Are you ready for some football?Jun 19, 2012 - 1:41 PM Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The countdown to the 100th Grey Cup is on and although that momentous occasion it is still months away, perhaps it isn't too early to check out what's going on with four of the eight members of the Canadian Football League with the start of the regular season just around the corner.
During the off-season the Lions of British Columbia celebrated an unlikely victory in the most recent Grey Cup, a 34-23 triumph over Winnipeg in their very own stadium. From August 19 through the end of the campaign, the Lions lost just one game, but that was only after the team opened 2011 with five straight setbacks and six in the first seven outings overall, so coming home with the trophy had to have been somewhat of a stunner for head coach Wally Buono who has since turned over the on-field leadership to Mike Benevides.
Named the 24th head coach in club history, Benevides watched his squad hammer Saskatchewan, 44-10, in the first preseason game of this year. BC scored in every quarter of the meeting and held the Roughriders scoreless in both the first and third frames.
Starting quarterback Travis Lulay saw limited action for the Lions as he converted seven pass attempts for 72 yards. Instead, it was Mike Reilly who stole the show as he connected on 16-of-24 passes for 189 yards and three majors in just over two periods of play. Obviously, Lulay remains the top option under center for the Lions after throwing for more than 4,800 yards and 32 TDs a season ago, but certainly the squad can't complain with Reilly's accurate performance.
Unfortunately for the Roughriders, their performance in the first outing since closing 2011 with six defeats in seven tries was uninspired. The Lions defeated Saskatchewan in all three meetings last year and it was simply more of the same this time around as well.
Winners of only five games last season, the Riders have a lot to prove and it begins with quarterback Darian Durant who is trying to fight his way back from a lackluster 2011. Durant has always been a gambler, believing he can squeeze a ball into tight coverage and come out on top, but his interception total (63) in his first six seasons in the league says otherwise.
Durant, who suffered a foot injury late last year, was gone in a flash versus the Lions, as he and the offense went two-and-out on their first two drives. The signal-caller missed on all three of his pass attempts and was never seen again. Granted, it was the first preseason game, but at least give the fans something to hang their hopes on for the coming year.
Brought on to breathe new life into the Toronto Argonauts is veteran gunslinger Ricky Ray. Having spent the first nine years of his CFL career with Edmonton, Ray was spectacular for the Eskimos in his first three outings of 2011, throwing for more than 1,000 yards and six TDs without a single interception, a level of accuracy that the Argos are hoping he can mimic this year.
Toronto won only six games last season, and it wasn't until the final weeks that the squad was able to put together consecutive victories. While the change in quarterback should be a positive step, the loss of wideout Jeremaine Copeland will be tough to overcome. A 11-year veteran, resulting in more than 10,000 yards and a couple of championship rings, Copeland leaves behind a legacy that will be difficult to match.
But the cupboard is not completely bare when it comes to receivers for the Argos because the team intends to use speedster Chad Owens much more as a slot man this year. Owens has shown that he can be one of the top kick returners in the league, so now is the time to borrow that skill for the offense and put one of the most dangerous players in the league on the field more often.
Not only are the Hamilton Tiger-Cats preparing to start a new season with a new head coach in George Cortez, who took over for the departing Marcel Bellefeuille, the club is also scheduled to play their final games at Ivor Wynne Stadium before moving into new digs in 2014.
Hamilton, which was inconsistent at best a year ago, particularly over the second half of the schedule, brought in a couple of new faces on offense which should give the team hope for better results this time around. Although he appeared in just four games for Saskatchewan in 2011 after signing on with and being waved by the NFL's Chicago Bears, wideout Andy Fantuz finds himself in yet another new uniform. A solid possession receiver who will fight for the tough yards, Fantuz has averaged almost 15 yards per catch in his previous six CFL seasons.
Delivering the ball to Fantuz and the rest of the Hamilton receiving corps will be Henry Burris, the former Calgary standout who went from seven consecutive seasons with at least 4,200 yards passing to just 3,687 yards a year ago. Burris, the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 2010, turned a mere seven completions into 214 yards and one score in the 29-24 loss to Toronto in the first preseason outing last week.
Never cut-and-dry, the CFL proved last year that it is as unpredictable as it is exciting and that means that any one of the four aforementioned clubs could be hoisting the Grey Cup on November 25, 2012, at Rogers Centre in Toronto. However, there's still four other teams to dissect and we will do that next week before the official start of the season.
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