Monday, March 30, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: A History Of Hatred

Over the weekend I crowd-sourced some ideas to write about. Getting through this football-less period is going to take some effort… and that’s nothing something I’m historically big on. To those that made suggestions, know that I appreciate it and will be using them over the coming weeks. To those that didn’t make suggestions, thanks for nothing! Not like you have anything better to do. I’m mostly kidding. Though you could still leave ideas in the comments section.

Today’s dose of filler is a walk down memory lane as we explore some of the various Riders that have made my “Hatred List” over the years. Look, I bleed as green as everyone but unlike some that can’t take off their green tinted glasses, that doesn’t stop me from calling it like I see it and hating our players and coaches when they give me just cause… or even just because I can (not saying all my hatreds are purely justified).

This is by no means an extensive list but some of the highlights… or lowlights

Jason French – This one goes back a few years but I remember hating Jason French. His hands were so inconsistent, they made Chris Getzlaf look extremely reliable by comparison. I disliked him so much that when it came to playing rec league football I refused to wear #6 (which was my usual number) so as not to be seen as supporting him. The irony of that is that as a football player I probably was to Jason French what Jason French was to a good receiver.

Nealon Greene – Need I say more? I’m really not sure what I hated more, his futility as a QB or Danny Barrett’s staunch belief that he was the greatest QB in history. He couldn’t throw or read a defense and as defenses figured out that all he could do was run or hand off to KK his offensive output all but disappeared. That Labour Day in 2005 when they made a last second surprise announcement that Marcus Crandell would start over Greene remains one of my best Labour Day memories. Greene was part of one of the best musical groups ever in Frontlyne so I do have to cut him some slack.

Marcel Bellefeuille – Closely tied to Nealon was his OC. Remember the Prairie Offense? Well if you don’t it was basically shotgun draw, 5 yard out on 2nd and 8, punt and repeat. Our only hope tended to be KK or Corey Holmes breaking a big run.

Henri Childs – The year was 2007, Kenton Keith had left for the NFL and we needed a new starting RB. Eric Tillman traded for Childs and an American OL… in the process he gave up a 1st round pick and a Canadian OL (just let that one marinate for a minute). So this guy must have been awesome to command such a price right? The best thing I can say about Childs is that he ran with all the power and determination of an indecisive ballerina. Later we traded Rob Lazeo for an actual good RB and it was thankfully the Wes Cates show from there.

James Johnson – The poster child for my hatred list. Look I get that he is a Grey Cup hero and MVP but he wasn’t good! He just happened to come up against a terrible rookie QB in a highstakes game and got 3 picks not because he was good at coverage (he was not) but because Dinwiddie was terrible and Johnson just bit on everything. If you exclude the Grey Cup game, Johnson’s career was brutal… but he is heralded as a franchise hero because his one good game could not have been better timed. A small part of me died seeing him being named Grey Cup MVP. He deserved it but it just did not sit right.

Dan Goodspeed – Goodspeed was a very talented, very successful offensive tackle for many years in Winnipeg. Then, after all his best years were behind him, that’s when Brendan Taman decided we needed him here in Saskatchewan. I hated him so much I took to calling him Dan BadSlow because Goodspeed was far too complimentary for his level of play.

Michael Bishop – Perhaps my biggest hatred of all time. Bishop had a cannon for an arm and could literally throw it anywhere on the field. The issue was that he had no brains to go along with that arm. I remember how much hype he got because he went 11-1 as a starter for the Argos (the truth was his defense and special teams were 11-1, he was just along for the ride). People were actually excited to see him come here. Some people bought his jersey…. How did that turn out for you?  As painful as the Bishop experiment was, it did lead to one of my favourite quotes ever. Following the 2008 West-semi where Bishop was a turnover machine, Mo Lloyd said the following:

“You can play against the deaf, blind and the homeless and you will never win a game with (seven) turnovers,''

Monday, March 23, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: If CFL was like Pro Wrestling

It’s Monday. There are still no sports. The world is still going crazy. So we could as use a dose of silliness to lighten the mood. Fortunately, I’m extremely qualified to be a purveyor of silly content. It’s kinda like that Simpsons where Bart take Focusyn and shoots down the MLB satellite. Mark McGuire shows up and asks “Do you want to know the terrifying truth or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?”

The obvious answers is “Dingers!” I’m the sports blogging equivalent of that.

You’ll recall that last week I introduced you to the Toy Box Selects.

This week’s installment of silliness will explore what the CFL might look like if it operated like professional wrestling. I grew up on Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart and the day I saw the Tag Titles change hands in Regina remains among my greatest childhood memories. But what if the CFL took some pages out of the Vince McMahon playbook?

First off rather than a Grey Cup in November to crown a yearly champion, there would be a defending champion who defends the title each week. It would build throughout the season and the Grey Cup game would be like the equivalent of WrestleMania as the biggest match of the year. The other teams would play each other to try and become the #1 contender for the championship. They could also introduce smaller lest prestigious championships like Interprovincial Champion and Eastern Champion (which would be like the equivalent of the Cruiserweight title).

Rather then generic sports drivel answers to stock media questions players and coaches would cut passionate promos telling how awful the other team was, how great they are and how badly they will destroy them. It would also open up things for catch-phrases. Just think how much better interviews would be if you replaced “One game at a time” or “Next man up” with “Listen up you roody poo candy ass jabroni” and “If you think Cody Fajardo should stomp a mud hole in the Stampeders, give me a Hell Yeah!”

In the pro wrestling version of the CFL it would inevitable that a referee gets knocked out (intentionally or inadvertently) just before a key scoring play. Ref didn’t see it, so it doesn’t count (far fetched scenario, I know). But wait, in comes a second referee from the tunnel! Also, can you imagine if disqualifications were a possibility? Like say the current champions were in dander of losing the belt. Boom, they just hit the opposition with a chair in front of the ref and get DQ’d. Everyone knows the belt can’t change hands on a DQ.

Factions/Heel Turns  
Picture Ottawa and Montreal joining forces to form the French Connection. They could interfere in each others matches. Or even better, imagine next year Matt Nichols has the Argos on the Bombers’ 5 yard line for the game winning TD. He steps back… and proceeds to throw a gimme INT to the Bombers. He then pulls off his jersey to reveal a Bomber jersey. Or the Riders are struggling to get a defensive stop when all of a sudden… bah god that’s Derrick Moncrief’s music!

Gimmick Games
By far the biggest potential of this whole premise is the gimmick matches. Tag team matches where the Stamps and Esks play the Riders and Ti-Cats. Jeremiah Masoli is struggling running out of energy. Despite the Esks’ best effort he starts making his way to the sidelines. The crowd starts to roar as he reaches out with one last effort and… tags in Cody Fajardo. He comes in like a man on fire.

No holds barred matches. Put a cage around the field. And dammit just imagine if we find a way to incorporate tables, ladders and chairs into the game!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Alternative Sports

Note: I will warn you in advance that this is a ridiculously silly post… even by my standards. If you are looking for anything even remotely serious you should probably just stop reading.

In a cruel twist of irony the exact moment where people are going online in droves and sports blogs such as this are poised to have potentially record audiences, there is absolutely zero content. I mean there’s only so many days in a row where you can comment on “every sport is still cancelled” and have people pay any attention. So I decided to go in a completely different direction…

There’s enough seriousness, anxiety and gloom to go around. So I’m going to make an effort to lighten the mood.

Since we have no sports to comment on, I decided to create my own football team… made exclusively from my kids’ toys. Today I will be unveiling the starting line-up and introducing you to Prophet's Toy Box Selects

Offensive Line 
At centre we’ve got the steady/solid presence of Dumbo. At right guard Baymax brings good size to the line, though he is a bit soft. At left guard is Anger. He brings edge to the line. Sure he’ll take some penalties but you need that nastiness up front. Protecting the blindside and powering the run game is Hulk. He’s a slow starter but once he gets pumped up and into the game, he’s a force to be reckoned with. Cyclops locks down the other tackle. He gives up some size but balances it with athleticism to handle the speed rushers.

Running Backs
The run game will be powered by Black Panther. A great combination of speed and good hands. A true double threat. A bit of a liability in pass blocking though. As an added bonus, he qualifies as a global player. Opening up holes for him and helping in pass protection is Hagrid at fullback.

We have 4 receivers who bring different things. Miles Morales brings speed and an enormous catch radius. Tigger (whose bottom is of course made out of springs) is a threat on any jump ball. Luigi brings size and toughness for the inside passes. Possibly-hispanic Superman is a true all around threat with both speed and strength

Captain American starts at QB. He’s a natural leader. Has a great arm from throwing his shield around and is athletic enough to take off and run. On short yardage situations, Rocket Raccoon will check in for the sneak.

Defensive Line
At tackle we have Bowser and Tatoo the Pig from Life of Pets. Size and nastiness coming right down the middle. At D-end we have the Winter Soldier and Loki. Tremendous speed and ill intent coming off the edge.

The steady veteran presence of Thor will captain the defense. To my knowledge there is no rule against summoning lightning to smote your opponents. At weak side LB is the versatile Ultron. A huge football IQ with power to back it up. At cover LB is Batman with the ridiculously oversized shoulder pads. He's got the athleticism for pass coverage and the toughness to step up and support the run D.

Corners will be manned by Bart Simpson and Spiderman with 4 extra arms. Simpson gives up some size but brings speed and shiftiness to balance. He’s also not above subtly pushing the rules to gain an advantage. Spiderman is a true lockdown CB with speed and catching ability to force those turnovers. Halfbacks are Carnage and Ninjago ninja dude. They have the ability to run with even the best receivers. Manning safety will be Tony Stark himself. Smart, rangy and hard hitting… everything you want in a safety.

Special Teams
Spot is the longsnapper… mostly because he’s already in a snapping stance and I’m running out of witty things to say. Similarly the Shopkins boot is the kicker purely because it’s a boot and they kick. Demon from Roblox will punt just because I wanted a way to include him on the team (I had to ask my kids who the heck it was).

So get to the know the Toy Box Selects. If this self isolation business goes on for any length of time they will become the centerpiece of my blog content.

Feel free to comment below with your scouting report of the team.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Defending the Rouge

In an annual event that is as predictable as the god awful stench that emanates from Wascana in the spring (which is distinct from the general stank of Regina), the rouge has once again come into question. Whenever discussion comes up on potential rule tweaks, eliminating the “reward for failure point” is always among them. Usually the arguments are too stupid to dignify with a response. This time however, rather than an outright elimination of the rouge, a rule tweak is being floated that would see the rouge continue but undergo some serious changes. This suggestion has at least enough thought behind it to warrant some discussion. So I’m wading into the rouge debate.

Full disclosure on two things before we start. First, I am generally against rule changes. I hate the push for “change for change sake”. We feel compelled to change the rules every year and then wonder why our referees struggle to consistently apply rules that they have to learn new every year. Some changes make sense but as a general rule, rule changes should be the exception not the norm. The game is not broken. Second, I like the rouge. I do. It’s a unique part of the CFL game and I love it. So don’t expect unbiased analysis on this… though if unbiased analysis was your thing, you would have given up on me a long time ago.

First things first… the rouge is not a reward for failure. Our game evolved from rugby and the rouge is actually a reward for field position gained. You don’t want a team scoring a point on you, don’t let them cross midfield. If your philosophy is that a rouge is a reward for failure then we should probably also abolish the field goal as it reward failure to score TDs and we should abolish overtime as it is a reward for failing to win within the allotted time.

Now the reason that I didn’t outright dismiss this round of anti-rouge sentiment is that the tweak would be that a rouge would still be scored on a missed FG or Punt if the ball/player fielding it are downed in the endzone. If it flies through the endzone untouched then no point. Honestly not a terrible idea… even for a crusty anti-change guy like myself. I’m not endorsing the change, just saying that its intelligent enough to warrant consideration as it preserves the essential “get the ball out of the endzone or give up points” part of the game that encourages returns.

Even a rouge enthusiast such as myself has to concede that it’s a bit weird that you can miss a FG by 20 yards to the left and still get a point but if you miss by one inch and it hits the uprights you get nothing. Also, if untouched punts were no longer singles it might take some luster off a certain local punting legend (though people would probably still cream themselves over how far the punt went). Actually when it comes to punting I would much rather see a rule change whereby if a punt doesn’t land inbounds anywhere on the field (not just between the 20s) it’s a penalty. Coffin corner kicks are an essential part of the game but if we are talking about rewarding failure I don’t believe you should be able to just kick it straight out of bounds without consequence (but that’s a debate for another day).

So personally I see nothing wrong with the rouge. The number of times it actually dictates the outcomes of games is extremely minimal so its not like the is a massive issue that is holding the league back. I love everything about what makes the Canadian game unique and we should be wary of getting rid of those things that do make our league unique. I like healthy debate on well thought out ideas (i.e. not stupid reality show suggestions for playoffs) but on this one I’m siding with tradition. You’ll have to pry the Rouge from my cold dead hands.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Exploring The New Veteran Rule

It’s the start of March and there isn’t a hell of a lot going on in the CFL. That means in order to fill the space of my weekly Monday post I have to invent something to talk about. And if history has been any indication all of the effort I put into this will be for naught when 30 minutes after I post it, something big happens with the Riders. So I guess you are welcome in advance for curing a slow news week.

I got mildly excited when they announced that Grey Cup details were being unveiled. But it turns out that they unveiled next to no Grey Cup details other than that everything will be held at Evraz Place... well no shit Sherlock. Where else would it be? So since there are no Grey Cup details to talk about, had to come up with something else.

What I wanted to do today is talk about the new roster rules related to American veterans, how that might impact the Riders, and how they may attempt to exploit the rule. Look, if you aren’t cheating you aren’t trying. The key is to cheat just enough to stay below the radar… when you become too flagrant in your cheating you end up like the Pre-practice squad or the Houston Astros.

Quick recap on the rule changes. The number of National starters has gone up from 7 to 10 but a max of 3 of those can be American based on the expanded definition of a “National”. If an American has played with the same CFL team for 3 consecutive years or any CFL team for 4 years they can count as a “National” starter.

For the Riders, the following veterans qualify under the new definition
WRs – Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans, Kenny Stafford and Jordan Williams-Lambert
RB – William Powell
OL – Terran Vaughn, Takoby Cofield
DL – Chaleston Hughes, AC Leonard
LB – Solomon Elimimian, Otha Foster
DB – Nick Marshall, Ed Gainey, Louchiez Purifoy

There are 2 more guys I’ll mention but I’m not sure of their status. One is Chad Geter. Technically it will be his third consecutive year with the team but I’m not sure if the fact that he started 2019 with the Als affects that. The other is QB Bryan Bennett. Given that there are only 2 designed QB spots now, teams may look at having emergency QBs play other positions. Since Bennett plays on special teams he could be a “LB” and in that case would count under the definition.

For the Riders, this means likely 0 difference in terms of the starters. We will still start 7 Canadians (at this point 1 would guess: 3 Cdn OL, 1 Cdn WR, Judge, Edem and Cdn DL). As for the three new “National” starters, it could be anyone of the guys mentioned above but since your “National” starters can only be replaced by Canadians or veteran Americans you would want it to be a position that you are deep at Canadians and vets. So my guess is 2 of those spots go to WR (possibly all 3). Shaq and Moore (and at least one of Stafford or Williams-Lambert) will be starting and we have multiple Canadian/veteran options to replace them. Another option is offensive tackle. Both Vaughn and Cofield (who I assume our tackles will be) are vets and the 6th OL who steps in for injuries is always Canadian. You could also do D-line. Leonard and Hughes are vets and we have lots of rotational Cdns (and possibly Geter). If we go any of these route the impact of the changes will be minimal as its what we’d be doing anyway. If I was to guess, we will use our new starting spots on O as we have the most flexibility there. On defense all our vets are already starters so we’d have not vet back-ups to replace them. Seems more problematic than beneficial.

But while setting your starting 10 “Nationals” is pretty straightforward, the potential for real gamesmanship comes mid-game. In the event of injury or “injury” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) any National starter (even the Canadian ones) can be replaced by a veteran American.

So we could start a 5 receiver set of Moore, Evans, Williams-Lambert, McRoberts and McInnis and then have McInnis get a “cramp” on play one and replace him with Stafford. That all American set would count as much as many as 4 National starters.

Or you could “start” a Canadian at offensive tackle and a new American (go Lanard Bonner!) at guard with Cofield as your 6th OL. Then on play 2 your Cdn gets hurt and you run a 3 American OL without impacting the ratio.

Of for a defensive example. You start a line of Dabire/Shippy/Faulk/Hughes. Dabire gets hurt and Leonard steps in a you run an all American front within the ratio.

Of course real injuries would hamper the gamesmanship but these are all very real possibilities. So it will be interesting to see how teams approach the changes. As confusing as this will get I do like that they have done something to help elevate the status of veteran Americans. My one regret is that Chris Jones is not around for this. If there was anyone who would find a way to exploit this to the point where the league needs to fine him, its Jones.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Potential Playoff Changes

Randy Ambrosie is out on his annual cross Canada tour. As part of that, last week he floated out potential changes to the playoff format that could come into effect as soon as 2020. The current playoff format has been the subject of much debate, particular in light of the ongoing trend of the East Division being awful relative to the West. So I think looking at alternatives is certainly a worthwhile endeavour.

But while I support reviewing the current format and like some of the ideas being proposed, some the ideas are stupid (It’s Monday morning… I haven’t had enough coffee for subtleties)

Let’s start with the positive. Under the proposal, the first place teams in the East and West would continue to get a first round bye. What would change is that the four next best teams (regardless of division) would make the semi finals with the 3rd and 4th place teams hosting a home playoff game. That way, the best 6 teams would make the postseason and the best teams would be rewarded with home field advantage. Had it been in place in 2019, the semi final matchups would have been Calgary hosting Edmonton and Winnipeg hosting Montreal. In 2018 it would have meant that the Eskimos (who finished 5th in the West) made the playoffs instead of the Ti-cats (who finished 2nd in the East)… and the Riders would have played Edmonton instead of Winnipeg (not that it mattered as Brandon Bridge wasn’t about to beat anyone that day).

While the current crossover rule generally ensures the best teams make the playoffs (2018 is the only year in recent memory where it didn’t), it has led to a lot of inferior East teams being rewarded with home playoff games while superior West teams are forced to travel (2015 is the only time since Ottawa returned to the league where the host of the East Semi had the 3rd or 4th best record in the CFL). So I’m all for this.

Here’s where Ambrosie loses me though…
Under his proposal, the team that finished first overall would then have their choice of which semi-final winner they want to play. The theory here is that this would create intrigue and bulletin board material and what not.  My issue with it is that it’s a gimmick. A stupid, hokey gimmick. I hate gimmicks. They cheapen the product we are trying to market… and before you give me the “but, but MLB is considering it and they are way bigger than us” let me just say that a bigger league considering something stupid, doesn’t make it any less stupid. Also, MLB is a league that can’t even properly deal with a massive cheating scandal so maybe not the best comparison bar at this point.

The CFL is a league that has survived and thrived based on its long and storied traditions. When we have strayed too far from the core of who we are and into the gimmicky it has rarely been successful (see: American expansion or anything related to the Gleibermans). Change and adaptation are important but only when they make sense and enhance your product… not cheapen it. We are a football league not a reality TV show. Leave the rose ceremonies to the idiots on reality TV and focus on being a respectable football league.

So keep the top 6 teams make it concept, but then #1 plays the lowest remaining seed in the West Final and #2 plays the highest remaining seed in the East final (and yes I am just assuming the West team will be better than the East team most years, it’s pretty much science at this point… 2019 was an anomaly). It’s fair, its simple, it avoids lame-assed attempts to drum up publicity.

I’m the Rider Prophet and I approve this message.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Week 1 of Free Agency

Free agency opened on Tuesday but it would seem the Riders did not get the message based on how active they were. Foster, Franklin and St John… it honestly seemed like O’Day just said screw it and dusted off Chris Jones’ 2016 recruiting plan. But before we start freaking out (as Rider fans have been known to do form time to time) let’s remember that the teams not being active in free agency is a good thing. It usually means your team is already good (unless you are Ottawa). The most active teams are usually the ones that have the most holes in their roster. Also remember the collective success record of teams that “win” the first day of fee agency. O’Day did a lot of good work before free agency retaining guys like Judge, Shaq, Purifoy, Marshall and Leonard.

Today we will take a look at the people the Riders did sign (we have ample space for it since we signed all of 4 people) and then look at how our current roster stacks up on both sides of the ball at this point.

While it came with only a fraction of the fanfare that it would have just a couple years ago, I do like the Franklin signing. For $115k he is a value signing and really strengthens our QB depth. I like Harker but at this point Franklin is a far more proven option at #2. Given that that non #1 QB played a full season in 2019, a reliable #2 is important.

I see Otha Foster as a lotto ticket. If he is anywhere close to the level he played at before then he slides into the Moncrief spot almost seamlessly. But at 31 years of age and coming off a year away from football, that’s a BIG if. I like Foster, I’m just hoping we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket at cover LB.

Retaining Elimimian was good. We need a strong veteran in the middle of our D. Hearing Hamilton landed Larry Dean for $40K less makes me wonder a bit, but still... when you think our of best Defenses, they always have a strong MLB. It will be nice not to have him sit out all of training camp and miss the start of the season. It took him a few games, but once he got going, he was still pretty good. 

Josiah St John, is purely a CDN OL depth signing. I get that we’d like something better but there really wasn’t much else and for what we are likely paying St John (i.e. not very much) it’s a low risk signing. The Riders are really high on Braden Schram (whose progress I have liked) and we also have Jake Bennett who we got in the supplemental draft last year and played in one game. So St John is at best our #8 OL heading into camp. Hell, based on his history, just getting him to camp is a victory unto itself. 

Offensively, we shored up our QB depth, which is a positive. Our biggest offensive free agent acquisition actually came much earlier when we landed Jason Maas. That improves our O a lot. Our OL depth took a hit but with Schram, Bennett and (to a much lesser extent) St John we should be able to survive.

Defense is a different story. People are pointing to the fact that we are bringing back 10 of 12 starters from last season. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great and we have a solid defensive core. That said, those 2 guys we aren’t bringing back just happen to be among the best in the league at their respective positions. You can’t lose one of the top DTs in the league and (I would argue) the top cover LB in the league, not replace them and try and argue that your defense isn’t worse on paper. It’s certainly not doom and gloom but currently our D is worse than last season.

The pressure is now on O’Day to prove he can recruit the next wave of players needed to sustain our success