Thursday, July 10, 2008

CFL News - New Beast in the East?

In 2005, as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were in the midst of a 5-13 season, I decided to switch my fan support from the Lions to the Ti-Cats. Having moved from Vancouver, Lions news was nearly impossible to get, and cheering for Montreal was too obvious a choice. With only four teams in the Eastern Division, I decided to root for the underdog, and was I ever rewarded. The horrors of 2005 were followed by a 4-14 record in 2006, and a 3-15 record in 2007. You have to admire consistency, even if it's consistently bad performances.

Two weeks into the new CFL season and Hamilton already has a 32-13 victory over Toronto, only their 2nd win in 19 tries against the Argos, and a loss to Montreal in the season opener. This morning I received an e-mail from Ed, wondering if Jesse Lumsden and the Ti-Cats are for real. So as we go into week 3, let's take a look at news from the CFL's Eastern Division.

Let's start with the news of the day; Dave Naylor of TSN reported the Argonauts have placed QB Michael Bishop on recall waivers, possibly to gauge interest for a trade or release the QB outright. Coach Rich Stubler and other Football staff wanted Bishop in as starter, the owners and Pinball Clemons wanted last season's Outstanding Player Kerry Joseph to be the man. Both have struggled to get going this season, but Joseph has really sputtered out of the starting gate. He is yet to throw a TD, has only 269 passing yards, with 2 fumbles and 24 yards rushing.

Compare those numbers to unbeaten Anthony Calvillo in Montreal who has 665 passing yards, 6 TD's and an amazing 72.8 completion percentage. Montreal leads almost every offensive category, while Toronto leads the league in punts. The Argos can't get a first down when they need it, and to add to their woes, they have the second fewest rushing attempts in the East at 66 compared to Hamilton's 231. On the D side, they have allowed the most plays from scrimmage. Their opponents are getting first downs. It's very early, but the Argo season is going in the wrong direction.

When you look at the rushing and passing statistics, they mirror the standings in the East. With Calvillo's strong return after leaving the team last season to be with his ailing wife, and the 196 rushing yards by Avon Cobourne, it's no surprise the Allouettes are 2-0. At the bottom end, with an 0-2 record, Winnipeg's RB Charles Roberts has 87 rushing yards and QB Kevin Glenn has 1 TD and 3 interceptions. They'll get the Bluebombers organized and out of the basement, but only as high as third in the division. Only in the CFL could Winnipeg be an Eastern team...

At 1-1, Hamilton is on pace for more wins this season then 2006 and 2007 combined. I can't see a division title for the Ti-Cats this season, but with continued improvements, they should be the favorites in 2009. Bringing in Casey Printers last September was a smart football move. The 2004 Outstanding Player in the CFL had been wasting away on the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs practise roster before being signed by Hamilton. Printers went to K.C. as a free agent, and even though his numbers were not terrible, K.C. draft pick Brodie Croyle won the back up job. An NFL General Manager struggling to keep his job will not give up on his draft picks in favour of a CFL free agent. It doesn't say much for your drafting skills, and it doesn't sit well with NFL fans. It appears the Ti-Cats brought in the right man, Printers has rushed for 65 yards and 2 TD's while completing 70.5 % of his passes. Anyone who watched Timmy Chang run for his life last year is pleased with Printers progression.

As for Ed's question; is Jesse Lumsden for real? Well Ed, I'll answer it this way, he could be... I say could be for only one reason. If he stays in the CFL, he may finish his career as one of the best Running Backs in the history of the league. However, there is always the lure of the NFL and a huge contract as a back up / clipboard holder. Personally, I hope he stays in Hamilton, the CFL needs homegrown stars. Lumsden has already had a stint in Seattle with the Seahawks and in Washington, would he leave again or has he seen enough of the NFL?

The CFL is not known for it's large, run stopping linebackers, so at 6'2 and 226 pounds, Lumsden already has 225 rushing yards this season. Lumsden won the 2004 Hec Creighton Award as the Outstanding Canadian University Player, and is the third all time rusher in the CIS with 4,138 yards and is first in career TD's with 47. A second generation CFL player, he has football in his blood. As I mentioned earlier, if Lumsden stays in the CFL, he could challenge Mike Pringle and George Reed's various rushing records.

The problem the rest of the league will have when facing the Ti-Cats is that you know they will run, they are averaging 231 yards per game, but who will carry the ball? Printers the QB has 65 rushing yards and 2 TD's; Lumsden has 225 rushing yards and 2 TD's; and his back up, Tre Smith, has 148 yards with 1 TD. That's a three pronged attack most teams will struggle against. Thanks for the e-mail Ed, have a great sports day everyone.

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