June 23, 2014

Steinberg’s MMQB: Looking back and gazing ahead

So the 2014 Canadian Football League pre-season is in the books, and we have our fair share of question marks.  How will Ottawa do in their return to the league? What will life after AC look like in Montreal? How will a young Riders team defend their Grey Cup? 

Questions like these are why we look forward to the end of June every year, and 2014 is no different.
When you factor in some of the decisions made Saturday as teams got down to size, the start of the coming campaign becomes even more intriguing.  The preseason helped make a lot of decisions, but it’s good to know that we’ve got meaningful football to watch from now until November.

Deep cuts

Jamel Richardson headlines the list of surprise cuts as teams trimmed their rosters down to 46 on Saturday.  The circumstances that lead to the decision are still a little fuzzy, so the MMQB feels a little hesitant to pass judgment on the choice itself.  

That said, we do feel comfortable passing on a few thoughts.

First off, I’ve always had a great appreciation for the way Richardson plays.  Prior to his injury shortened 2013 season, Richardson had forged a reputation as one of the most reliable, physical, and explosive receivers in this league.  

Watching him dominate defensive backs during his five straight 1,000-yard seasons truly was a pleasure, as he brought a skill set that was extremely unique.
With reports surfacing Richardson is on the verge of signing with Toronto, there are going to be questions as to how he’ll recover from a major knee injury. Chiefly: can he still play the physical brand of football he did prior?

I hope the answer is yes, and my gut says the answer is yes as well.  But that’s just my gut.  However, if my gut ends up being correct, he will absolutely be an asset to the Argos.  

And, with a new full time starting quarterback in Montreal, there’s a pretty realistic chance his old squad will miss what he brings too.
I remember watching the Edmonton Eskimos beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 30-20 in Week 2 of the 2013 season and being extremely impressed with one player in particular.  

That player was also the most notable name cut by the Eskimos on Saturday: running back Hugh Charles.
The game referenced above saw Charles score a pair of touchdowns while racking up 149 combined yards of offence. 

Looking back: PSB Action

» Argonauts down Ticats at Varsity
» Ottawa caps pre-season with a win
» Esks storm back, stymie Riders
» Logan carries Lions to victory

I always wondered why then Head Coach Kavis Reed didn’t use Charles more extensively in his two full years in Edmonton, because I always thought he could be an extremely dangerous weapon.  

2013 saw his touches drop from 202 to 136 from the year prior (with only one less game played), and you could tell he was becoming less and less a part of Edmonton’s offensive game plan.  

I still maintain that more consistent usage of Charles would have been good for the Eskimos, but that page has been turned.  

At 28, I still think the guy can play and could help a team right now.  He’s a dual threat back who can stretch the field when catching the ball out of the backfield, and he’s no slouch in a pure running game either.  

Let’s see if he catches on somewhere in 2014.

Good signs

Good news: three teams left their fans with positive quarterback impressions in their final pre-season week.  Leading that pack is Ottawa’s Henry Burris.  As we talked about last week, there are lots of areas the REDBLACKS will need to improve on throughout the season, but at the very least, it looks like they’ve got a quarterback who will keep them somewhat competitive.  

Burris threw just five incomplete passes in a 26-10 win over Montreal on Friday night, and did so in impressive fashion.  He hooked up with nine different receivers, looked comfortable in the pocket, and performed up to the high standard we’ve come to expect from him.  

He truly is an ideal guy to help kick start an expansion franchise.
It was tough to get a true read on Zach Collaros in his Hamilton debut a couple weekends ago, so Tiger-Cats fans were likely pretty stoked to see him settle in and play some controlled football Thursday in Toronto.  

Yes, the Argos prevailed 41-23, but the best news for Hamilton came from Collaros, who threw for 196 yards and ran for 22 more.  He has a presence when he’s on the field, and I’m excited to see his first full year as a CFL starter.
Mike Reilly was just fine in his second pre-season game, and it sure looks like he’s solidified his status as a starter in this league.  But it was Matt Nichols who was the story in Edmonton’s 19-14 win over the Riders on Friday night.  

Nichols, who has had nothing but bad injury luck over the last two seasons, threw for 155 yards on 8-for-11 passing in his second exhibition outing of 2014.  

Make no mistake, Reilly is the guy in Edmonton, and he should be.  But knowing the difficulty the Eskimos had in protecting him last year, there’s always a chance Nichols may be called upon at some point. Seeing him have a positive pre-season is extremely encouraging.

Parting shots

Troy Smith’s pre-season debut for the Alouettes wasn’t as encouraging as some of the performances we just highlighted.  However, I still think Montreal made a smart move when they brought him in last season.  

His explosive ability and eagerness to make big plays will be more and more of an asset as he continues to hone in his understanding of the Canadian game.  

He’ll never be as accurate as that guy who won a few titles in Montreal, but I still think he can be a CFL winner.
Nothing changes for me when it comes to Calgary’s quarterback situation.  Drew Tate should be the Week 1 starter, even as neither he nor Bo Levi Mitchell were overly impressive in a 37-13 setback Friday in BC.  

Tate is more accurate and can manage an offence better at this stage in his career.  Mitchell’s ceiling is extremely high, and is time is coming, but I don’t think it’s here yet.
I’m not sure if anyone saw this, but how cool is it to see SI.com roll with Canada Week? We, um, borrowed the name of this column from Peter King who is spearheading seven days of coverage on Sports Illustrated’s website.  

Former Als Head Coach Marc Trestman and the legendary Doug Flutie are writing columns, while King himself is covering the Stamps and Riders home openers.  That’s pretty cool.