The real football action has been in the CFL West for several seasons. The Wild West still has the top gunslingers with Ricky Ray and Henry Burris, but I doubt that either one of them are destined for a Grey Cup High Noon showdown in Cowtown.
The top guns in the West live one province east of us in Saskatchewan, where the Roughriders will surprise everyone with a first place finish in the competitive CFL West. The ’Riders are the Rodney Dangerfields of the league because they get little or no respect as a legitimate football force — even from their own overly pessimistic fan base.
However, there is nothing remotely funny about the Saskatchewan defence this year, as long as they stay healthy. These guys are stone-cold killers who want to lay a world of hurt on quarterbacks this year.
The pressure will come from everywhere and hired assassins, led by bloodthirsty ends Stevie Baggs and John Chick, will arrive in a very bad mood in the backfield. The linebackers are lighter and faster this year and their mobility will define a pressure defence designed to produce confusion and fear in opponents. Platooned D-linemen will stay fresher and angrier in the trenches. None of this is good news in other CFL cities.
’Rider defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry believes in annihilation on the football field as a road to success. The Roughriders will need their defence to win games this year while the offence finds itself, and not in that cheesy ’70s “why I backpacked in Europe” sense. It’s more along the ‘why we contributed to a Grey Cup championship” sense.
Second fiddle in the West will be played by the Calgary Stampeders. The Stamps are a very good football team but they lost some solid inside guys on the D-line to the NFL, as well as the services of middle linebacker JoJuan Armour to bad behaviour.
Last year, the Stampeders had a ferocious defence which, in tandem with the offence, provided the best balanced duo since Lennon-McCartney. The song will not be the same this year in Calgary, but I hope they will still be gracious Grey Cup hosts.
Third best in the West will likely be the Lions’ den again this year. B.C. lost their one -man wrecking crew on defence when rush (with heavy emphasis on rush) end Cameron Wake decided to cash in on his enormous talents with an NFL contract. Wake will be an all-pro down south, not unlike Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, and the lesser known Joe Horn. We have plenty of talent in our league but, unfortunately, too many football “experts” fail to acknowledge this fact. They don’t rate until they’re down south on a Madden video game. That’s the mantra in football idiot world.
However, I am here to discuss our league this week, including my choice for last place in the CFL West: the Edmonton Eskimos. Richie Hall is probably the second nicest guy in football behind Pinball Clemons, but that does not translate into victories.
Rick Worman is his offensive co-ordinator this year. Worman, in case nobody outside of his own family has heard of him, was a mediocre CFL quarterback in the ’80s. I fully expect the same result from coach Worman, even with Ricky Ray as a triggerman. No run game plus Worman equals fourth place by my math.
Next week: Early observations and irritations.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance columnist whose column on the CFL appears on Fridays. He can be reached at mystarcollectorcar.com