Two surprising early season CFL trends

Two games into an 18 game season is hardly the time to make an assessment of the CFL thus far, but that is the direction I am headed this week. It is brash and foolish territory that smarter people would avoid like the plague.

Two games into an 18 game season is hardly the time to make an assessment of the CFL thus far, but that is the direction I am headed this week. It is brash and foolish territory that smarter people would avoid like the plague.

The biggest surprise of the early season has to be the Edmonton Eskimos. Eric Tillman is famous for his ability to gut a team and produce a contender in a hurry. His 2007 Grey Cup year in Saskatchewan was the result of a big house cleaning that began with incompetent head coach Danny Barrett and trickled down to expensive deadwood on the roster.

Tillman came to Edmonton with the same philosophy: he identified the team weaknesses and brought out a sturdy push broom. The biggest weakness was the offensive line and Canadian content in the Igloo, and Tillman went right after these problems.

It is a simple formula when you have a great quarterback like Ricky Ray: you protect your biggest asset like he was a human embodiment of Fort Knox. Tillman was quick to add import talent to his O-line to do the job.

Ray is a guided missile when he has time to throw the ball, and his re-discovered accuracy came as a big surprise for skeptical Eskimo fans who felt that his under-talented and over-rated 2010 backup (Zabransky) was a better pivot. The delusions have abated since Big Z got quickly unemployed by Tillman for his lack of talent.

The other part of the equation was the addition of defensive guru Rich Stubler to the coaches’ staff. Stubler is arguably one of the best defensive coaches to ever construct mayhem for opponents’ offences.

He believes in a very aggressive attack-style defense that plays within a very disciplined system. Stubler can make a player better than his credentials if the player is willing to buy into the system. The early season results indicate that the Eskimo defense is buying into Stubler like he was a Costco store with a big sale.

The other side of the equation has been the surprisingly poor play of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the early season. They have been annihilated in both games by a soft defence and a misfiring offence.

I have never been a fan of a Richie Hall defence. He seems to favor a soft zone cover game that ensures that rival offensive players are likely to be top candidates for player of the week honors.

His return to Saskatchewan was more of a warm and fuzzy moment because he is such a nice guy. It’s too bad that we all know where nice guys finish in the violent game of football.

But at least Richie has a balanced attack of no quarterback pressure and soft cover in the secondary. His previous tenure as the ’Rider defensive coordinator was a little unbalanced because he had one facet that actually worked in his defence.

This year his defence will get lit up more than Times Square on New Year’s Eve if present trends continue to plague the team. Present trends also include an inconsistent ’Rider offence that cannot assist a porous defence. You do not want to go two-and-out against people like Calvillo and Ray; they will punish your defence.

Ultimately it is a long season and early season success or failure is not an accurate barometer of the teams. But they do indicate some trends for the new season.

Jim Sutherland is a weekly contributor for the Red Deer Advocate during the CFL season. He may be reached at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday, March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau announces donation to Duke of Edinburgh’s award ahead of funeral

Canada will donate $200,000 to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award as… Continue reading

Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (Science) Will Amos responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says the fact that a screenshot of him in the nude was leaked to the media sends a troubling message about the corrosive state of politics in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Canada’s naked MP speaks out: leaked photo sends message ‘anything goes’ in politics

OTTAWA — The Liberal MP who inadvertently flashed his parliamentary colleagues says… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $10 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $10 million jackpot… Continue reading

Opinion: Canada’s self-esteem needs Trump

Well, it was fun while it lasted. For four years, with Donald… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Shenanigans on the links

It must be something about my Scottish heritage but I seem to… Continue reading

Most Read