March 23, 2018

Manziel, Als’ QBs among popular topics as coaches, GMs take the mic

Reid Valmestad/

WINNIPEG — As one might expect when you get a coach or general manager together from every CFL team, there were plenty of interesting topics discussed at Friday’s football ops press conference.

There was former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman facing the national media for the first time since joining the Als. There was Wally Buono discussing his reduced role in Vancouver. There was even Chris Jones talking about the negative headlines his team has received this off-season.

And of course, what would a press conference be without mention of Johnny Manziel?

As CFL Week continues and the combine fast approaches, we check in on what was said at Friday’s coaches/general managers availability.

The Ticats are still keeping a close eye on Johnny Manziel

Ticats negotiation list quarterback and former college phenom Johnny Manziel held a pro day in front of a reported 13 NFL teams this week, as pro football comeback continues for Johnny Football.

Manziel has also signed up for a short two-week spring league that begins on April 7, which will allow him to showcase his talents during both the NFL and CFL off-season.

Asked about the topic, Kent Austin confirmed the Ticats are still keeping a close eye on Manziel, and will be in attendance at his spring league contests.

It’s clear the Ticats are still keeping a very close eye on neg list quarterback Johnny Manziel (The Associated Press)

“It’s a very short stint for these exhibitions and they’ll be over very, very quickly,” said Austin. “You’ll probably see things move pretty quickly after that, in some direction.

“He’s doing well,” Austin added. “He’s worked out, he’s been working out with NFL guys for some time now prior to going down to Texas. It’s all in line.

“From the information that you already have, there’s nothing different from that right now.”

Should Manziel fail to land an NFL job in the coming month, the chances of him joining the Ticats surely increase. At the moment, Manziel would have to sign a two-year contract minimum in order to play in the three-down league.

Sherman: ‘The creativity here is just amazing to me’

Once the head coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, Mike Sherman made a significant splash in CFL coaching circles after joining the Montreal Alouettes this off-season.

Sherman has spent the last several months studying the league and preparing for his first job in the three-down game, but this week has gotten to see a different side of the league.

On Friday, asked about his first impression of the CFL, Sherman noted how the league always seems to be one step ahead when it comes to on-field innovation.

“The creativity here is just amazing to me,” he said. “We definitely favour the offence and scoring points here in the CFL. That’s exciting and it makes for some exciting football.

“Every decision the CFL has made trying to make their game better, I think they’ve hit home runs,” Sherman added. “I’m new to it, I have a lot to learn but what I’ve learned so far is it’s exciting, players play because they love the game, coaches coach because they love the game and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Don’t lock in Josh Freeman’s name just yet

Also from Sherman, Josh Freeman is no lock to be the Montreal Alouettes’ starting quarterback. The Als have several pivots coming to camp, including Drew Willy, Antonio Pipkin and Matthew Shiltz, all of whom have more CFL experience than Freeman.

“They’re going to battle it out,” said Sherman. “Whoever takes the first rep could be the fourth quarterback the next day, just by rotation purposes.”

While the Als’ quarterback competition will be one of training camp’s most intriguing storylines, don’t expect it to drag out. Sherman says he’s hoping to make a decision very quickly after the start of camp.


“I will make a fairly quick decision because we don’t have a long pre-season, so by that second week we’ll start leaning in that direction and stick with it if it proves to be something favourable for us,” he said.

“We’re going to let them go and compete and we’ll give them all a shot at being the guy and figure out who the guy is during the pre-season.”

Josh Freeman towers over the competition, coming into camp at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. The former NFL first round pick has 2,048 passing attempts next to his name on that side of the border, mostly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Drew Willy should be Freeman’s closest competition, coming in with 1,164 career passing attempts in Canadian professional football.

Freeman has been the star pupil for the Als during CFL Week, but there’s no guarantee he’s the starter — yet.

The contingency plan is in place in BC

In what’s been a busy off-season for new Lions GM Ed Hervey, that hasn’t quite been the case for Wally Buono. The Lions’ head coach candidly summed up what’s been a relaxing off-season.

“I’ve been to Arizona twice, I’ve been to Hawaii once, I’ve been in the office about three days — besides that it’s been really tough,” Buono mused.”

Buono discussed the reason behind the transition in Vancouver, with the long-time executive planning to step away from the Lions after 2018. Working with Ed Hervey as the GM, Buono added, has allowed for an easy process.

“I think it’s gone over well,” said Buono. “Bringing his fingerprints to our football team and the transition for me has been quite easy. Next year, when I bow out, I’ll be quite happy. The organization, I think, will be in great hands.”

Buono has served as the team’s head coach and general manager the last few years, before and after the departure of Jeff Tedford as head coach, but the long-time executive says he’s changed his thoughts about the dual role.

“Not that it can’t happen, but the dual role today is way more difficult,” said Buono. “The general manager and the head coach’s responsibilities have gotten to be so big. It’s much more year-round and it’s a difficult process.

“To me, Ed coming in has been a great asset to the BC Lions. He’s brought a different perspective and hopefully he’s going to bring better players.”

Jones isn’t worried about negative headlines

Riders head coach and GM Chris Jones noted he’s disappointing with some of the negative headlines that have surrounded his players his off-season, but he’s not worried it’ll affect his team in 2018.

Duron Carter‘s pending charges along with suspensions for Marcus Thigpen and current free agent Bruce Campbell have put the Green and White in a negative light, but Jones doesn’t believe it’ll affect what’s shaping up to be a deep and talented roster.


“We’ve got a pretty good roster, we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” said Jones. “Have we stubbed our toe a little bit? Absolutely. We’ve talked to those guys and they’ve accepted responsibility for the things that they’ve done. It’s pro football and sometimes there are going to be bumps on the road.”

The Riders enjoyed a dramatic turnaround in 2017, making the playoffs with an impressive 10-win season. They were a late Ricky Ray scoring drive away from appearing in the Grey Cup in Ottawa.

Maas OK with being OC

Jason Maas will return to his dual role of head coach and offensive coordinator following the departure of Carson Walch.

Walch was groomed for the job by Maas and considered one of the brightest young offensive minds in the three-down game. But now he’s headed south of the border after joining the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

“This late in the off-season it’s kind of hard to find a guy, in my estimation, that’s ready to take over and run our offence the way it needs to be run,” said Maas. “I feel like I’m the guy who’s qualified to do that.”

The Eskimos have had the league’s most productive offence two years running, with Mike Reilly having a career year in 2017 along with winning Most Outstanding Player.

This year the Esks’ offence could be tested following the departures of long-time veteran Adarius Bowman and 2017 league-leading receiver Brandon Zylstra.

Maas also commented on a rumour about one day coaching with current Argos quarterback Ricky Ray.

“I don’t know how much I want to comment on a player who’s in our league right now becoming a coach on my staff,” said Maas. “We have a very solid relationship. I wish him nothing but the best this year and hope his career continues as a player for as long as possible.”

Stamps Grey Cup bid

Finally, while the details are unknown, John Hufnagel confirmed the Stampeders have made a bid to host the Grey Cup in the future.

“We’re in the process of making a bid and hopefully the league will make a decision in the very near future,” said Hufnagel.

The last time McMahon Stadium hosted a Grey Cup was 2009. The Stamps appear to be making a push to host the game in 2019, one year after Edmonton — a reversal of 10 years ago, when the Grey Cup was in Alberta for back-to-back seasons.

“Hopefully it’s similar to 2009 and 2010 except it’s flipped,” said Hufnagel.