Parity and Montreal blows up real good?

September 13, 2017 - 11:01am

The post Labour Day triple-header was an exhausting and interesting marathon of Canadian football that pointed out how sometimes luck has everything to do with a team’s success.

The loss of Travis Lulay for the season with an ACL injury now puts pressure on Jon Jennings to perform as quarterback. The pressure is more so since his return from his own shoulder injury. Additionally, Jennings has been prone to throwing interceptions and not being on the same page as his receivers.

Sometimes quarterbacks tend to think too much. Jennings came in on the second play of the game and seemed able to make his reads and move the club in the way he did prior to his injury. However the situation showed the importance of having two quarterbacks who are capable of playing the game and doing more than handling the short yardage team.

The Riders had Kevin Glenn go down with a hand injury following through with a pass in the Labour Day rematch with Winnipeg and Brandon Bridge came in and showed while he could run for a touchdown and has a good zip on the ball, the jury is still out on whether he could lead the team if required to.

Then Trevor Harris of Ottawa went down with a shoulder strain, thrusting Drew Tate into action. Once upon a time Tate went from Saskatchewan’s practice roster to Calgary where it was thought he would be the successor to Henry Burris. It didn’t quite work out that way as Tate was passed by Bo Levi Mitchell who has shown greater durability and stability than Tate has and Tate was traded to Ottawa.

What the injuries showed is that if an injury hits a CFL team at a crucial position, the team could very well find itself from being in playoff contention to not being in playoff contention.

So with three quarterbacks going down with injury, how will this affect their respective team chances?

Starting with BC, what the Lulay injury does is take away a very nice security blanket for Wally Buono. Lulay’s experience and his preparation meant that if he was asked to come in place of Jennings, the team would not suffer a drop off in performance.

So while Jennings was attempting to get back into a groove following his injury, Lulay was available to help BC be competitive until either Jennings got his groove back or Lulay took them to another Grey Cup. That security is not longer there for Buono, nor is the margin for error in quarterback play as the Lions have seven games left and attempt to keep afloat in the western conference.

So on the one hand it could be argued Jennings by sitting on the bench and getting the perspective of watching Lulay seems to have internalized some of that and is about to return to form. The problem is the game was against Montreal who while they have a good defense, are watching their offense implode and already are talking about making changes.

Mitchell Gale, formerly of the Riders, Toronto, and Calgary, seems to be going to BC to act as a back up. Gale did not bad when he filled in on the Riders last year, leading them to a win over Hamilton, but has a tendency to turn the ball over at inopportune times. Buono may be thinking if Gale has learned from the experience, he may help in a dire need situation.

The Lions face Calgary this week and this is a statement game for BC. Their offensive line has in one form or another led to injuries to their quarterbacks and needs to keep Jennings upright because the other option is clearly unknown. If Jennings can rally the team and lead them to the playoffs, starting with a win against Calgary, then BC is back in the discussion about who should be sitting on the front porch in the western division race.

Ottawa seemed to have taken Hamilton a bit lightly and with a new coach, offensive system and some tweaks, let Hamilton back into the eastern race with a win. Harris is out for awhile until he can raise his arm to throw a pass, and that leaves Tate being forced to actually lead a team.

Last season I recall Tate had talked about going back to his alma mater to coach football, likely after seeing Bo Levi rack up the wins and figuring out his opportunity has passed. So far in Ottawa he has held on field goals, but apparently has run the hurry up offense in practice.

Ottawa is a team that has lost by not much and makes the little mistakes that kill the team in the end. With the turnover in personnel, it seems Ottawa is in a reloading year but the interesting thing is that while Trevor Harris leads the league in yards and touchdowns, they have a 4-7-1 record, just one point ahead of Toronto to lead the east.

Tate can be emotional on the field, sort of a younger version of Jason (No) Maas, so it will be interesting to see if he can spark Ottawa or if he will be so emotional he will react impulsively and make mistakes while doing what he feels is necessary to lead the team.

Ottawa added Wil Arndt, from West Connecticut State as a quarterback option, but your guess is as good as mine as to what Ottawa will do if Tate fails to produce.

Saskatchewan seems to have fared the best with quarterback injuries with Kevin Glenn apparently not breaking his hand, having ice on it, and the Riders playing games with Hamilton as to whether Glenn  will start on Friday night. Brandon Bridge came into the game against Winnipeg and ran for a touchdown, threw some fast balls, but ultimately the Rider mistakes doomed them against Winnipeg.  

The Riders will need this game to get above 500 considering Calgary is hosting BC and coming to Riderville next week. While Bridge and Vernon Adams playing may make future decisions easier for the Riders to evaluate their quarterback depth and determine future options, you do not want to blow up a potential playoff spot by not having your best lineup on the field, even if it is against a 2-8 team.

The news out of Montreal of Jacques Chapdelaine and Noel Thorpe being fired brings up all kinds of questions, such as mid-week firing during a regular week and who goes where and what happens to former Rider Darian Durant.

Kavis Reed taking over as head coach is not a recipe for success, and the surprising firing of Thorpe means former Rider assistant Greg Quick takes over the defense, which he did when Cory Chamblin was fired in Saskatchewan. Anthony Calvillo takes over the playcalling from Chapdelaine, and while Calvillo is a Hall of Fame quarterback, how much of it was due to the playcalling he was provided by Marc Trestman?

There are rumours that Rich Stubler could be en route to Montreal to lend assistance to the defense and even more interestingly, Montreal may be considering a trade of Darian Durant to Hamilton in exchange for Zach Collaros.

Durant was the choice of Chapdelaine and Montreal probably overpaid for Durant in a trade instead of waiting until he was a free agent. Durant’s contract was front loaded, so his hit on the salary cap would be a relief for Hamilton, who have made Collaros ether the highest paid or close to it quarterback in the CFL.

The question is whether Durant would be willing to sit behind Jeremiah Masoli until Masoli faulters, while Collaros looks to Montreal for a change of scenery he apparently needs. A bigger problem is apparently this is the fourth mid-season coaching change in five years for Montreal and the question is will this continue to turn fans off in Montreal who has steadily stumbled since Trestman left.

Another question is the future of Noel Thorpe, who a couple of years ago was en route to Edmonton to take a defensive coordinator position when Montreal went to the league to enforce his contract. While upward mobility is allowed in the CFL, a sideways move is apparently something else.

Thorpe is interesting because his defenses are pretty good and he would be a good addition to a team looking for defensive help. One possible landing spot is Hamilton, but apparently Hamilton is pleased with the job Ted Lolley, former Rider defensive assistant under Chris Jones, is doing with the defense.

Another possible landing spot is Edmonton, who originally thought they had lured Thorpe, and are not going through some defensive pains in the midst of a four game losing streak. Edmonton’s problem may not be coaching as much as injuries, but Thorpe going to Edmonton should not be ruled out.

Another possible landing spot is Saskatchewan where one of the criticisms of Chris Jones is his wearing a number of hats from defensive coordinator to head coach to football operations. The Riders recent win streak which ended against Winnipeg with some impressive busts in coverage, had seemed to quell those thoughts, but Thorpe is probablly familiar with what Jones is trying to do and might come on as a consultant and take over next season.

Thorpe does have a number of options, including apparently Winnipeg where a couple of coverage busts against the Riders have Bomber fans calling for Richie Hall to be replaced. Thorpe will likely hang on to his cheques for the rest of the season and then make a decision in the offseason when teams are looking to build towards 2018.

So this week the CFL starts on Friday with the Riders in Hamilton and as previously mentioned, the Riders are playing their cards close to their chests regarding the status of Kevin Glenn. Hamilton got the new coach bounce with a Labour Day win against Toronto following a two hour rain delay, and then Ottawa seemed to not take them seriously and failed to adjust to the running of Masoli and the reuse of Brandon Banks.

Some other wild cards will be whether the Riders insert former Riders Jeff Lynch Jr. and Otha Foster III into the lineup, strengthening the linebacking corps. The mobility of Masoli, combined with CJ Gable and Banks means the Riders will be tested from sideline to sideline and having mobile guys who know the defense will be essential.

It will be an interesting game and if Glenn does not play, Hamilton’s chances of winning do get better, but if the Riders load up their defense and if they decide to dress Marcus Thigpen as a kick returner. Hamilton may have a bit of an edge with Lolley being very familiar with Jones and how he likes to  operate, but knowledge without the means of acting on is a question that is up for grabs on Friday night.

A Rider win sets them up for a visit against Calgaryand keeps them in the mix of the western division race. A win would also break a potential pattern of the Riders winning a few games in a row, then reading their clippings and thinking all games will be this easy. The Riders have a lot at stake and they have a few more cards than Hamilton does to play. Riders 34-24.

We have Edmonton going to Toronto on Saturday and Edmonton who used to be on top of the west with a 7-0 record are now 7-4 and with Jason (No) Maas blowing gaskets on the sideline, composure is something being lost in the former city of champions. This will be an interesting game because Edmonton again suffered injuries at safety and the key to attacking Edmonton is going deep on post patterns.

If there is a quarterback who can handle that assignment, it would be Ricky Ray, who is coming off a bye week, but the thing for Toronto is whether they have addressed their problems on offensive line which include trying to keep Ray upright. Toronto is getting some players back and while it would be fun to have Jason (No) Maas break another headset while talking about the need for his team to show discipline while losing, this should be a close game and I am reluctantly picking Edmonton to come out with a 26-25 win.

Then we have BC going to Calgary and for Wally Buono, this is where he finds out if his last season in BC will be one of hope, or whether Jennings has well and truly lost it. While Edmonton gets the attention for losing players to injury, Calgary has also lost players, but more impressively, has managed to somehow find guys to fill the spots until the injured return.

This game though is in Calgary and Calgary rarey loses there. I would expect Calgary to come at Jennings with a pass rush to see if he again gets flustered like he did during BC’s losing streak. If that happens, and with BC’s offensive line that is a real possibility, then Calgary wins. Probably not 60-1, but with a result that gives Buono some hope Jennings can keep the Lions competitive heading into the stretch. Calgary wins this 30-23.

Finally we have the dumpster fire in Montreal on Sunday as Ottawa goes to Montreal to face Kavis Reed, who may or may not have yet found the key to the practice field (true story, he was late to his press conference this morning because no one had the key to the practice field). Apparently Toronto has not given Montreal permission to talk to Rich Stubler about the defensive coordinator position, which probably means Stubler is still being paid by Toronto and leaves Greg Quick in charge.

Reed mentioned that the revolving door of coaches in Montreal was nothing compared to Abraham Lincoln going through six generals in the Civil War. Which is classic. While many were/are thinking that Darian Durant could get his act together, it seems Ottawa has dodged a bullet and will win this one 27-23.


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