After the first four weeks of the 2009 CFL season teams are starting to show their true colours. And while there are still some perennial powerhouses at the top, some stronger teams of the past are spiraling to the basement of the league as they struggle to find new identities amongst the changes they have made. Here’s a look at how I see the teams after the first four games of the year.
No doubt they are the class of the East, they always are. This year though they are clearly the class of the league, which couldn’t always be said in the past. The Als look balanced, consistent, and they’ve already knocked off two west opponents, including the Stamps. It’s amazing how the Als restock and reload year after year and never seem to “rebuild”. There should be nothing standing in their way of getting to the Grey Cup (again). Mark Trestman looks like his rookie CFL coaching debut was no fluke. He is respected by his players, and his peers and has his team prepared to play each and every week.
The Grey Cup hangover appears to be wearing off and the Stamps annihilation of the Lions Friday was impressive and decisive. Henry Burris looks confident, and in my opinion is he best QB in the league right now. The Lions offensive line had no answers for the Calgary pass rush led by Labinjo, and whether that is more of a reflection of the Lions themselves remains to be seen, but this is a solid group and I see the Stamps getting stronger as we go.
The Riders offseason changes on defense were supposed to set them back, but they haven’t missed a beat. Picking up Stevie Baggs from Winnipeg was brilliant and their new linebacking core is getting the job done. What’s hurting them is inconsistency on offense and turnovers. Sound familiar? QB Darian Durant looks great on one drive, average the next and downright brutal on others. The Riders have a great back in Wes Cates, outstanding receivers, and their defense is playing well but until they get solid production from the QB spot, they’ll continue to be an average team.
As a CFL fan I am loving the fact the Ticats are off to a better start this year. Their latest loss to Montreal was tough, but they were the first club to hold the Als under 40 points, under 30 for that matter, and it looks like O’Billovich is starting to add some nice talent, as we all knew he would after having the time to do so. Quinton Porter is a work in progress, but Kevin Glenn has added a nice backup option off the bench. The Ticat defense looks to be much improved as well, with Otis Floyd fitting in nicely from BC and providing some nice leadership as he did with the Lions. Western teams can’t be assured a cross-over spot this year, and a win over the Lions next week at home could propel this team to even bigger and better things in the East and possibly even a home playoff game which would be outstanding for their long suffering fan base.
Toronto went the route of the Alouettes and hired a coach with NFL experience in Bart Andrus in the offseason. They also tried to beef up their offensive line with the addition of Rob Murphy from the BC Lions. To date the results have been mixed, and that’s to be expected. Andrus has laid down the law in Toronto with Adriano Belli and more recently Arland “Terrell Owens” Bruce. That move resulted in a big win on the road in Winnipeg. I expect the Argos may continue to improve. They have some nice pieces to work with and a coach with fresh ideas and philosophy’s
The Eskimos barely avoided the “weak” category, and only did so with a gutsy character filled comeback in Regina yesterday. After getting it handed to them at home against the Lions, the Eskies could have easily packed it in after getting down 22-0 at Mosaic. But they stuck with it and battled back to take over the game and get a win in a stadium where it’s tough to do so. The Eskimos overhauled defense has been hot and cold. Their biggest issues remain on offense, but that could change if they finally clue in and use Calvin McCarty as their featured back. Ricky Ray has taken a lot of heat from Eskimo fans, but without an established running game, and an average offensive line performance he hasn’t had a chance to be effective.
New head coach Mike Kelly made a lot of enemies early on, and from day one I questioned the appointment of Stefan Lefors as the Bombers number one QB. To put all your faith in a QB that has never been more than a backup was dangerous move. Things have gotten so bad the Bombers are now airlifting in Michael Bishop at QB. Can Casey Printers be far behind? Four of the teams next five games are on the road, and if the Bombers don’t solve their offensive woes quickly, their season could be over quickly.
Last and possibly least, my own BC Lions. Yes, there have been a ton of offseason changes. But there are still enough veterans on this team that there should have been no excuse for the no-show at home versus the Grey Cup champs,who owned you last season. If they had put up a fight maybe they squeak out of the “weak” label. This team seems to have an overconfidence problem that is reflecting on it’s leadership. Turnovers, missed assignments, dumb penalties…you name it the Lions have done it this season. How many players does Buono have to axe to get his point across? At some point the players in the room have respond and take responsibility, buckle down and play inspired football.
There are questions about the coaches as well, including Buono himself, with many wondering if the game is passing him by. Is he too stubborn to change his ways? Why does he show such loyalty to his coaches, but is quick to axe his players? The defense under Mike Benevides hasn’t been the same since Dave Ritchie retired, and Jacques Chapdelaine continues to call the offense despite his title of receivers coach. At what point to the coaches become responsible?
The offensive line is struggling, there’s a new running back with promise trying to find his way, and QB’s who have zero time to set up not producing. The Lions need to figure it out quickly because at 1-3 and in the West division, there is not a whole lot of margin for failure. It will be interesting to see if the Lions can rebound in Hamilton like the Eskimos did in Regina after their embarrassing loss at home.