MONTREAL — Just when Jeremiah Masoli thought he could go into a CFL season confident in his role as starting quarterback, in swept Johnny Football to steal the spotlight.
While it would be a surprise if coach June Jones doesn’t hand Masoli the ball when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats open the regular season Saturday in Calgary, there will likely be more fans with their eyes on backup Johnny Manziel.
The 25-year-old, who won a Heisman Trophy as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2012 but flamed out as an NFL quarterback amid reports of attitude problems and off-field partying, signed with the Ticats just before training camp, vowing to get his life in order and resurrect his football career.
“I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I’m eager for what the future holds,” Manziel posted on Twitter.
The Ticats opened the 2017 season 0-8 with Zach Collaros behind centre before Jones took over and made Masoli his starter. Masoli went 6-4 the rest of the way and, while it didn’t get Hamilton into the playoffs, it at least raised hope that the quarterback position was settled going into 2018.
Manziel has at least provided a pre-season talking point for a league that is mostly stable at the starting quarterback position.
Mike Reilly is back to defend his outstanding player award in Edmonton, Bo Levi Mitchell still rules in Calgary and Ricky Ray returns for a 17th CFL season with Toronto. Also back are Matt Nichols in Winnipeg (though he starts the season on the injured list) and Trevor Harris in Ottawa, while veteran Drew Willy and Jonathon Jennings are the favourites to start in Montreal and British Columbia, respectively.
It is only in Saskatchewan where a choice must be made between Collaros and Canadian Brandon Bridge.
Here’s a look at each team’s quarterback situation:
B.C. Lions: Veteran Travis Lulay took over when Jennings injured a shoulder four games into 2017 and did well until he suffered a torn ACL on Sept. 8. The Lions ended up missing the playoffs for the first time in 20 years and had the West Division’s worst offence. After considering retirement, Lulay opted to return for a 10th season and will likely be Jennings’ backup again, at least to start the season.
Edmonton Eskimos: Reilly started all 18 games and had a career season with a team-record 5,830 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes. It was a second straight 5,000-yard campaign, and he also led the league with 12 rushing TDs. The 38-year-old Kevin Glenn, who started for Saskatchewan last year, is the new backup. Glenn will now have played for all nine CFL teams.
Calgary Stampeders: Mitchell has been a rock in Calgary, missing only one game in six seasons — a knee injury in 2014. Last year the 28-year-old led them to a 13-4-1 record and first place overall, only to lose a second Grey Cup game in a row. Trusty backup Andrew Buckley left for med school, making Ricky Stanzi the new No. 2.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: After rebounding from a 5-13 campaign to go 10-8 and make the playoffs for the first time in three years, Riders boss Chris Jones opted to acquire Collaros and release Glenn, who had played 17 games. Then he declared the starting job open going into camp. That gives Bridge a shot at becoming a rare Canadian starter. The Toronto native has one start in three CFL seasons.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: The 31-year-old Nichols is coming off a solid season with 4,472 passing yards and 28 TDs, but injured his knee during camp and is out four to six weeks. Rookie Chris Streveler will start the opener. Veteran Darian Durant signed in January only to retire just before camp. That came after Dominique Davis was released and Dan LeFevour retired.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Masoli had decent stats last season — 3,177 yards and 15 TDs — in 12 appearances, while also rushing for 446 yards. The 29-year-old is entering his sixth season with Hamilton. Now he has extra motivation with Manziel on the bench.
Toronto Argonauts: Ricky Ray rebounded from two injury-wracked seasons to reach the 5,000-yard mark for a fourth time and lead the Argos to an unexpected Grey Cup. Coach Marc Trestman didn’t hesitate to name Ray the starter again when the 38-year-old opted to return for what should be his final season. Highly regarded James Franklin was acquired from Edmonton as insurance.
Ottawa Redblacks: Trevor Harris threw for 4,479 yards in only 15 games in his first season as the starter after Henry Burris retired. But the 32-year-old will want a better start than the 1-6-1 opening that put Ottawa in an early hole last season. The mobile Davis, after three years in Winnipeg, is the backup.
Montreal Alouettes: Matt Shiltz might be the quarterback of the future, but new coach Mike Sherman may prefer veteran Drew Willy, at least to start the season. Willy has a dependable if unspectacular 52 games of CFL experience over seven seasons. He joined Montreal during the 2017 season and played six times. The team signed veteran Jeff Mathews this week.