Final Approaches to Training Camp

May 11, 2018 - 8:19am

The annual crapshoot called the CFL Draft has come and gone and teams did a combination of picking the best athlete and the best athlete not likely to have an NFL try-out.

Interesting teams to watch were the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who loaded up on a variety of draft picks, and Montreal Alouettes, who held the first overall pick, but also hold a ridiculous amount of holes in their lineup.

Montreal decided to trade down with Hamilton, who had the second overall pick, exchanging picks, but also picking up receiver Jamal Robinson and offensive lineman Ryan Bomhein and a player from Hamilton’s Neg list. Initial rumor was the player was American malcontent Johnny Manziel who is trying all his PR 101 tactics to try to get back into a lucrative football job, but that is apparently not the case.

Hamilton may have made the move to clear some salary space for Manziel, but the other stumbling block is that if Manziel signs, he will have to sign for two years and not get a one year and out so he can try the NFL. Manziel desperately needs to show the NFL he is serious about football and willing to work on being a better player and teammate, but Manziel’s motivations are more dollar based and in the end, Manziel’s selfishness extends no further than Manziel and the longer he is outside a structured football environment, the harder it will be for him to salvage any form of a career, either north or south of the border.

Hamilton would like to sign Manziel, but they are moving ahead on the basis they have a starter in Jeremiah Masoli and a capable backup in Vernon Adams Jr., so Manziel’s only bonus would be in visibility and perhaps jersey sales. And considering how the Riders are the third largest selling sports team in Canada and the Riders swamp the rest of the CFL teams in merchandise sales, I don’t think Manziel would move the needle much in that direction.

Hamilton chose Mark Chapman, receiver, as their number one pick, which makes sense considering the end of the road of Andy Fantuz’s career. Montreal addressed a need by taking offensive lineman Trey Rutherford second. BC had two picks in the first round and came away with offensive lineman Peter Godber at third and then defensive lineman Julien Laurent. BC needed to rebuild their lines and these two picks were good start forward.

With training camps opening up next week, there was the usual getting down to training camp sizes but also some interesting changes in coaching staffs. In Montreal Kahlil Carter stepped down for personal reasons and will hang on as a scout as Rich Stubler, brought in as a consultant, takes over the defense. It sounds like there is an illness in Carter’s family and I hope things resolve themselves favorably, but while the hiring of Carter seemed to be a nice promotion for the former defensive back coach of the Calgary Stampeders, Stubler will bring more experience in calling defensive schemes, but he has also shown himself to be somewhat predictable and that will be interesting to see how Montreal’s defense comes out of the chute.

Montreal brought back former defensive lineman Allan-Michael Cash for a one year contract while releasing Canadian defensive backs Michael Carter and Daryl Townsend. They also released linebackers Clemente Casseus and defensive back Terence Bailey.

Hamilton released former Olympic sprinter Akeem Haynes and Defensive Back Caleb Duncan and Keon Lyn and receiver Art Riles. Defensive backs Dustin Blackmon and Justin Rogers, Offensive Lineman Will Freeman, Linebacker Geoff Hughes and defensive lineman Ryan Mueller retired. The Tiger-Cats did add receivers Andrew Tarzilli, Chris Hubert, Bryce Wilkerson and Jarvis Baxter.

The BC Lions signed former Eskimo running back Travon Van as they looked to pump up their running game. Van joins Jeremiah Johnson, Chris Rainey, Brandon Rutley and Shaun Wick in what should be an interesting and competitive battle at running back. The running back position will be helped by the appearance of Rolly Lumbala at fullback. The Lions also welcomed back Bo Lokombo at linebacker from the NFL.

The Lions bolstered their receiving corps by signing Kevin Elliot and released defensive back Matt Bucknor which was a bit of a surprise. The Lions also signed WR Samajie Grant (I), WR Ronnie Holley (I), WR Vernon Johnson (I), WR Kenny Lawler (I).

In Calgary, the changing of the guard continues as Andrew Buckley retired to go study medicine, making Ricky Stanzi the early betting favorite to back up Bo Levi Mitchell. Speaking of Canadian quarterbacks, after not getting drafted by a CFL team, Noah Picton was signed as a free agent by the Toronto Argonauts. With Ricky Ray and James Franklin in camp, Picton is likely to be returned to the Rams for his last year, but the experience should be invaluable.

Another retirement took place in Edmonton as Rory Kohlert retired as a career spanning Winnipeg and Calgary before ending up in Edmonton. Jason Maas and Brock Sutherland had their contracts extended to 2020 which provides the Eskimos with a semblance of stability as they look to play in the Grey Cup they are hosting.

Meanwhile in Riderville, the draft didn’t follow what many might have expected with the Riders pickign offensive lineman Dakota Shepley, who had signed with the New York Jets in a contract that saw him paid $10,000. Shepley is currently in the Jets camp but if his Jets stint doesn’t work out, he would come up to Riderville.

The Riders picked Micha Teitz, who has one of the great names for a football player, and is a linebacker from the University of Calgary. Teitz may well end up on the practice roster or playing special teams as the Riders have a large line of Canadians looking to man one of the linebacking positions.

The Riders picked up Mathieu Breton from Bishop’s in the fifth round and even though he played defensive line, he will be tried out on defensive and offensive line, part of Chris Jones’ efforts to build a versatile team than can fit in a number of positions. The Riders picked defensive lineman Tresor Buama-Mafata, one of the great football names, from St. Mary’s. He didn’t play last year due to eligibility issues, and the Riders felt they lucked out in being able to grab him where they did.

The Riders final pick was Christopher Smith, an offensive lineman from York, who didn’t get an invite to a regional or CFL combine, but whom the Riders felt was a great pick considering it was the eighth round. The Riders are obviously hoping their scouting is more extensive and better able to identify the diamonds in the rough but to be honest, in the two years Chris Jones has been picking players, his percentage in identifying who is ready to play is not, uh, good.

One of Chris Jones’ first picks was Josiah St. John who is entering the final year of his contract needing to show some substantial improvement since being drafted first overall. Jones laid out an intial plan for th offensive line heading into training camp and indicated with Travis Bond, he would be starting at a guard position, although which one has yet to be determined. Bond gets one spot due to his size and Jones sees Brendon LaBatte or Dariusz Bladek as the other guard, although LaBatte could move into the center position and Bladek at guard.

Dan Clark was kind of put on notice in Jones’ media talk by Jones noting Clark is a great team guy, but could very well lose his starting position at center and could end up as backup centre or guard. Of the criticisms of Clark is his arms maybe too short to be an effective centre considering the percentage of muffed plays.

Terran Vaughn is pencilled in at one tackle spot while Thaddeus Coleman gets one tackle spot. If St. John fails to win a starting job, he could find himself backing up the tackles, but the Riders may be realizing that St. John may not have played enough at Oklahoma to be a viable first round pick and needed years to learn how to train and play as a professional.

On defense it looks like Samuel Equavoen will be starting in the middle with Derrick Montcrief at one linebacking position and a likely combination of Sam Hurl, Cameron Judge, Brandyn Bartlett, Alexandre Chevrier, Kevin Francis, Alexandre Gagne, Dillon Grondin all competing for the Canadian linebacking position. One of the problems here is the linebackers have been nicked to some degreeso the ability to stay healthy never mind playing well will be crucial here.

On defense it seems the defensive tackle position will be a Canadian one while safety will be the other one. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

The Riders running back situation may have sorted itself a bit with the news that Trent Richardson will not be at the start of training camp. Richardson made some noise about trying the NFL out this season, apparently forgetting he is a Rider for another year. That seems to leave Jerome Messam and Cameron Marshall splitting things up, which is a smart move considering these particular players tend to get wounded on a somewhat regular basis. If Chris Jones is able to establish a rotation, which will be helped when Marcus Thigpen returns after a two game suspension for failing a drug test, the combination of a physical line and a rotation of running backs tht can punish you would seem to be the first necessary step to reduce pressure on the quarterback.

The Riders introduced their inductees for the Plaza of Honour and it appears former Rider CEO and player Jim Hopson will make it in along with offensive lineman John Terry, of whom I have his home and away jersey. No one could really quibble with those choices, but the question was asked about why

Kerry Joseph was not inducted, or former GM Roy Shivers. Both of these would have been great choices, and while some claim there is a five year limit of being a Rider player before consideration be given for inductions. Which is bullcrap. Rhwett Dawson was elected after a three year career, let’s say realistically two and half years, and while Dawson was one of my favorite players to watch as a kid, Joseph did win a Grey Cup and we’ve had only four quarterbacks who could say that.

The fun starts next week and the first exhibition to be televised will be the Riders at Edmonton on May 27. This has been a ridiculously long off season.

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