Sunday, May 31, 2009

Looking Ahead to the CFL Player Awards

Though the annual CFL Player Awards are the last thing on the minds of Canadian Football fans right now, it is never too early to look ahead and ponder who will be the top performers of the year. With all the moves of the off-season passed, we can better digress who may shine for their respective team.

In a league packed with star players and rising stars, which players will outperform everyone else. Who will be named the Defensive Player of the Year? Which rookie will be named the Rookie of The Year? And will a player other than a quarterback win the Most Outstanding Player Award.

Here is my take on who will win each award:

Outstanding Player

There are always a lot of players to consider when predicting who will win the Outstanding Player of the Year Award. Quarterbacks always seem to be favoured to win this coveted award and there are no shortages of options to pick.

Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray always put up MOP calibre numbers. Last years finalists Anthony Calvillo and Henry Burris could also very well compete for the award.

It may well be a running back who claims the hardware. Joffrey Reynolds is fresh off winning the rushing title and should continue to be strong behind a rejuvenated offensive line. Wes Cates and Avon Coburne will also be two running backs to watch for.

But for my prediction I am not picking a running back or a quarterback. This of course leaves wide receivers. Jamal Richardson, Geroy Simon, Ben Cahoon and Weston Dressler are just a few of the talented receivers to watch for.

My pick however, is BC slotback Paris Jackson. Paris Jackson is a wildcard pick, but he is one of the rising stars in the league and should see more passes thrown his way with the departure of Jason Clermont.

Throw in the fact that BC has no proven running game and defenders seem to key on Geroy Simon, and Paris Jackson could be the bright light on the Lions.

Outstanding Defensive Player

Cameron Wake, had he not bolted to the NFL, would have been the favourites to capture this award once again. As it stands, there are plenty of players who will compete hard to win the award.

Unlike Wake however, I don’t believe that another defensive lineman will win the award because no lineman rely stood out all that much beside Cameron Wake. Doug Brown got nominated last year out of the East, but I believed his nomination was questionable.

A few defensive players to watch for this season would be defensive backs Chris Thompson, Baron Miles and Jason Goss. In the line backing core, look for Toronto linebacker Zeke Moreno who will likely make a big impact for the Argos defense, and Calgary’s Mike Labinjo who is one of the rising stars on defense.

My pick is Edmonton middle linebacker Maurice Lloyd. Though it was a tough pick, I believe that Lloyd could potentially have a huge impact on the Eskimos defense. Maurice Lloyd was considered to be the second choice to Cameron Wake last year for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The only question mark to Maurice Lloyd winning the award is whether or not signing a large contract will affect his play. But, question marks aside, Lloyd has proven to be a menacing middle linebacker and should continue his success with the Eskimos.

Outstanding Canadian Award

Last year, much improved player Kamau Peterson claimed the Outstanding Canadian Award, who will win it this year?

Peterson may in fact be a logical choice to repeat. Edmonton will likely rely on him even more in the passing game and he does catch passes from Rick “Amazing” Ray. You could also make a strong case for last years runner up Ben Cahoon, who always catches a lot of passes.

My pick is Saskatchewan slotback Andy Fantuz. Fantuz has had some recent injury problems which have prevented him from reaching his full potential. But I believe Andy Fantuz is due for a breakout year. With Weston Dressler and Jason Clermont to complement him in the receiving core, Fantuz should face less double teams then he would have last season.

Outstanding Offensive Lineman

Let’s be honest, talking about offensive lineman is about as interesting as rearranging a shoe drawer. However, the award does exist and the competition is usually fierce… fiercer than two linemen fighting for the last chicken wing at a buffet.

Rob Murphy has claimed the award before, but will his success drop playing for the woeful Toronto Argonauts? Gene Makowsky and Scott Flory were both nominated last year, but will their age hurt their chances?

My pick is Hamilton offensive lineman Alexandre Gauthier. It is really hard to pick which lineman will outperform the other, especially without knowing whose running game will perform the best.

Gauthier is a talented offensive lineman and is part of a rejuvenated Tiger Cat offensive line. With running backs Kenton Keith and Terry Caulley running behind him, Gauthier could have a chance to impress the voters.

Outstanding Rookie of the Year Award

There are a number of enticing options this year for the rookie of the year award. Usually offensive linemen don’t seem to win the award, which may change this year as there are a number of solid ones.

My initial thought was to select Jamal Lee, but he may not even see the CFL this season. Other players that crossed my mind were lineman Simon Rottier and slotback Matt Carter.

My pick is Toronto defensive lineman Étienne Légaré. Légaré was viewed as one of the more talented players in the draft and could make an immediate impact to the Argos defensive line.

Of course, there is always the possibility of a player coming in from the states winning the award, like Roughrider receiver Weston Dressler.

Outstanding Special Teams Player

With last years winner Dominique Dorsey gone to the NFL, this years award is really up in the open.

The award could very likely go to a kicker such as Sandro Deangellis, Luca Congi or Noel Prefontaine. Look for return specialist Ian Smart to also garner some consideration.

My pick is Saskatchewan kicker Luca Congi. Congi has improved ever since he got into the league and has developed into a solid kicker. Congi will be challenged by Sandro Deangellis for the award.


Outstanding Player: Paris Jackson

Outstanding Defensive Player: Maurice Lloyd

Outstanding Canadian Award: Andy Fantuz

Outstanding Offensive Lineman: Alexandre Gauthier

Outstanding Rookie of the Year Award: Étienne Légaré

Outstanding Special Teams Player: Luca Congi

Do you have a magic crystal ball that you can use to look ahead and see what will happen in the upcoming CFL Season? If not, stay tuned for my CFL Team Previews, starting next week for a better idea about how each team will fair in the upcoming season.

BC Lions: Sign Two Running Backs and One Defensive Back

The Lions have signed three players, two running backs and one defensive back. The two backs are Charles Pierre (above) and Martell Mallett (photo). The defensive back is Darren Tony (photo).

Mallett played at Arkansas-Pine Bluff from 2005-2008 and played 42 games. He had 582 carries for 2,888 yards, including 27 touchdowns. He was also the team's Offensive Player of the Year in 2008.

I expect Mallett to make the team and do excellent. If you look at his photo, he looks like a big, strong, and physical back that can literally punish defenses. He could be a beneficial asset to the squad of the BC Lions.

Now to Pierre.

Pierre played for Florida-Atlantic and also played the same time Mallett did (2005-2008). He was always the team's leading rusher, having over 1,000 yards and eight hard-earned touchdowns in his senior year.

What a way to end the year. In his four seasons at FAU, he piled on 3,058 yards and 23 well-played touchdowns.

I expect Pierre to make the roster as well because he is good at earning yards. He can be a special back to the squad of British Columbia.

Now to Toney.

Toney played with Arkansas State from 2004-2007. He had six picks for 111 yards and one touchdown in his "picking-off" career. He was also a decent kick-returner, having 1,513 yards and two touchdowns.

Toney also played with the Panthers but couldn't manage to make the squad. I expect Toney to make the team as well as he had some NFL experience, and had time guarding the fabulous Steve Smith.

If Toney can guard Smith pretty well, I expect him to be a valuable corner to the BC Lions defensive squad.

So those are the signings. The BC Lions made some pretty solid picks and look to stride this season, looking for another Grey Cup after winning in 2006. They are deeply hungry for one, and these signings will make them the contenders for the Cup.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Add Two Recent NFLers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have signed two recent NFLers, quarterback Darrell Hackney (Denver Broncos) and Jonathan Hefney (Philadelphia Eagles).

Hackney was signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2006 after a successful career at Alabama-Birmingham. At UAB he set four school records in passing yards, touchdowns, completions and total offensive per game. After being cut by the Browns he signed with the Denver Broncos on January 2, 2007. After battling with Jay Cutler, Preston Parsons and Patrick Ramsey he made the team. In 2008, he re-joined Denver but this time on their practice roster before being promoted on November 1 with Ramsey being placed on injured reserve. After the Broncos signed Chris Simms and acquired Kyle Orton in the Cutler trade, Hackney was waived by Denver.

Hefney was a starter at safety and cornerback while at Tennessee and was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2008. On July 25 he was released and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles on September 9, 2008 and assigned to their practice roster. He was cut later in the season.

The Blue Bombers have also signed Jasper Johnson, Chase Ortiz and Bradley Pierson.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5 Can't Miss Games in The Upcoming CFL Season

The fast paced free agency period is over, and fans can now begin looking forward to training camp and the start of the season.

It has already been an off-season full of excitement and intrigue. In the east, the cellar dweller Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger Cats both improved their rosters through free agency. In the West, Calgary secured their own players while Edmonton, Saskatchewan and BC shuffled their rosters.

The rapid transactions have created even more anticipation for the upcoming season. There are a few games fan should circle on their calendars for the upcoming season. 5 games that any die-hard fan of the CFL cannot afford to miss.

5) Toronto at Hamilton: Wednesday July 1st

While this game may have been a sleeper in past seasons, this year’s installment off the Hamilton-Toronto rivalry could hold some significance. This game, which happens to be the opening game of the season, will give fans a first look at the new look both teams present. The Tiger Cats went out and strengthened their offensive and defensive lines and secured some of their young stars. Torontowent on free agent frenzy by adding offensive lineman Rob Murphy and Dominique Picard, linebacker Zeke Moreno and re-signing lead tackler Willie Pile. This game could be the start of the resurgence of one of these teams. Throw in the fact that Hamilton beat Toronto in three games out of four last year and this Eastern Rivalry will likely be a smashing way to open up the season.

4) Edmonton at Saskatchewan: Saturday July 25th

There will be story-lines galore going into Saskatchewan and Edmonton’s first meeting of the season. Always a bitter rivalry, the off-season transactions should make this an even more intense game. Edmonton Eskimos head coach and Roughriders former defensive coordinator Ritchie Hall will look to make a statement against his former team. Hall won’t be the only former Rider making his return to Saskatchewan. Maurice Lloyd, Scott Gordon and Kitwana Jones were all Roughriders last season. Roughrider’s offensive linemen Joe Mcgrath will also face his former team for the first time. It is always loud at Taylor Field when Edmonton comes in to town, and with some hard feelings felt at the former players, this Western Showdown should live up to its billing.

3) Calgary at BC: Fri Jul 24th

It always seems to an exciting affair when the Calgary Stampeders meet up with the BC Lions. This growing rivalry should provide another excellent game when the Stampeders travel into BC. Calgarydelivered a number of blows to the Lions last season. They swept the three game series against BC and defeated them in the Western Final. Their win over the Lions in the last game of the season took away home-field advantage from the team. It will be interesting to see how the new look Lions will fare against the high-powered Stampeders offense. Henry Burris, Joffrey Reynolds and Kenyon Rambo should provide a challenge for the Lions defense and Mike Labinjo and the improved Stampeders defense will look to shut down the BC offense. BC may in fact be underdogs going into the game, as they will be without Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Wake, linebackers Jamall Johnson and Otis Floyd, running back Stefan Logan and offensive lineman Rob Murphy. Yet it the history has told us anything, the underdog sometimes comes out on top.

2) Winnipeg at Saskatchewan: Sun Sep 06th

The Labour Day game between Winnipeg and Saskatchewanis always a classic. The game brings together two of the most loyal fan bases in the CFL for an intense atmosphere. Fans can expect a tough physical game, especially since Winnipeghas not likely forgotten their Grey Cup loss to the Riders in 2007. The Bombers are definitely a new look team with new head coach Mike Kelley, quarterback Stefan Lefors and a somewhat depleted offensive line. Saskatchewan is also a different team. Linebackers Anton Mackenzie and Maurice Lloyd have departed and the Rider will field a younger roster. If you won’t be at the game, be sure to tune into another classic installment in the Saskatchewan-Winnipeg rivalry. The Labour Day game can give a team a push to the postseason, and this game could be the crucial.

1) Calgary at Montreal: Mon Oct 12th

It won’t be the first meeting between these two teams, but this game could prove to be one of the most exciting games of the year. In a Grey Cup rematch, Calgary will travel to the Montreal, the place where they beat Montrealto win the cup last season. Anthony Calvillo has returned to the Alouttes, perhaps for one more Grey Cup run whereas as the Stamps will look to repeat. Both teams should be ripe with emotion, looking to make a statement. The game also comes near the end of the season, and playoff spots could be on the line. Winning this game could do a lot for both teams’ egos.

So if you are working, traveling abroad, or feeling like spending some time outside, cancel your plans. These upcoming games should prove to be exciting affairs and definitely worth your time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kitwana Jones Headed To The Edmonton Eskimos

The Edmonton Eskimos played 'lets make a deal' on Friday, as Saskatchewan sent defensive end/linebacker Kitwana Jones to the Eskimos for import rookie quarterback Juan Joseph.

Jones, who had been converted to defensive end last season, finished the year with 55 tackles and five sacks. It was reported that Kitwana Jones was heavily sought after in Edmonton and former Roughrider's defensive coordinator Richie Hall said he was happy to have Kitwana Jones aboard.

"Working with Kitwana in Saskatchewan, I am very aware of what he is capable of. He is a consummate athlete who will bring versatility and energy to the Eskimo game."

It is expected that Kitwana Jones will play defensive end to fill the void of the Fred Perry trade. Juan Joseph played at Millsaps College before joining the Eskimos, where he threw 32 touchdown passes in his senior year. Saskatchewan had been looking for a fourth quarterback to bring into training camp...

Saskatchewan Roughriders Wayne Smith is most likely out for the season. Smith ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a private session with his trainer. The injury of Smith will leave a void in Saskatchewan's offensive line.