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November 2, 2020

Steinberg’s MMQB: One player to watch for each East Division team

The Canadian Press

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at players to watch for each West Division team.

Assuming CFL rosters look similar to what they are now, let’s do the same with the four East Division teams. We’ve got a pair of quarterbacks, a pair of new additions, and a couple returnees to focus in on this week.

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Nick Arbuckle will be leading the REDBLACKS after spending two seasons in Calgary (OttawaREDBLACKS.com)

Ottawa REDBLACKS – Nick Arbuckle, quarterback

This one is a no-brainer. Arbuckle’s acquisition was one of the off-season’s biggest moves and the expectations on the 27-year-old will be huge for 2021. After all, Ottawa spent significant assets to bring Arbuckle into the fold. The REDBLACKS sent a third round pick to Calgary for Arbuckle’s rights and the teams then swapped first round picks when he signed. Yes, it’s a gamble, but for many, including myself, it’s one well worth taking.

Arbuckle was solid in his seven starts with the Stampeders in 2019 and it feels like he might just be scratching the surface. Calgary went 4-3 with Arbuckle at the helm and he did a good job moving the ball and limiting turnovers. There’s no question, though, the Stamps went with a conservative approach to play calling.

Calgary’s game plan with Arbuckle was methodical and based on ball possession with very few deep shots downfield. Additionally, it’s probably fair to say Arbuckle was more hesitant to try and hit bigger, riskier plays as a backup. In Ottawa, though, it should be a different story. The starting job is his and we know he can move the ball effectively. Now it’s time to see how explosive Arbuckle can be.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats – Julian Howsare, defensive end

Hamilton’s defensive line was one of the scariest I can remember en route to a Grey Cup appearance in 2019. Ja’Gared Davis and Dylan Wynn were both East Division All-Stars, while Ted Laurent has held that honour four different times in the past. That trio garnered most of the headlines last season, but there’s a final piece of that starting front four puzzle, and that’s Howsare. I think he’s in line for a massive 2021.

Howsare had six sacks to finish the 2019 season (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

After a few years with the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks, Howsare landed in Hamilton for the 2018 season, but it was last year when he really broke out. Howsare finished the season with six sacks and gave the Tiger-Cats a fourth factor on the line. Davis was the outside pass rush threat and finished with 13 sacks, while Wynn and Laurent made up the best interior tandem in the league.

The problem for opposing offensive lines is how dangerous Howsare became on the opposite side of Davis. He got more dangerous as 2019 went on and made doubling Davis a riskier proposition; the final five games of Hamilton’s season made it clear pressure was possible off both edges and that carried over into the playoffs. With Davis pursuing opportunities in the NFL, Howsare could be in line for an even bigger workload in 2021, so don’t sleep on him.

Toronto Argonauts – DaVaris Daniels, receiver

With Pinball Clemons steering the ship as Toronto’s new general manager, you knew the Argos would look different the next time they took the field. After a difficult 2019, Pinball went to work reshaping his team and made significant additions in free agency including Matt Nichols, Juwan Brescasin, and Alex Bazzie. But it’s the signing of Daniels that intrigues me most, because I think the ceiling exists for him to be a truly elite receiver in this league.

Daniels spent a year with the Edmonton Football Team before signing with Toronto as a free agent in February (The Canadian Press)

In four CFL seasons, Daniels has been explosive, dangerous, and dynamic at virtually every check, but he’s had one issue: staying healthy. Daniels hasn’t been able to play more than 13 games in a single season, although it’s important to note his rookie season started late. Regardless, though, when Daniels has been dressed and healthy, he has been as devastating as they come.

Over a full campaign, Daniels has projected to be a 1,000-yard receiver in all four of his CFL seasons. And even with only two touchdown catches last year with Edmonton, Daniels has been good for a major every other game throughout his career. With a full year off, Daniels should be fresh for next season and will still be just 28 years old. I could see an absolutely massive season in the not-so-distant future.

Montreal Alouettes – Vernon Adams Jr., quarterback

We finish our players to watch with another quarterback, but knowing the season he just had, I don’t know how this can be anyone but Adams. 2019 really was the true arrival of Adams, who had been on our radars for quite some time. When it was all said and done, the former Oregon standout finished with 24 passing touchdowns, 12 more on the ground, and a well-deserved nod as an East Division All-Star.

In his fourth CFL season, Adams Jr. had a career-year with the Alouettes in 2019 (Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes)

There were many responsible for Montreal’s resurgence last year, but it’s hard to convince me anyone was more instrumental than Adams. I believed this was the case to such an extent that he got my top vote for East Division Most Outstanding Player. But when you have a season that good, the spotlight is going to be that much more intense the following year.

All eyes will be on Adams when next season starts, and I think he’ll be able to deliver. I think Adams has room to grow as a pure passer, an area he’s already taken massive strides in; this year off could do wonders, especially with a coach like Khari Jones on his side. If that part of Adams’s game takes even a small step forward, he’ll be in the MOP conversation again next season.

Rest in peace

It’s rare that someone not on the field or the ice can become synonymous with a team and/or a city. Joey Moss was that rare case. Representing Edmonton in football and hockey, Moss was a bona fide celebrity because he was an amazing person and embodied all that it is to be a sports fan in his city. Fans in the Alberta capital are unlike any other in their dedication and passion, which are the two words that have been used most when describing Moss.

The CFL doesn’t exist the way we know it today if not for David Braley. An owner of three different teams, Braley kept the Toronto Argonauts afloat during some of their most difficult years between 2010 and 2015. But it was his purchase of the BC Lions in late 1996 that made the biggest impact, as he rescued the franchise in the midst of turmoil and kept them alive in Vancouver.

We lost both last week: Joey was 57, David was 79. Rest in peace, gentlemen.

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