Get Excited: A series on Last Word on Sports.

As some of you may know I am now writing CFL articles for Last Word on Sports. As such I will be slowing down on my personal CFL articles here. However I will be posting links to my LWOS CFL pieces here for you to find. As the season picks up I will again be writing articles in this space for your enjoyment. Now lets get excited about CFL Football!

My most recent post:

Get Excited: 2016 Toronto Argonauts

*Links to other LWOS articles of mine are at the end of the article.

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Blog Update: In lieu of my weekly blog post

Hello everyone, this past week I accepted an offer to write freelance for Last Word on Sports in their CFL Department. Today my first article was published there (you can find the link below) and I will be doing about 2 articles a week on LWOS as I preview the teams ahead of the June 8 kickoff.

I will be attempting to continue my series here when I get the time in between the articles I write for LWOS and my job so don’t worry about me dropping the 2016 CFL Preview series. In the meantime be sure to check out my work on LWOS and check back here for the continuation of the Position Previews.

(http://lastwordonsports.com/2016/05/17/get-excited-2016-saskatchewan-roughriders/)

2016 CFL Preview: Top Defensive Secondaries

***For the Top Running Backs***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/2016-cfl-preview-top-running-backs/

***For the Top Linebackers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/2016-cfl-preview-top-linebackers/

***For the Top Pass Rushers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/2016-cfl-preview-top-pass-rushers/

***For the Top Kickers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/2016-cfl-preveiw-top-kickers/

With the new CFL season getting ever closer, I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last year’s players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the player’s rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts.

*For this particular preview I will be listing which teams I see as having the top overall defensive secondaries going into 2016. This makes it easier to account for corners, safeties, and hybrid linebackers all in one go.*

Here we go…

1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Notable Players: Courtney Taylor, Emmanuel Davis, Johnny Sears Jr, Rico Murry, Demond Washington)

The more I researched the players above for this article the more I found myself thinking, “Wow, this team is scary in the back end“and for good reason. The thought was that both Taylor and Davis were too good for the Ti-Cats to not lose at least one of the dynamic playmakers to other teams (or the NFL) but they somehow managed to keep both! Combine those two elite corners with the hybrid player Rico Murry (one of my favorite tacklers in the CFL) and Johnny Sears Jr who was a solid playmaker early last year and even before then in Winnipeg and you have a crazy good group of guys to work with. That’s not even mentioning Demond Washington who is an underrated threat on defense and special teams, and the promising Mike Daily who filled in for Craig Butler last year. Oh yeah, Craig  Butler, scary to imagine if he makes it back this year isn’t it? This is a secondary that can absolutely smother people (and will need to with Collaros set to miss the start of the season).

2.  Calgary Stampeders (Notable Players: Brandon Smith, Fred Bennett, Jamar Wall, Joshua Bell, Brandon McDonald)

Depth. That’s what is see when I look at the Stamps secondary, and it’s not even close. All the above names could start on most teams if they were cut tomorrow and yet they are all in one lineup. While Calgary doesn’t have the elite covermen (at least in my humble opinion) that Hamilton and Edmonton boast the Stamps don’t have an area of real weakness or injury concern, and that can be way more valuable. Calgary has made it a point to develop and retain its stars each offseason and the result is a rock solid lineup with no overpriced free agents and tons of quality players who know the system. A new HC and the loss of some key players will hurt the Stamps some, but their Secondary should not be a concern.

3. Edmonton Eskimos (Notable Players: Patrick Watkins, John Ojo, Marcel Young, Cauchy Muamba, Korey Jones)

The reigning champions had a severe case of gang green this offseason, losing Head Coach Chris Jones (and their entire coaching staff), Otha Foster, and Kendail Lawrence (among others) to the rival Roughriders. For this list the Jones and Foster losses are particularly painful and contributed to the fall to #3. Yet the Esks still have a championship foundation they can lean on in the back end. Watkins is getting on in age but is still a top cover man, Ojo is a productive defender who looks to be the future star in the secondary, and Muamba has gotten markedly better every year he has played. The Eskimos will play with a chip on their shoulder this year with everyone doubting them, time will tell if the secondary can hold down the fort for a team desperate to repeat.

4. Ottawa REDBLACKS (Notable Players: Abdul Kanneh, Jerrell Gavins, Antoine Pruneau, Ryan Hinds, Brandon Sermons)

The REDBLACKS ended the year with possibly the best secondary in the CFL but several major departures have stripped them of some of the shine they held in the Grey Cup. Brandyn Thompson and Jovon Johnson were key parts of a nearly championship defense and not having them back has to create unease in Ottawa. Still, this roster possesses two top tier covermen in Kanneh and Gavins and one of the more versatile defenders in the league in Pruneau. Sermons was good enough to start in the GC last year despite little statistical production while Hinds is a journeyman defender that can still produce. If the REDBLACKS can keep stocking their depth behind Kanneh and Gavins they should remain an elite secondary into 2016.

5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Notable Players: Johnny Adams, Maurice Leggit, Macho Harris, Matt Bucknor, Chris Randle)

When I did my initial assessments for this article I started by leaving Winnipeg off the list because I didn’t remember anything especially outstanding about them last year. In my reviews I went  back and actually looked at the Bombers roster was was blown away at the talent there. The above names are all productive starters and that’s not including Teague Sherman and Bruce Johnson who are also on the roster. Johnny Adams was tied for the league lead in Interceptions last year and is an ascending young talent. Macho Harris was a bright spot on a bad Riders team, Chris Randle is a rock solid starter, and Matt Bucknor is shaping up to be one of the better national defenders in the secondary. The Bombers greatly underachieved last year and may again this year but it won’t be due to lack of talent in the back end. If Coach O’Shea (or La Police…just wait) can get his team motivated and playing to their potential this could be an upper echelon secondary.

Wild Card: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The worst secondary in the league a year ago the Riders have completely remade their secondary to the point that Matt Webster is really the only player who played consistent snaps last year (and not much at that). This makes the secondary a complete mystery and nigh impossible to properly rank. The cynic in me says they stay near the bottom, but the football analyst in me says that there is no way Chris Jones puts out anything below average when it comes to his defense. Time will tell but I’ll give them a tentative ranking of “Tied for 5th” with the Bombers.

2016 CFL Preview: Top Running Backs

***For the Top Linebackers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/2016-cfl-preview-top-linebackers/

***For the Top Pass Rushers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/2016-cfl-preview-top-pass-rushers/

***For the Top Kickers***

https://thepracticesquadblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/2016-cfl-preveiw-top-kickers/

With the new CFL season getting ever closer, I will be taking a look at each position from Kicker to Quarterback going into 2016 and ranking who I see as the best. This will be a list made up of last year’s players as I have little info on new International players and the draft rarely yields elite level talent (at least in the player’s rookie year). Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts.

Here we go…

1. Andrew Harris (2015 Stats: 1039 yards – 4.9 AVG )

I’m a big believer in the statistic yards per carry average, especially in the CFL where running backs get fewer carries than the NFL and must make each one count. Harris having the lowest AVG of last years top running backs almost made me move him down, but several factors kept him as the #1. First: Harris has a history of production, despite his teams being up and down over the years he is consistently a top 5 back. Second: Harris “is” the Winnipeg offense. The Bombers offered the big bucks so when Harris came over he could take every possible snap which should net Harris yards/TDs by sheer volume of carries. Finally: When Harris is motivated in a game, he becomes unstoppable. There are several games over the years where something set Harris off and he simply refuses to be brought down. Its fascinating to watch and impossible to defend. Playing for his hometown team and finally getting the big money deal he felt he deserved (he did), I can see Harris having plenty of fuel to quash any doubt of his top dog status in 2016.

2. Tyrrell Sutton (’15: 1059 yards – 5.9 AVG)

Every time I re-watch the Als season finale with SSK and see Sutton “will” his way to the rushing title, my eyes get a little wider. I know SSK had an atrocious defense last year but one man should not be able to out-muscle 3-4 other men his size or bigger, and certainly not multiple times. Sutton was a monster at times last year and his stats would have been even better if the Als offense had not been a train wreck at times. Sutton oozes “effort” when he runs a play but can be a little inconsistent (4 games over 100 yards – 6 games under 50 yards) but the man above him in the rankings had far more variance in his games so I can’t dock him too much. In the end I think the uncertainty at QB and the presence of  runner Brandon Rutley will keep Sutton under Harris in terms of production, but it will be a fun battle to watch.

3. Jerome Messam (’15: 1006 – 6.2 AVG)

My most uncertain ranking of the list. Messam has been forecasted to both lead the league and to bottom out entirely by a variety of experts. Count me as on the fence when it comes to the play of the bruising Canadian rusher. Messam has both a fantastic opportunity and crushing expectation on him going into 2016. Being in Calgary with a superior coaching staff, an elite QB, a solid O-Line, and the outright pedigree of a perennial contender, Messam stands to power his way right back to the top of the league. However, Messam is also in his thirties, taken (and delivered) a huge amount of hits and is now stepping into a situation where a new Head Coach may shake things up on offense with the losses of Eric Rogers and Jeff Fuller to the NFL. My gut tells me that Messam puts up a workman-like season (around 700-800 yards) while being a goal line beast, that should be good for #3.

4. Anthony Allen (’15: 574 yards – 6.2 AVG)

Probably the biggest surprise on my list. Allen isn’t even guaranteed a starting gig with Jeremiah Johnson also signing in BC in a possible split-carries situation. Despite the possible barriers, I still see Allen as a breakout candidate in 2016 and beyond – based on his tantalizing potential (Side Note: I hate the word “potential” as it is way too overused in pro sports). Allen was 70 yards away from 1000 in 2014 despite being benched frequently and only playing in 13 games. The following year, he still nearly got to 600 yards despite running behind #3 Jerome Messam. Top it all off with Allen’s solid receiving skills and two years of CFL experience in pass protection and you got some serious “potential” (ugh). Allen’s biggest knock against him is his fumbling but that can correctable and Wally Buono is exactly the type of coach who will make that a priority while not outlawing Allen to the wasteland like his previous coach Corey Chamblin. If BC’s offense takes off under exciting young QB Jonathan Jennings (whose mobile playing style greatly benefits a running back), I can see Allen leading the league in rushing.

5. William Powell (’15: 447 yards – 5.9 AVG)

I had Brandon Whitaker in this spot for the longest time but the more I was honest with myself, the more I felt that Powell has a much higher upside over the aging Whitaker. In the limited sample size we saw last year, I felt Powell had above average burst and an almost slippery running style – both good qualities for the pass heavy offense the REDBLACKS operate. In addition, with Jeremiah Johnson heading to BC, there is no real threat to steal carries away from Powell which makes him a strong bet to rack up yards and TDs. If Powell can stay healthy and Burris has one more good year in him, I think the REDBLACKS will remain a top scoring offense, and Powell a top scoring RB.

That Pair In Edmonton:  John White (2014 Stats: 852 yards – 6.9 AVG) and Shakir Bell (2015 Stats: 633 yards 5.6 AVG)

Back in 2014, I thought White had the potential to overtake Cornish as the league’s top runner, then, he was lost for a year to injury and people seem to have moved on entirely. White was an absolute beauty to watch when he ran: tacklers slid off him or had their ankles broke when he cut at full speed. Anytime a runner can average just under 7 yards per carry, you take notice – and White made it look easy. That said, coming off a major injury is never easy, even with today’s modern medical care, and White will have to prove he remains the threat we saw a year ago. Further complicating matters is the emergence of rookie sensation Shakir Bell who had a big hand in making everyone forget about White with his sizzling debut. I don’t think Bell has the pure power or toughness that White does but Bell is the better receiver and thus more versatile. The problem with both of these backs is that they are so good that HC Mass will likely have them split carries, thus preventing either from passing the runners above in sheer numbers.

The 2016 “Free Agent” Dream Team

Following my Top Remaining Free Agents post I decided to go one step further and make a complete team from the remaining Free Agents from CFL.ca’s Free Agent Tracker. Because of a shortage at certain positions I had to move some players into a role they don’t traditionally play (ie Offensive Guard playing Center or Defensive Back playing Safety). Since I have always wanted a team in the maritime provinces (and to get the league to an even number of teams) meet the Moncton Marauders!

Quarterback
Thomas DeMarco (Starter)
Mitchell Gale

DeMarco impressed the REDBLACKS with his final few games as the backup to Travis Lulay in 2103, and was once considered the future of the franchise. I originally had Dan LeFevor listed as DeMarco’s backup until I discovered he had left the CFL to join the “MLFB” down south. Once upon a time I thought Gale was a better backup option than Trevor Harris based on his performance in the 2013 and ’14 preseasons.

Running Back
Chad Simpson (Starter)
Mossis Madu
Chevon Walker

Simpson was a feature back in Winnipeg (2012) where he showed off his power running and receiving skills on his way to over 1300 yards from scrimmage. Simpson also performed well for the Eskimos last year in relief duty and would be my between the tackles runner. Madu is a utility back who can do a little bit of everything and provides Special Teams help. Walker may be the fastest running back in the league but has struggled to stay healthy, I like him in a change-of-pace role with plenty of screen passes going his way.

Fullback
Carl Volny (Starter)
Scott McHenry

Volny would act as the lead blocker for Simpson and Co. while McHenry doubles as a receiving option out of the backfield. Having both as Nationals helps the ratio no matter who is on the field.

Wide Receiver and Slot Back
Marcus Henry (Starter)
Fred Stamps (Starter)
Matt Carter (Starter)
Courtney Taylor
Jabari Arthur

Henry is a physical specimen who enticed both the Eskimos and REDBLACKS with his potential as a lead receiver, he should still be able to win jump balls and help in the Redzone. Stamps had a down season year but his production hampered by inconsistent quarterback play. I can still see Stamps helping stretch the field for some deep strikes. Cater surprised me with how often he was targeted deep in 2014 even though he didn’t always pull in the passes. As a National with speed Carter could work the slot backed up by fellow National Jabari Arthur. Taylor had some great moments in BC and could step in for any of the receivers on this list making him the perfect depth player.

Offensive Tackle
Figueroa, Joel (Starter)
Fulton, Xavier (Starter)

One if the strongest areas of the Marauders, the tackles’ biggest weakness is health concerns. Fulton was once seems as a top option at Tackle with Saskatchewan while Figueroa possesses elite talent and physical characteristics for his position. If both can stay healthy then DeMarco should stay upright.

Offensive Guard
Mitchell, Scott (Starter)
Dile, Mark (Starter)
Olson, Jake
Capers, Selvish

I’ll be honest, I had to reach to fill the guard positions, mostly because I am still learning about O-Line play and there were not many option out there for me to choose from. Mitchell is a young National player who was drafted highly and should still have upside. Dile has both NFL and CFL experience as a starter. Olson and Capers have both started at Guard and Tackle making them ideal depth signings.

Center
Wojt, Greg (Starter)
Norman, Matthew

As far as I could tell there were no true Centers left on the market so I moved Wojt there as the most decorated of the interior O-Linemen. Norman is younger and a National to boot so he could see time in the middle as well.

Defensive End
Alex Hall (Starter)
Jason Vega (Starter)
Marlon Smith

Hall was productive as a pass rusher on the worst team in football, and that’s saying something. I expect Hall to still play at an elite level for one more year while Vega has intrigued me since he left Winnipeg with his own pass rush prowess. Smith is a younger pass rusher that could benefit playing next to some more established veterans.

Defensive Tackle
Derek Walker (Starter)
Khreem Smith (Starter)
Thaddeus Gibson

Walker and Smith would form an intriguing pass rush option on the interior of the D-Line if Smith can keep producing at an advanced age. Gibson doesn’t have the star power of Smith or recorded a 5 sack season like Walker but I think he can be a good rotational player on a line that is older than most.

Linebackers
Weldon Brown (Starter)
Rennie Curran (Starter)
Karl McCartney (Starter)
Dan Molls
David Caldwell

Curran gets the chance to shine as a middle linebacker and will hopefully be the defensive force he was back in Edmonton. Brown was a starter at linebacker for several years in Saskatchewan and is skilled as a defensive back as well. McCartney is a Special Teams maven but will now also play at linebacker and fills a National stater role as well. Molls and Caldwell have interesting credentials but will serve as Special Team players and spell the starters for now.

Defensive Backs
Jonathan Hefney (Starter)
Brandyn Thompson (Starter)
Terrell Maze (Starter)
Cord Parks
Jalil Carter

Hefeny proved he can still play at a high level last year and would provide veteran leadership in the secondary. Thompson may be the best free agent not signed in the CFL, and as a young and productive defensive player he could be the top corner on the team. Maze doesn’t have the stats of Hefney or Thompson but was, when healthy, the best cover corner on the Riders before they nosedived lat year. Parks is on this list for his 6 pick season some years ago, hopefully he can rediscover that production as he is still a younger corner. Carter is a depth signing who could develop into a starter as the season plays out.

Safety
Tyron Brackenridge (Starter)
Lin-J Shell

Our team gets one of the hardest hitters in the league in Brackenridge and an effective blitzer as well. Shell is placed at safety due to his age but could be a boon in coverage if Brackenridge is staying near the box to make tackles.

Kicker/Punter
Hugh O’Neil (Starter)
Anthony Alix

O’Neil has bounced around the league yet still manages to find work. Ideally handle O’Neil would field punts as well but Alix is an interesting fallback option.

Long Snapper
Randy Chevrier

As the only option on the market Chevrier gets the job by default, though he was highly thought of in Calgary wile he was there.

Kick Returner
Mardy Gilyard

Gilyard impressed in limited action for the Als last year, but injury concerns hampered him. If he can stay healthy I would like to see what he can do over a full season with his speed and quickness.

So can the Moncton Mauraders win any games at all this year? I think they can manage a solid 4 Win year, maybe 5 even. What do you think? Leave a comment if you have alternative options for signees, alternate names, and I have no idea about a coaching staff.

CFL Redraft 2007

Very cool article I read on another CFL blog. Redrafting some of the league’s big stars from years past

Canadian Football Blog

Time for our weekly CFL Redraft, this week we rewind to 2007. Remember we only take players actually drafted, so forget about looking for supplemental draft picks, territorial exemptions and undrafted free agents.

CFL Draft 2007

Pick #1: Hamilton Tiger Cats

Original Pick: Chris Bauman, WR, Regina

New Selection: Chris Van Zeyl, DL, McMaster (originally #18)

Originally drafted as a D-lineman, Van Zyl struggled for two years before gaining a CFL roster spot and then slowly became one of the league’s best Canadian tackles. He was a CFL All-Star in 2013 and twice a divisional All-Star at an American dominated position. His resume speaks for itself.

Pick #2: Edmonton Eskimos

Original Pick: Warren Kean, K, Concordia

New Selection: Chris Getzlaf, SB, Regina (originally #33)

Chris Getzlaf is the least famous of his parents two sons, but he is still a very good receiver. Chris has twice totalled over a thousand…

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