Monday, May 31, 2004

Green Riders tackle the Green and Gold

It’s only the first game of the year and an exhibition one at that, but the Green Riders of Saskatchewan have sent a message to their friends down the highway in Edmonton. Expect a battle when you come to Taylor Field and know that the Defense is lying in wait.

The pre season opener for both teams gave the Saskatchewan faithful some positive signs for the 2004 campaign. As the Roughrider defensive unit put its stamp on the always popular match up. The Riders have nine returning veterans on the defensive roster and some high intensity battles for those positions waiting to be filled. Defensive end Marcus Adams picked up a fumble and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown, capitalizing on a strong defensive play by Derrick Ford who stripped the ball from Eskimo quarterback Bert Hendricks. Through the afternoon the Rider defense served notice that points are going to be hard to come by this year.

The Quarterback situation on both teams got a solid workout Sunday, as both the Eskimos and Riders experiment with all of their QB recruits. The Riders started the game with Henry Burris, giving the ball to Nealon Greene for the second quarter; Rocky Butler got the ball for the rest of the game his chance to make a case for moving up on the Danny Barrett depth chart. Saskatchewan is in the enviable position of having three solid quarterbacks in their camp, a chip that will be of use to them once they identify their one missing ingredient. Maybe a receiver, special teams’ addition of adding more wealth to their defense, they’ll be able to deal from a position of strength with a QB to dangle to potential trading partners.

Much the same situation is playing out in Edmonton in the Post Ricky Ray era of Eskimo football. The Eskimos started Jason Maas in the game, turning the ball over to Hendricks, followed by Jason Maas. The pre-season opener was a costly one for Edmonton as running back Troy Mills suffered a fractured fibula and will most likely miss the first half of the season. Not how Mills or the Esks would have thought the season would begin.

The Esks move on to their next pre season game June 10th when provincial rival Calgary roll up the highway to put a wrap on the pre season. Saskatchewan takes their impressive defense to Vancouver on the 10th as well, a match up that will point out the problem areas for Danny Barrett and Wally Buono. One game into 2004 and the Riders have a lot to be pleased about, solid performances show that they are ready to challenge, Danny Barrett can’t ask for anything more than that, the Rider faithful will be ready to celebrate along with him.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Ti-Cats are winners everywhere but on the field!

Football is back in the Steel city! New owner Bob Young has made some impressive moves since acquiring the Tabbies, so he must have felt pretty good as his hard work has initially been rewarded. 22,342 football fans stopped by the spruced up Ivor Wynne stadium to take in a football game and kick the Ticat experience tires. The large number is a good barometer for Young, as to how he’s doing as owner.

The first pre season game of the new Young era attracted a larger crowd than any game in 2003, including the traditional Labour Day classic. That’s 22,342 for an exhibition game, one that featured mostly young bucks and old ducks trying to gain or keep a job. It’s certainly a terrific sign for the CFL which has weathered more than its fair share of troubles over the last few years.

However, the good time atmosphere in the stands and new polish to the presentation will eventually have to live on results on the field. And game one has shown new head Coach Greg Marshall that there is still a lot of work to do to climb back to respectability. The Toronto Argonauts strolled into Ivor Wynne and spoiled the party by beating the Ti-Cats 33-10. The game was sloppy from both sides of the field, indicative of a game featuring mainly rookies vying for a place on the team and experiments in the game plan taking place.

For Hamilton two old questions once again jump to the front of the line, is Danny McManus able to continue at the helm of the team or has age finally caught up to one of the great team leaders in the CFL. McManus did not get a lot of playing time but was less than dominating in his time on the field. 4 for 6 for only 17 yards with his offensive stats, while defensively he was -7 as he fumbled in the end zone after a hit from Argo Noah Cantor, setting up the Argonauts first touchdown. It was a result that did not win him any support from the large pre season game crowd. While there is little doubt that McManus will be the starting QB after the pre-season, how he handles the next week of camp and the return match with the Argos on Saturday will go a long way to showing if he’s still got the touch.

The other decision may not be as hard for Marshall to make, Paul Osbaldiston picked up where things left off last year, as he had his troubles in the game against Toronto. Two punts went off the side of his foot, putting the Ti Cats into a huge defensive hole something a young team can’t afford to have happen too many times in a game. Sentiment and tradition are important to any team, but when the time comes to replace a player sometimes steely determination is the best bet. The key to success this year will be to give the defensive some ground to work with; if Ozzie can’t deliver that product anymore he should pass the torch to someone else.

Marshall didn’t put much stock in the score on the board which is as it should be in a pre-season game, for really the line up on Sunday is nowhere what it will look like when the Ti-Cats open the season in Vancouver on June 18th. For the Hamilton fan the next chance to soak up the atmosphere at Ivor Wynne is on June 25th, when the Ti-Cats are home to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Dave Ritchies team will be a good yardstick for Marshall and his assistants to see how far along in their plan things are.

Things are on the right off the field and at the box office, with a bit of time and determination the product at the stadium will bring them back in. The Ti-Cats are off to a good start with the groundwork they’ve done past the sidelines; once they get things back on track between them football will be on its way to health in Hamilton.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Twelve men on the field and one guy in the woods!

While the two a days continue at the training camps of the CFL, your faithful scribe is bailing out on the football. We'll be off to the woodlands' this weekend so there won't be any updates on the site til probably Monday. Check back in with us next week, we'll try and catch up on all the news, providing the waters don't rise and the bears aren't hungry!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Lions Quick to take advantage of experience

When the BC Lion Defensive ends take to the field in Kamloops for their training sessions they know they’re about to go to school. The Lions have invited Hall of Famer and nightmare of the quarterback, James “Quick” Parker to help educate the current crop of Leos in the fine art of the sack.

Parker who set a CFL record for sacks in 1984 with 26 ½ is giving his students some pointers on how to get the edge on the Offensive Line, where to angle off towards the QB and how to use their hands to make life a tad uncomfortable for the opposing QB.

The Lions recruited Parker from their own ticket staff, where Parker has been working the last few years, helping to rebuild the Lions fan base from its low bottom line. Moving over to help out coaching just seems like a no brainier; Parker who is fourth on the all time CFL sack list was renowned for his quick speed and uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. If he can just transfer some of that vast knowledge on to the younger generation of Lions then selling his ticket packages will suddenly get a whole lot easier. Lion fans are hoping for a return of the days of a stingy and mean defensive and an explosive and entertaining offense. Wally Buono has begun the process but it takes time, shoring up his defense is one step along that path.

If Parker wants to add a little extra motivation to his charges he should remember to bring some jewelry with him. With Five Grey Cup Rings as a testimonial to his past skills, the current D Line should take note. Studying at the school of Parker should give them the foundation to succeed, after that it’s up to them. Hard work, proper use of your skills and that killer instinct should help them begin to work on their collection.

Injuries taking their toll early in camp

Ottawa Renegade Defensive Back Anthony Malbrough is one mad guy, mad because he can’t take part in the two a days, mad that he can’t start showcasing his coverage skills and mad that he can only sit on the sidelines and watch. Malbrough strained his hamstring in the early days of training camp and now just crosses his fingers and hopes that he’ll be ready for June 17th, the opening day of the Renegades season.

Malbrough joined the Rens in a blockbuster trade with Calgary earlier this year, acquired to fill in the gaping hole in the Renegade secondary caused by the departure of Crance Clemons who signed on with the Indianapolis Colts. Malbrough who is considered one of the best coverage backs in the league is to provide some leadership to the Rens secondary a weak spot in the capital last year. Coach Joe Paopao was quite enthused to gain the services of Malbrough and is looking forward to watching him action, but he’ll wait for that hamstring, better to rest it properly now than to have it blow out as the Rens head into a playoff game.

Over in Toronto the disappointed one is Jean Frederic Tremblay, a rookie receiver who has turned heads with his speed and sure hands. A hamstring tear has the product of the Quebec college scene on the sidelines, his bid for a roster place temporarily put on hold. Unfortunately for Tremblay his hamstring difficulties seem to be a recurring situation which leads to longer recovery time, something that has him frustrated and disappointed at the turn of events. Pinball Clemons, who held Tremblay in high esteem going into the camp expressed concern for the youngsters mental outlook right now, for Tremblay that may be the one thing that pulls him out of the funk. Clemons infectious positive vibes should help give Tremblay some sense of hope for the future, but for the present there is no way to battle the disappointment. Picked seventh overall out of Laval’s impressive program, he was hoping to help blaze the trail for many other Quebec association grads, his contribution will be delayed for a bit yet. But he can be assured that many are ready to travel that road soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

QB's and the guys who catch for them!

Toronto's training camp features a battle for the starting QB position as the 19 year veteran Damon Allen finds Marcus Brady looking to take his job. The Argos have depth at the position with Michael Bishop and rookie Scott Krause all looking to get their reps in and soak up the playbook offerings of new offensive coordinator Kent Austin.

Over in Ottawa we find that Yo Murphy is looking to stick with Renegades! With half a season under his belt in Ottawa, wide side receiver Yo Murphy heads to Kemptville with plans to stick around the capital for the entire campaign this year. His hope is to become QB Kerry Joseph's go to guy this year.

Preparing to defend the title. Edmonton goes through the paces as the Grey Cup Champs look to put together the line up that will keep them ahead of the pack. Four QB's are vying for the chance to back up Jason Maas as the Eskies look to a year after Ricky Ray.

The Big Blue looks to a bumper crop of receivers for Khari Jones to toss the ball to this year. Giving Dave Ritchie hope that the dropsies are gone for 2004.

And Border Blues set Stamps back a bit in development. Saldadin McCullough continues to find entry to Canada a troublesome thing. As his past indiscretions with the law in the USA cause his application for entry to become sidetracked. It's the second straight year the McCullough has found the Canada Customs line to be harder to crack than those of the eight other CFL franchises.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Sportsnet joins the party

The CFL has yet another vehicle for its games this season as Sportsnet has signed on to cover five CFL games this year. Good news for fans of the Bombers, Riders and Renegades who in previous seasons found a number of their games going without any coverage.

Sportsnet which is heavily involved in Blue Jay broadcasts could only free up five dates for CFL coverage this year, but it’s a start for the network that was on the outside looking in on Canada’s main summer sport activity. The five games picked up leave only three games this year that won’t be televised, giving the CFL almost total coverage.

The rest of the season is split up between TSN and CBC; both are partners that have done a pretty decent job of presenting the CFL as prime time sport. TSN’s Friday Night Football has seen steadily rising ratings in the last number of years as viewers find the mix between the field and the analysis to be just what they are looking for. At the CBC moving football into the Hockey Night in Canada window last years proved to be equally successful for both the network and the league.

Now with Sportsnet joining up to present the product the CFL can only benefit more. After wandering aimlessly for a number of years, the league now finally seems to be finding its legs, a quality product on the field attracting more and more interest. The success of the televised product is testimony to the giant strides the league has made in the last five years.

Renegades head for the Farm

The Ottawa Renegades will board the buses for Kemptville on Saturday, as the CFL team kicks off its 2004 training camp. Medicals are scheduled Saturday for Kemptville College a former agricultural school, Sunday will be the first day of the dreaded two a day workouts, with sessions planned at 9 am and 3:30 pm for five consecutive days. Veterans and rookies will be vying for spots on the team that can no longer be discovered an expansion team.

This is “win year” as linebacker Jason Kralt puts it, as Ottawa attempts to go from training camp to Grey Cup. The Rens are hosting the annual classic this year and nothing would make the year complete than having the home team be the home team this year.

With the Grey cup in Ottawa this year the season ticket base is growing nicely, the Rens have sold 12,500 packages for this year the highest amount of season tickets sold since the CFL returned to the capital. Renegades owner Brad Waters says credibility is the key to the teams success thus far at the ticket window. Old time Rough Rider fans who may have been sceptical about the reborn team’s chances have finally come around, realizing that Waters and his crew are around for the long term.

And full credit to Waters, Tillman and Paopao who putting together a comprehensive plan to build this team slowly but steadily. Each year has seen the Rens become more confident on the field, providing a quality product for the fans whether they win, lose or tie.

14 days in Kemptville will give the coaches and managers and idea just how close they are to their goal of a Grey Cup berth this year. The East division will be much more competitive this year with new owners in Toronto and Hamilton, both of which are turning around previously inept franchises. Ottawa with a couple of years under their belt now are ready to challenge, Two weeks of two a day workouts, film sessions and intense job competition will give us an idea how close they are to win year!

Argos closer to a new boat house

After a few false starts, a change of partners and rumours of venue changes the Toronto Argonauts finally can look forward to a new home for the 2006 football season. The University of Toronto announced Friday that they plan on building a 25,000 seat stadium on the site of the former Varsity stadium. The combination football/soccer stadium will be shared by the Argos and the Canadian Soccer Association. The soccer folks will use the stadium for international games which until now basically went to Edmonton by default; the new stadium gives the national team another venue in Canada to attract better opposition which should help to make them a better team over the long haul.

The new Varsity will cost 80 million to construct, with the University providing 30 million, private donors 15 million and the various levels of government the remaining 35 million. The revised financing program was put together after Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment pulled out of the project earlier this year.

For the Argos it’s the culmination of a long held desire to return to a smaller more user and fan friendly location. The Argos will provide the annual debt servicing of 2 .1 million dollars, on the U of T’s loan of 30 million. For their contribution the Argos get to use the stadium for home games and operate it for other activities.

The Argos who last year were on life support, have had a remarkable change of attitude since they were sold. The stadium issue just another piece of the puzzle solved for what the league considers its key franchise.

As with any government dependant program this one comes with strings attached, so perhaps they should put the champagne on ice at the Argo offices for a bit yet. The governmental share of 35 million is conditional; the federal money will only be produced should the CSA win the rights to the Under 20 world championships. If the soccer folks don’t come through then the funding is gone.

The Argos aren’t major financial partners in the project, so they can only look on and hope for the best. No doubt benefitting from the spreading of money prior to a federal election, the Argos are finding that they are at the right place at the right time. They now can only sit back and hope that the soccer lobbyists are up to the job on the world stage. They also won’t want to pick up any double blue paint for the dressing rooms until there are a few shovels in the ground, with this project you’re never really sure if it’s going to happen. A hole in the ground might give everyone a bit more security.