Right now the Alberta CFL teams are on very separate roads in the early portion of the season.
Personally, as an avowed Saskatchewan Roughrider fan, I would like to seem both teams on the same path of self-destruction, but only the Eskimos are on that perilous highway. So let’s try to shed some light on the fortunes of the two teams.
Most people felt that the Stamps would be in trouble this year. There were big question marks about the Calgary O-line and their ability to protect Hank from grievous bodily harm. This same concern surfaced two years ago — the year the Stamps won the Grey Cup.
The Calgary Stampeders played the Saskatchewan Roughriders four times last year and never beat the ’Riders once. That streak ended with an exclamation mark last weekend. I believe that the secret ingredient is John Hufnagel.
Hufnagel is not a warm and fuzzy kind of coach. Nor is he a fiery maniac on the sidelines. But he will react very vocally to player mistakes and he got very loud during a practice a few days before the ’Rider game. Hufnagel did not like the tempo or attitude at a practice and unloaded on his players.
Message received and understood.
During the game, Hufnagel took Henry Burris and receiver Romby Bryant to task after a blown assignment resulted in a Saskatchewan interception in the ’Rider end zone. The sideline lesson took pretty well with the two guys. Burris threw four touchdown passes; two of them to Bryant, who was player of the week.
The other side of the coin for Calgary was the play of their interior D-linemen in the game against Saskatchewan. The Stampeders were last in quarterback sacks heading into the game, but somebody forgot to tell the Calgary front four. They manhandled Saskatchewan’s guards and center and laid some serious hurt on ’Rider quarterback Darian Durant.
Calgary tackles Tom Johnson and Devone Claybrooks made this a statement game for the Stampeder defense. The trademark of a Hufnagel team is brute force on both sides of the ball. Tailback Joffrey Reynolds simply runs over guys, while the Stamp defense likes to beat the hell out of guys.
Contrast the Calgary situation with the current state of affairs in Edmonton.
Coach Richie Hall is at the very end of a short plank, and the only comfort is that he is not alone. General manager Danny Maciocia is shoulder to shoulder with him.
Maciocia is a beloved favorite of CFL fans-everywhere but Edmonton. He inherited a good roster of veterans like Ed Hervey and Jason Tucker from Tom Higgins. Then he skated along with that team into a Grey Cup. He followed up success with a series of bad roster moves and became the first Edmonton coach to miss the playoffs since 1971.
The Eskimos rewarded his failures with a promotion to general manager and brought in Richie Hall as head coach. It appeared to be a good move — it wasn’t.
Chronic O-line protection problems have plagued the Eskimos. They have also shortened talented quarterback Ricky Ray’s career — if not his lifespan.
There is no end in sight for the Eskimos. I believe they are a basically talented team, but they desperately need a new direction and motivation. Hufnagel anyone?
More of Jim Sutherland at mystarcollectorcar.com