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Another year, another set of team previews! As per usual, this week features the four East Division teams, while next week features the five teams of the West Division. If you’d like to study up before making your picks in this year’s [DFO] CFL Pick ‘Em Pool, I highly recommending reading onwards! If you have yet to join, please click the link below in order to register. I look forward to having you in the competition!
And now, onto the main event.
Founded: 1950 (the Hamilton Tigers, est. 1869, and Hamilton Wildcats, est. 1941, merged to create the current franchise)
Home Stadium: Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, ON (24,000)
Grey Cups: 8 (1953, 1957, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1972, 1986, 1999)
2017 Record: 6-12, third in East Division; missed playoffs
GM: Eric Tillman
Head Coach: June Jones
Starting QB: Jeremiah Masoli (or, just in the realm of possibility, Johnny Manziel… more on this later.)
- Angelo Mosca, DT (won 5 Grey Cups, was a pro wrestler in the WWF known as both King Kong Mosca and The Mighty Hercules; famously got in a fight with BC Lions QB Joe Kapp over a hit in the 1963 Grey Cup, where he hit him several times with his cane… check out the video here!)
- Matt Dunigan, QB (2-time Grey Cup champion and current studio analyst for Canadian sports network TSN)
- Bernie Faloney, QB (3-time Grey Cup champion who chose the CFL over the San Francisco 49ers in 1954 because the Canadian dollar was worth more… kind of a shocker!)
Fun Facts: Tim Hortons, the quintessential Canadian coffee joint, is headquartered in Hamilton, and thus the stadium takes the naming rights from them; for whatever reason, there seems to be a major wind tunnel effect, and the new stadium, which replaced the ancient Ivor Wynne Stadium, is hellish for kickers. The Ti-Cats were also owned by insane Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard in the 1980s, who claimed at one point he was losing “a million dollars a year” on the team despite their on-field success. The Ti-Cats are the only CFL team to ever beat an NFL team, when they topped the Buffalo Bills on August 8, 1961. Every year, the Ti-Cats and archrival Argos play the Labour Day Classic at Hamilton’s home stadium, with a 31-15 advantage all-time in the series.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: After a disastrous start to the season, which led to sweeping changes including the resignation of former head coach Kent Austin and the benching of starting QB Zach Collaros, the Ti-Cats, who started the year 0-8, finished 6-4 in the final 10 games of the season – signs of a significant turnaround. As we gear up for the start of the 2018 season, there are a number of questions; some are on defense, which was lucky to re-sign two key cogs in the front seven in DL Ted Laurent and LB Larry Dean, but needs to see the secondary return to form. DB Abdul Kanneh, who spent much of 2017 battling various injuries, can be a playmaker for Hamilton, and they will need him, especially considering the loss of DB Emanuel Davis, who went to Calgary in the offseason. The largest story, though, of course features Johnny Football at front and centre. After being linked with Hamilton for well over a year before finally signing, it’ll be interesting to see his progress through training camp to see where (or, for those more negative, if) he ends up on the final roster. While Jeremiah Masoli definitely has the inside track on being the Ti-Cats’ starter after assuming that role halfway through last season, if Manziel can show the brilliance on-field that he did in his time with Texas A&M, then the rest of the year might be very intriguing for the Ti-Cats, at least from a QB perspective. Also battling for a roster spot is Vernon Adams Jr., the former Oregon quarterback who was signed originally by Montreal in 2016 and then traded last year to Saskatchewan. While he has college pedigree as well, he also has more of a body of work in the CFL to show off; while he’s served predominantly in a #3 role, handling short-yardage duties for the Alouettes and Roughriders, it’ll be curious to see if Hamilton ultimately opts to go for someone more familiar with the Canadian game than what Manziel might be able to master in such a short time period.
Key Additions: QB Johnny Manziel (FA), Vernon Adams Jr. (trade); RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (FA); WR Andy Fantuz (return from retirement); K Lirim Hajrullahu (FA),
Key Subtractions: QB Zach Collaros (trade), DT Davon Coleman (trade), DB Dominique Ellis (FA), LB Mitchell Barnett (FA), DB Emanuel Davis (released), OL Ryan Bomben (trade), WR Jamal Robinson (trade)
2018 Record Prediction: 9-9
Founded: 1996 (Original franchise 1946-1987)
Home Stadium: Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, McGill University, Montreal, QC (25,012)
Grey Cups: 4 (1995 as the Baltimore Stallions, 2002, 2009, 2010) (Original franchise won 4 – 1949, 1970, 1974, 1977)
2016 Record: 3-15, fourth in East Division; missed playoffs
GM: Kavis Reed
Head Coach: Mike Sherman
Starting QB: Drew Willy
- Anthony Calvillo, QB (football’s all-time passing yards leader, beating even Favre and Manning, with 79,816)
- Mike Pringle, RB (all-time CFL rushing yards leader – 16,425 on 2960 carries, averaging 5.6 YPC)
- Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, WR
Fun Facts: Percival Molson Stadium is the only one in the CFL that doesn’t contain perfectly square endzones due to a running track surrounding the field. Nobody seems to care, funny enough. The Als’ 2009 Grey Cup win against the Saskatchewan Roughriders ( which saw them win on a last-second field goal, their second attempt after Saskatchewan had successfully blocked the first one, but were penalized for too many men) is considered one of the greatest CFL championship games in the history of the league. The current franchise relocated from Baltimore in 1996, after the Stallions captured the 1995 Grey Cup, the only American team to ever do so.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: Last year was a horrendous year for the Alouettes; their first Francophone head coach, Jacques Chapdelaine, was in well over his head and got fired in the middle of the year; their major acquisition, quarterback Darian Durant of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was a major bust, and ended up retiring in the off-season. In the off-season, looking for something – anything – to try and turn this team around, GM Kavis Reed promptly went and… fired his defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, who was in charge of one of the few bright spots of the roster last year. While the defence did concede the most points in the league last year as well as finishing last in a number of other categories, they also really didn’t have much help to stay off the field when the offence was so horrendous. Not only that, but then Reed went out and signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman to be his new starter… who decided to retire just a few days into training camp. What an absolute mess. Head Coach Mike Sherman, the franchise’s sixth head coach in six seasons and former HC of the Green Bay Packers, has his work cut out for him here. Under centre this year is Drew Willy, former Argos & Bombers QB with a strong arm and good pocket mobility… but who has also previously been a turnover machine. Benched in favour of Matt Nichols in Winnipeg, and subsequently traded for a king’s ransom to Toronto to be Ricky Ray’s successor (and then released when that didn’t pan out at all), he’s still the Als’ best bet. There are some good pieces here on offence – receiver Ernest Jackson had a career year in Ottawa two seasons ago, and RB Tyrell Sutton was a workhorse back for Montreal last year – but ultimately, for anything at all to happen, the O-line play needs to be way stronger, and the team needs a QB who can make his throws. Dinking and dunking down the field last year killed this team – while arm strength is definitely an asset, accuracy remains a huge issue, and there’s too many question marks elsewhere in the roster to have much confidence that this team will amount to much of anything once again.
Key Additions: DE Jamaal Westerman (FA); CB Tommie Campbell, Mitchell White (FA); DB Dominique Ellis, Joe Burnett (FA), WR Jake Harty (FA), Jamal Robinson, Chris Williams (trade); FB Patrick Lavoie (trade); OL Ryan Bomben (trade)
Key Subtractions: QB Darian Durant (released, retired), LB Kyries Hebert (released), DB Jonathan Mincy (released to NFL), WR Alex Pierzchalski (retired), DE Gabriel Knapton (trade)
2018 Record Prediction: 5-13
Founded: 2013 (Original Rough Riders franchise lasted 1876-1996; Renegades 2002-2005)
Home Stadium: TD Place Stadium, Ottawa, ON (24,500)
Grey Cups: 1 (2016) (9 as the Rough Riders – 1925, 1926, 1940, 1951, 1960, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1976)
2017 Record: 8-9-1, second in East Division; lost in East Division semifinal to Saskatchewan
GM: Marcel Desjardins
Head Coach: Rick Campbell
Starting QB: Trevor Harris
- Russ Jackson, QB ( 3-time Most Outstanding Player, 4-time Most Outstanding Canadian, 6-time All-Star, one of the greatest Canadian QBs in the history of the game)
- Tony Gabriel, TE (scored the game-winning touchdown in the 1976 Grey Cup)
- Rohan Marley, LB (the bastard son of Bob Marley, was also married to singer Lauryn Hill)
- Dexter Manley, LB (he of the lifetime NFL ban for cocaine problems)
Fun Facts: if you say the name “Glieberman” in Ottawa, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get stabbed by someone. The financial mismanagement of this father & son team killed not only the historic Rough Riders in ’96, but the 2000s expansion Renegades as well. They are fucking idiots. (I am still hurt by the loss of the Rough Riders.) Fans in the stands also constantly talk shit about each other – “North Side Sucks!” and “South Side Sucks!” have been staples for decades at home games. Also, the team insists on spelling REDBLACKS in all capitals, and I still have no idea why.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: Ottawa wasn’t able to defend their Grey Cup title last season; a number of factors caused this, but certainly some prolonged injuries to starting QB Trevor Harris didn’t help matters much in staying ahead in what has been a notable weak East Division for the past couple seasons. A few other key injuries to top offensive linemen SirVincent Rogers and Nolan MacMillan, as well as star RB William Powell, also slowed things down, but the team is hoping they return to form soon. On defence, there’s been some notable turnover; former DC Mark Nelson was demoted to running the D-line, while former Alouettes DC Noel Thorpe will come in to take his place. On the field, Taylor “Tank” Reed left for Toronto, and his spot at middle linebacker is being filled by 37-year-old Kyries Hebert, who despite his age, had a very strong season for the Alouettes last year. Also of interest – Hebert is the only player left in the CFL who played for the Ottawa Renegades in their short-lived 2002-05 existence. Overall, this team hasn’t made sweeping changes like others have; GM Marcel Desjardins believes they’ll be competitive as they currently stand, and I’m inclined to agree the same – after some terrible luck the past couple seasons in one-score games, this is likely to even out at some point.
Key Additions: DE A.C. Leonard (FA), DB/LB Loucheiz Purifoy (FA), QB Dominique Davis (FA), LB Kyries Hebert, Rico Murray (FA), DL Darryl Waud, Michael Klassen (FA), FB J.C. Beaulieu (trade), K Richie Leone, Sergio Castillo (FA), RB Ed Ilnicki (draft)
Key Subtractions: DL Zack Evans (FA), K Brett Maher (released to NFL), QB Drew Tate, Ryan Lindley (released), LB Taylor Reed (FA), WR Jake Harty (FA), Kenny Shaw, Quincy McDuffie, Josh Stangby (released), DB Nick Taylor (released), Keelan Johnson (FA), OL J’Micheal Deane (retired)
2018 Record Prediction: 10-8
Home Stadium: BMO Field, Toronto, ON (26,500 for football crowds)
Grey Cups: 17 (1914, 1921, 1933, 1937, 1938, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1952, 1983, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2012, 2017)
2017 Record: 9-9, first in East Division; won Grey Cup
GM: Jim Popp
Head Coach: Marc Trestman
Starting QB: Ricky Ray
- Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, RB (largest contract in CFL history and MOP of the 1991 Grey Cup, one of the most exciting ever)
- Ricky Williams, RB (scampered north when the NFL suspended him in 2006 for weed. Gave no fucks about it.)
- Michael “Pinball” Clemons, RB (won 4 Grey Cups with the Argos and holds the CFL record for most all-purpose yards with 25,396)
- Damon Allen, QB (retired at age 44 in 2008, holds the record for combined passing and rushing yards in all of pro football, with 84,301)
- Doug Flutie, QB (6-time CFL MOP and QB for the NFL Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chargers)
Fun Facts: John Candy, Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall owned the Argos in the early ’90s; they also offered a CFL-record contract to Rocket Ismail ($18.2 million over four years – an absolutely unheard-of amount which has not come close to being equalled – QBs, which make the most money on average of all players in the league today, typically have contracts between $200-500,000 at the very most.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: The rebuild is already over in Toronto. After an absolutely shocking season, which culminated in a Grey Cup win – which absolutely nobody, including yours truly, predicted at the onset of last season – there’s still nowhere to go but up for the Argonauts. Ricky Ray, future CFL Hall of Famer and winner of four Grey Cups, inked a one-year extension to remain the team’s starter under centre, but GM Jim Popp made waves during the offseason by trading for Eskimos backup James Franklin to groom him as Ray’s replacement, once Ray finally decides to hang up the cleats for good. Other than a few other small moves on defence, the biggest addition the Argos get this season is a full season of James Wilder, Jr. at running back. After racking up multiple 200+all-purpose-yard games last season, he’ll have a real shot to be a dual threat back that could crack a thousand yards in both rushing and receiving. Also of note – the Argos added former Alouettes great Anthony Calvillo to serve as their quarterbacks coach; his close relationship with Marc Trestman and Jim Popp will serve Toronto very well as they continue to work magic in Ricky Ray’s golden years and prepare James Franklin for a life as the future starter for the Argos. Hopefully, attendance at BMO Field will pick up this year, with the team more successful than it’s been in many years.
Key Additions: LB Taylor Reed (FA), DB Ronnie Yell, TJ Heath (FA), QB James Franklin (trade), K Swayze Waters (FA)
Key Subtractions: QB Cody Fajardo (FA) Jeff Mathews (released), K Lirim Hajrullahu (FA), LB Rico Murray (FA), DB Mitchell White (FA), WR DeVier Posey (released to NFL), RB Brandon Whitaker (released)
2018 Record Prediction: 11-7