Hamilton, especially if, as rumoured, the main team interested in him is Toronto. I know that football is a business, and that he does not have to have any loyalty to the Tiger-Cats, but we are talking about a guy who put on an “ARGOS SUCK” t-shirt after the Ti-Cats beat the Argos in Toronto in the 2013 East Final.

Secondly, the Tiger-Cats are very high on Joe Anderson, who spent time on the practice roster last season. Anderson will also be playing for a salary that will probably be half of what Grant will command. By letting Grant go, they can put a player on the field that they are very high on and save a little money in the process.

But at the end of the day, money is the biggest factor. The Ti-Cats have done a lot of work trying to fit everyone into their budget, while also being mindful of future contracts they will need to extend. Adding another multi-year, six-figure deal might not fit into Hamilton’s salary structure. This is one of those times that I envision Kent Austin the general manager arguing with Kent Austin the head coach. Grant might end up being a casualty of the general manager’s future-planning prudence overriding head coach’s short-term desire to field the best possible team.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Are Hamilton Fans Too Preoccupied With the Sack?

I can understand why Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans love a ferocious pass rush. That scintillating image of an opposing quarterback being taken to the turf is one all fans enjoy. Memories of Grover Covington and Joe Montford rushing off the edge and “getting home” with a sack are amongst the strongest for Tiger Town faithful. These iconic reflections also happen to coincide with the last two Grey Cup victories for the Black and Gold – in 1986 and 1999, respectively – thus cementing them in Steeltown lore.

Yet, is sacking the quarterback a necessity in the pursuit of hoisting Albert’s, the 4th Earl of Grey, shiny Cup? The simple answer is no, it is not!

As you can clearly see illustrated in the chart above, only once in the last 10 years has the team that led the league in quarterback sacks gone on to win the league’s championship.

In fact, sitting atop the quarterback takedown leaderboard has only resulted in one other Grey Cup participant. To put this in perspective, only 10 per cent of the time has leading the league in sacks resulted in the chance to contend for, and ultimately claim, the 106-year-old trophy.

A little further, the average ranking of Grey Cup victors in the area of quarterback sacks is 3.8. The average ranking for the losing team in the finale is fourth. For those teams that did lead the Purolator Tackle Hunger program, they had an average divisional finish of second.

By no means am I saying that exerting pressure on the opposing quarterback is not a good thing. Of course, hurrying the opposition’s signal caller and making him uncomfortable can only benefit a team’s success. And there are few aspects of the game that bring fans to their feet and pumping their fists quite like a sack!

But it is clear that it is not the only thing, or even remotely near the most important aspect, in the makeup of today’s championship teams.

So, perhaps Hamilton Tiger-Cat Fans need not be so preoccupied with quarterback sacks. It may be time to leave the memories of Montford and Covington in the past, when the game was played and structured differently.

Yet, the more obvious question is “What are the key and common ingredients to the championship teams of today?” We shall continue to look for that elusive answer as we further our dissection and look “Inside the Numbers!”