June 18, 2012

Steinberg’s MMQB: Backup pivots showing off

We’re true to the title with the debut of the 2012 Monday Morning Quarterback

True to our name, this week the MMQB will be spending a lot of time passing along observations surrounding the last two letters in our abbreviated title.  
Quarterbacks stood out in Week One of the pre-season, and it’s about time we’re back writing, because the crash of the pads has been sorely missed.
One thing I’ve learned over the years watching this league closely is to be very guarded about how much I read into the two weeks of football action prior to the first week of the regular season.  

I’ve been fooled far too many times by solid pre-season performances only to have them fall ridiculously short when the football really starts to matter (I remember extolling the virtues of Akili Smith on the air a few years back after watching him play the second half of a pre-season game, for example).  

That said, the pre-season does give us a few things to think about.

» READ IT: Lions’ Reilly finally feeling at home
Having moved a lot since the age of 15, Mike Reilly feels like he’s found a home and a role in BC as the understudy to Travis Lulay.

Calgary quad

I took in the final game of the CFL’s first weekend in person, which just happened to be a fairly exciting 20-17 come-from-behind victory for the Stampeders over the Eskimos.  

Calgary used all four of their quarterbacks on Friday night, and while the performances were very varied, the team really only has one decision to make.
Despite a fairly pedestrian showing, Stamps starter Drew Tate did give me lots to think about. How he carried himself prior to, during, and after the game on Friday was something I was going to watch closely, as this was the first time he’s played since knowing 100 per cent he’s the guy in Calgary.  

He looked shaky, completing six of his 12 passes for 66 yards and an interception. But quarterback stats in the pre-season don’t mean much to me. What was more interesting was how he assessed his performance at the conclusion of the game.

It wasn’t a matter of what he said; it was how he said it.

“Terrible,” was Tate’s response to an intrepid reporter, just as I stuck my microphone into the post-game media scrum, when asked about his night.  

“I didn’t see the field well, and I’ve got to do a better job. That’s what the good thing is we’ve got another pre-season game to get sharp, and I want to go watch film and just see why I wasn’t seeing the field well.  You know, it was the first game, and you just try not to make the same mistakes twice”
Tate sure did sound like a quarterback who knew the situation he was in. He’s been carrying himself like a calm, confident leader throughout training camp and he answered the bell following the game.

I thought it was interesting to hear, especially when it would be easy to brush it off to exhibition rust.
Kevin Glenn, Tate’s backup, looked just fine in his Stampeders debut (8-for-11, 73 yards) but the real intrigue is when you start looking at the battle for the third spot at the position.  

Newcomer Bo Levi Mitchell moved the ball more effectively overall than second-year pivot Brad Sinopoli, but it was the latter who engineered Calgary’s only offensive touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.  

Head Coach John Hufnagel said neither disappointed him, so that battle looks to continue for at least another week.

Double take…times two

I knew it was going to be weird seeing Henry Burris wearing white, yellow and black.  I knew it was going to be just as odd seeing Ricky Ray suiting up in Argo blue.  But I still wasn’t prepared for how different it looked seeing the two longtime CFL stars in different gear to kick off the pre-season on Wednesday.

I didn’t get much from Ray’s limited playing time, which is okay, because the guy has been nothing but consistent throughout his career, so I don’t expect that to change when the snaps start to matter in July.  

However, Burris did show some reasons for guarded excitement surrounding the Hamilton attack this season.
While claims of “the Canadian Air Force moving east” are almost certainly premature, the Burris-led ‘Cats air game did look impressive against their provincial rivals during the time Burris was on the field.  

Hank’s passes were crisp and got away quickly, and when he was given daylight, he made sure he took it hooking up for 52 and 75 yard strikes in the second quarter.  

The latter, to last year’s Most Outstanding Rookie Chris Williams, couldn’t help but get me thinking about the potential.  

Having Williams and Andy Fantuz at his disposal, there’s no question Hamilton has the weapons to be dangerous.

Roll out

With Ray in Toronto, it was certainly interesting watching Edmonton go about their business offensively on Friday night.  

Matt Nichols and Jeremiah Masoli both employed a style that we didn’t see much of at all from Ray during his time with the Eskimos: the rollout.
Seeing it from Masoli wasn’t the least bit surprising, because the option read was the hallmark of the offence he ran at Oregon.  

However, it was a little unnerving watching an Edmonton quarterback (let alone two of them) moving outside the pocket as regularly as both Masoli and Nichols did, because it’s such a departure from what we’re used to.
Masoli has a lot to work on (he completed just five of 16 passes), without question, but I did like some of what I saw from Nichols.  He seemed calm in the pocket and seemed to use his legs effectively.  We know that Steven Jyles will employ a lot of the same technique when he makes his starting debut next week against B.C.

Backup battles

Well, there doesn’t seem like there’s much of a battle in BC, to be honest.  Throw for three touchdowns along the way, Mike Reilly seems to be a good bet to backup Travis Lulay in Vancouver this year.  He was one of the driving forces in a Lions 44-10 win over the Riders on Wednesday night and will have big shoes to fill if he does end up slotting in second on the depth chart.

To be quite honest, there doesn’t seem to be much of a backup pivot battle in B.C. Throwing for three touchdowns along the way, Mike Reilly seems to be the sure bet to back up Travis Lulay in Vancouver this season.

He was one of the driving forces in a 44-10 win over the Roughriders on Wednesday night. Should he find himself cemented in the backup slot in 2012, he will have big shoes to fill.

Last season, the said shoes were filled by Jarious Jackson, who has taken his veteran poise and leadership to Toronto to backup Ricky Ray.

I remember talking to Wally Buono a few times during their run to the 99th Grey Cup. Each time, Buono never failed to mention how important Jackson was to his team’s, and most specifically, the success of Lulay.

Jackson knows the league, understands how to read CFL defences, and does a good job imparting his wisdom to the man taking the snaps in game action. Reilly has a lot of talent, but taking over for Jackson as the team’s backup carries more responsibility than just what happens on the field.
As for the Riders, the battle for who backs up Darian Durant has been one of the most interesting to track through training camp thus far.  

Living one province over, I’ve only been able to read up on progress, so seeing Drew Willy, Levi Brown, and J.T. O’Sullivan work on Wednesday night was my first chance to watch it play out since training camp began over two weeks ago.  

Willy was the one who stood out most in game action, but not only because of his ability to escape under pressure.

While he did escape the blitz a number of times, I thought Willy was relatively calm in going through his progressions in the pocket and I really liked his ability to throw on the run.  

It’s one thing to escape pressure and run with the ball, but to be able to deliver an accurate throw while eluding tackles is something entirely different. His fourth quarter hookup with Patrick Brown was a perfect example of this.
Nothing much stood out for me in Winnipeg’s 22-10 win over Montreal. However, I was interested in the amount of field-time Josh Neiswander saw.

At this time last year, I remarked how I felt Adrian McPherson had made some real strides in becoming an all-around QB.

One year later, and McPherson looked rather ineffective in his short playing time. It’s been a process for McPherson under the guidance and tutelage of Anthony Calvillo, so maybe seeing someone like Neiswander play the way he did will spur a better performance this week in Toronto.
With both Calvillo and Buck Pierce on the sidelines, I noticed that Neiswander had some good zip behind his passes for and I thought we saw exactly what to expect from Alex Brink.  

The Winnipeg backup wasn’t spectacular – though he didn’t need to be – but he certainly needed to get some playing time in.  

Based on Pierce’s history in dealing with injuries, there’s some reason to suspect that Brink’s services will likely be needed at various points of the season. That being said, it’s good to see him so involved this early on.

This week, I focused on quarterbacks because it was the biggest thing I was watching during week one of the schedule.  Next week we’ll dive into some more interesting positional battles. It’s good to have football back!