Don Cherry’s Love Child previews the 2012 CFL season, which kicks off tonight!
The CFL Regular Season will soon be upon us. All eight teams will be vying for the league’s ultimate prize, the Grey Cup. This year will mark the 100th Grey Cup game, with Toronto acting as the host city. It’s time to break down each team and their chances of claiming the grand prize.
On paper, the Montreal Alouettes are a marquee choice to win this years Grey Cup. They are extremely talented on offense, and have a pretty solid defense to boot. The Als led the league in three offensive categories last year. Anthony Calvillo threw for 5,251 yards, running back Brandon Whitaker rushed for 1,381 yards and stalwart receiver Jamel Richardson had 1,777 yards receiving to lead the league. On defense, John Bowman had 12 sacks, which was good enough for second best in the CFL. However, this team is rapidly aging, Calvillo, the league’s all time leader in passing yards, passing TDs and completions, is 39 years old. Many wonder how long he can keep up at this pace, especially with a long and grueling 18 game schedule. Other veterans like Etienne Boulay and Diamond Ferri were recently released. Boulay had been with the Als for seven years and Ferri, (a product of the Syracuse Orange) had been there for five. Montreal went 10-8 last season, but lost to Hamilton in the first round of the CFL Playoffs, 52-44.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Led by ex-BC Lion signal caller Buck Pierce, the Bombers had an excellent season last year. Even though Pierce missed some time to injury, he was still able to lead the Bombers to a 10-8 (despite losing 5 of their last 7 games) record and the Grey Cup, where they lost to BC 34-23. The Bombers won their division, which gave them a first round bye. They then defeated Hamilton 19-3 in the Eastern Conference Final. Like the Alouettes, they appear to be retooling their lineup and moving in a younger direction. Dorian Smith, who battled through numerous injuries last year, and Clint Kent have been released. Another surprising cut was tailback Bloe-Dei Dorzon. They are bringing back Odell Willis (led league in sacks -13), Jovon Johnson and Jonathan Hefney (first and third in the league interceptions with 8 and 6 respectively), who should all lead a strong Bombers defense.
The Argos had a very poor season last year, going 6-12. They had a lot of problems at quarterback and had trouble moving the ball down field, which didn’t help anything. They hope to change that this year with the highly anticipated signing of former Eskimos QB Ricky Ray. One bright spot for the team was in the back field, where tailback Cory Boyd ran the ball 187 times for 1,141 yards (second best CFL). DB Lin-J Shell also had a good campaign (94 Tackles, third best CFL) but he is now with BC, so the Argos have to replace him. The Argos have also acquired former Stampeders LB Robert McCune and Former Alouettes receiver Danny Desriveaux. McCune has started every game with the Stamps the last two seasons, accumulating 118 tackles, eight sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. He might sound familiar, since he has spent time in the NFL (with stints in Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington and Miami) and he was also star player in College at Louisville. Desriveax was a five-year player with the Als. Toronto got off to a slow start last year (1-6 in first 7 games) and those early losses came back to haunt them down the stretch, preventing them from earning a playoff berth.
My Hometown Hamilton Tiger-Cats (I say hometown because the Ti-Cats are my favorite CFL team and the closest to me in proximity) hope to build on a successful 2011 with a productive 2012. Hamilton languished for many years in the 2000s, and suffered both on and off the field. The team lost 17 games in 2003 and has had financial problems. Last year Hamilton finished just 8-10, but surprisingly beat Montreal in the Opening round of the Playoffs before falling to Winnipeg in the Eastern Final. The Ti-Cats have made The Playoffs the last three Seasons.
Hamilton is led on Defense by Renauld Williams, who had 91 tackles last year (CFL fourth best). Unfortunatley, they lost a key member of their Defense in Justin Hickman. Hickman led the league in Sacks last year with 13 and was a CFL All-Star, but he signed a contract with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts this off-season. The Ti-Cats look to beef up their pass production on Offense this year with the acquisition of long time veteran QB Henry Burris. Burris has spent twelve years in the league with Calgary and Saskatchewan, spending most of the time as each team’s Starting QB, Burris also spent one year with the NFL’s Chicago Bears. He is a three time All-Star, two time Grey Cup Champion (Grey Cup MVP -2008) and was named the League’s Most Outstanding player in 2010. He fell out of favor in Calgary and was relegated to backup. Burris was recently traded to Hamilton in exchange for Fellow veteran QB Kevin Glenn and Tackle Mark Dewit. Hamilton also has brought in a Young arm in Dan Lefevour, who will expect to push Burris for playing time. He played last year with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and 2010 with the Cinncinati Bengals. Lefevour was a standout QB at Central Michigan and at one time held the NCAA Record for TD passes.
The Calgary Stampeders look to the 2012 season with renewed interest. They have a new QB in veteran Kevin Glenn. Glenn will join a veteran cast of players including, WR’s Romby Bryant, Nik Lewis and Jabari Arthur. In fact, eight of their players are over 30 years old. Calgary is hoping that Wisdom equals power, and we shall see if that becomes truth. One player who, surprisingly, won’t be there is WR Ken-Yon Rambo, who was cut near the end of training camp after battling many injuries this spring. In 2011 the Stamps finished with a Regular Season record of 11-7. They were bounced early in the first round of the CFL Playoffs though, by Edmonton 33-19. Nik Lewis had 1,209 yards receiving (CFL third Best) and RB John Cornish had 863 yards rushing, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the CFL thats good enough for fifth best in the league. Calgary prides themselves on strong special teams play and, with the CFL being a a wide open field position game, this is very important. Larry Taylor was second in the league in combined Punt and Kick return yards with 1,778. Kicker Rene Paredes, meanwhile, scored 158 points and Burke Dales led the league in punting average with 47.2 yards per Punt. One other note, the Stampeders recently traded defensive tackle Geoff Tisdale to Hamilton, so they will need to replace him as well.
The Edmonton Eskimos finished last season with a record of 11-7, and in a three-way tie with Calgary and Edmonton, as no team truly dominated out west in 2011. Edmonton won their first round playoff matchup with Calgary 33-19, but fell to eventual Grey Cup Champs the BC Lions 40-23. This team was very streaky, and looked particularly bad in games they lost. In games in those losses, Edmonton was outscored 217-106. 2011 started out strong, as the Esks won their first five games, but went on to lose seven of their remaining thirteen games, including three in a row at one point. I believe losing starting QB Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts is big for this club. So far this off-season, edmonton has had trouble finding a permanent replacement for him. Steven Jyles and veteran Kerry Joseph are the most likely candidates. In the receiving and running back departments, the Eskimos still remain strong. WRs Fred Stamps and Adarius Bowman were tied for fourth in the league in receiving yards with 1,153 last season. Jerome Messam also shined in the back field, rushing for 1,057 yards in 2012.
The Roughriders and starting QB Darien Durant took one giant step backwards last season, finishing a very disappointing 5-13. Before last season, Durant had led the Rough riders to two consecutive Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed the Riders’ season last year. In addition, the team parted ways with two-time All-Star and fan Favorite, running back Wes Cates. I don’t understand this move, but maybe they know something we don’t. Cates will be replaced by Brandon West. West has NFL experience, and he will be pushing for time will be fellow backs Kory Sheets, Louis Rankin and DeSawhn Wynn. The Riders did re-sign WR Chris Getzlaf, Getzlaf is one of Saskatchewan’s premiere players, and his signing brings stability to their receiving corps. The team has also made improvements on their home field at Mosaic Stadium. 7000 seats have been added, as well as 2700 sq feet of video displays, and new field turf was put in a few years back as well.
The BC Lions won the 2011 Grey Cup on their home field, BC Place Stadium, last season. It was a strange start to the 2011 campaign though, as BC actually lost their first five games of the season. Many people, including myself, were calling for long-time Head coach Wally Buono to be fired. However, the team would rebound and go on to win eleven of their next thirteen games, and Buono would end up winning his fifth Grey Cup (1992, 98 and 01 with Calgary and 2006 and 2012 with BC). He is also the all-time winningest coach in CFL History with 254 victories. Replacing him will be tough. In December, shortly after his Grey Cup win, Buono stepped down as Lions Head coach, opting instead to become the team’s GM, VP of Football Operations and Governor.
Wally Buono’s replacement will be Mike Benevides, who has been the BC Lions’ Defensive Coordinater since 2008. On the field, the team is led by QB Travis Lulay, who passed for 4,815 yards last year (second best). Lulay, in his first full year as a starter, looked outstanding and many in BC are happy that he will be the starter for many years to come. None may be more happy than Slotback Geroy Simon though. Simon, BC’s # 1 receiver, must be drinking from the fountain of youth, because, at 36, he was second in the league in receiving yards with 1,350. BC also has strong speedy wide-outs in Nick Moore, Akeem Foster and Paris Jackson (Not Michael Jackson’s daughter), so their passing game should be top notch again.
- The CFL season kicks off on Friday, June 29 with Saskatchewan at Hamilton at 7 PM
- Additional games include:
- Winnipeg At Defending Grey Cup Champs BC: Friday, June 29 at 10 PM
- Toronto At Edmonton: Saturday, June 30 at 7PM
- Montreal At Calgary: Sunday, July 1 at 7 PM
- All games will be broadcast live on espn3.com, The United States Television Broadcast schedule will be announced soon, and I can’t contain my excitement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Featured image courtesy of: Jenelle Schneider/PNG