- Free Agency
Hello, Diontae Spencer. Nice return. 112 yards? Officially, maybe. To me it looked more like four or five back road kilometres, with plenty of turns and detour signs. How did you not get lost? You got Google Maps in your helmet?
Here are this week’s takeaways.
Did you see the slow-motion video TSN showed of Calgary linebacker Alex Singleton whipping his long mane back? I thought I was watching an upscale salon hair product commercial. It was Beyoncé music video worthy. I don’t know if his powers truly do lie with that hair but I wouldn’t mess with it.
Singleton’s performance against the BC Lions on Saturday night was a jaw-dropper, as he became the first CFL player in history to record three consecutive games with at least ten tackles. He had eleven against the Lions and added a sack but those numbers tell only part of the story. He spied quarterback Jonathon Jennings on one play, sussed out that he had only one place to escape to as the pressure mounted, and arrived at the spot almost before Jennings did. He kept Jennings from getting to the first down marker on another play, jetting in from 20 yards away to do it, even when it looked like Jennings had nothing but open field in front of him. On another play, Singleton rushed the passer, then aborted in the offensive backfield, sprinted to the middle and slammed running back Jeremiah Johnson to the turf just after he’d caught a screen pass.
The second-year middle linebacker was absolutely everywhere, doing everything. Ever played Pac-Man? You know how when you eat one of those energy pills it gives you speed and invincibility? Alex Singleton was an energy pill-powered Pac-Man linebacker, and he gobbled up everything in his path.
As the Argos went through week after week of quarterback Ricky Ray taking pressures, hits and sacks, the question of how to relieve the offensive line of the burden of opponents who would tee off and bull-rush consistently needed an answer. On Saturday, at least part of the antidote revealed itself as first-year tailback James Wilder Jr. barged, barrelled and sped to 190 yards of rushing on eleven carries while snagging each of the seven balls thrown his way for another 67, with 57 of those yards coming after the catch.
Toronto hasn’t had the kind of straight up running power of Wilder’s since Cory Boyd was in town and if he continues to turn catches into yards the way veteran tailback Brandon Whitaker has been known to, Wilder might just continue give Ray the gift of a little more peace of mind in the pocket. And that’s just about a perfect birthday gift for a soon to be 38-year-old quarterback.
We know that taking a peek can be the WORST thing you can do in football; for receivers, especially, when they dart their eyes for a second just as a ball arrives. However, let me submit, for your consideration, a case where sneaking a little look can pay off immensely.
Stamps’ punter Rob Maver was ready to let fly with one during the fourth quarter, but just as he was about to drop the ball to his toe, he glanced to his left and saw a hard-charging Lion coming in for what looked like a certain blocked punt. In a flash, Maver decided not to punt but instead to run and it was the right call, obviously. Thirty yards later, laughing – yes, LAUGHING – as he ran out of bounds, Maver had a critical first down in what was, at the time, a seven-point ball game. The Stampeders picked up a field goal and pulled away.
I asked Maver, on Twitter, if there was even a split-second moment where he thought he might score. He replied: “I’m not that crazy.” Oh, and a hat tip to Stamps’ fan Ziad Fazel who tweeted that even if Maver did have a clear path to the end zone, he’d have probably gone out of bounds inside the five-yard line, a tribute to Maver’s well known coffin-corner punting prowess.
You know the old saw: Offensive linemen never really get their due unless the camera zooms in for a close-up on one of them, a perplexed look on their face as it’s just been loudly announced by the referee that they have been flagged for holding. Shame! Or when a slo-mo replay shows the agonizing moment they were beaten by a defender who goes on to drop the quarterback. Double shame with torches and pitchforks on top!
Well, in Week 13, we actually had a red carpet O-line moment.
I give you the case of Alex Mateas, the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ first overall pick in the 2015 draft. When the TSN crew picked the “Titan of the Game”
for Sunday’s Ottawa/Montreal tilt, it was Mateas who got the nod. Often, it’s a quarterback who gets the extra love, or a receiver with big numbers, a running back who carries tacklers for hard-fought yards. A linebacker who racks up double digit tackles or, heck, even a defensive back with a couple of picks. An offensive lineman? Perish the thought.
Mateas deserved to be a tendency breaker, however, playing his first pro game at centre and filling in for the most always superb John Gott, who was missing his first game ever as a member of the REDBLACKS. Mateas anchored a unit that allowed zero sacks and just two quarterback pressures, while laying down asphalt for running back William Powell and his 144 rushing yards. See? You don’t have to haul in a tackle-eligible touchdown pass in order to get your moment in the sun. Smile, Alex. Wave to the paparazzi. A beefy nation of fellow bodyguards salutes you and cries as one: “Me, too!”
Ricky Ray may be – probably is – the all-time master of the corner route pass and he has certainly earned that kind of notoriety. In fact, he cured the cement on that reputation even more with a dynamite touchdown pass on Saturday, to Armanti Edwards, who caught it in stride behind two Edmonton defenders. Magnifique.
But, there were others who threw some real beauties during Week 13, too. In that same game, Edmonton QB Mike Reilly fired a perfectly placed corner bomb to Brandon Zylstra, who nabbed it at about the Argos’ ten-yard line and then took it the rest of the way. Later that night, Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell got into it with a beautiful moonball corner pass from the far hash to a wide open Marken Michel for a major. Maybe most impressively, Saskatchewan’s Brandon Bridge zipped a cruise missile corner shot to Bakari Grant in the end zone, in between Hamilton defenders, during Friday night’s encounter at Tim Hortons Field. That ball had so much mustard on it that it came with a side of fries.
There aren’t many things prettier than a well thrown corner shot and we got to feed up on them in Week 13.
You see what you get Martese Jackson? You see what you get when you return a missed field goal for a 125-yard touchdown? A kiss from Pinball. I looked down from the media box after Jackson’s sprint down the sideline against Edmonton and saw Michael Clemons admiringly give him a hug and then – I’m pretty sure – a quick “atta boy” peck on the side of the head.
“You have attained return enlightenment, young man,” I imagine Pinball whispering in his ear. “Welcome to our realm.”