Fri Oct 08 06:14pm EDT
This week's edition of Secondhand Eight starts with a look at the Edmonton-Hamilton Friday night game, which could prove crucial for both teams' playoff prospects. Before we get there, though, it's worth mentioning a couple of league-wide stories. I wrote about Adriano Belli's amazing charitable donation earlier today, but he's hardly the only CFL player doing great things for charity.
Eight CFL players out to make a difference will have some of their charitable ideas recognized through a special CFL/Pepsi Refresh Project collaboration for ideas ranging from supporting juvenile diabetes research (Rob Bagg, Saskatchewan) to "Hunger For Hope" (Luke Fritz, Winnipeg). Fans can read more about the initiative and vote for their favourite idea here; the winning idea will receive a $50,000 charitable grant from Pepsi, with the other charities receiving $2,000 each. The first round of voting ends Oct. 29, and the final round ends Nov. 24. Now, let's get to the team-by-team news, starting with the Tiger-Cats.
Hamilton: Drew Edwards reports that Tiger-Cats general manager Bob O'Billovich hasn't been too impressed with his players' performance lately, and is telling them to shape up or be shipped out. That seems pretty appropriate, as they managed to lose 37-35 to the lowly Eskimos last weekend. The Tiger-Cats have now lost two straight games, and only won the one before that in B.C. thanks to five straight fourth-quarter turnovers by the Lions.
Hamilton is 6-7 on the season and tied for second in the East with Toronto, but their playoff position is by no means secure; 3-10 Winnipeg could still catch them and an Edmonton win would put the Eskimos only one game behind the Tiger-Cats, setting up a potential West-to-East crossover if Edmonton finishes ahead of Hamilton. They seem likely to get an offensive boost with the probable return of star Canadian slotback Dave Stala after he suffered whiplash from a tremendous hit (video here) from the Eskimos' Elliott Richardson last week.
However, the Tiger-Cats' biggest issues are on defence, particularly in the secondary, which has conceded over 300 yards through the air in each of their last three games. Stevie Baggs is likely to return up front for tonight's game (7:30 p.m. Eastern/4:30 Pacific, TSN in Canada, NFL Network in the U.S.), but they'll need their defensive backs to step up if they want to win this one. As Kate McKenna's video preview points out, they also need to work on maintaining leads instead of throwing them away:
Montreal: The Alouettes have also displayed defensive issues lately, particularly in last week's blowout by Calgary. Herb Zurkowsky of The Montreal Gazette spoke to defensive coordinator Tim Burke about his unit's recent struggles and what some of the problems might be.
Burke said a lot of the issues have come on big plays where players got their assignments crossed in zone coverage. He also wasn't happy with the play that saw Nik Lewis turn a two-yard completion into a 36-yard touchdown pass, which was about much more than just Mark Estelle being unable to bring Lewis down:
"It wasn't one of our finer moments," Burke said. "Estelle missed the tackle, but three others were in position to make the tackle and their effort was horrendous. Guys were in position, if they hustled, to make the tackle. That play was indicative of our performance."
In other Alouettes' news, kicker/punter Damon Duval is still hurt. Candidates to replace him include Colt David and Sam Swank. The Als might also get ace return man Larry Taylor back soon after his release by the New York Jets. For the moment, though, they'll be focusing on being more mentally prepared for the rematch against the Stampeders (Monday, 1 p.m. Eastern, TSN).
Toronto: One important facet of the Adriano Belli story is that while it's great that he's donating his pay to help sick kids while he's injured, the Argonauts are still going to miss him on the field. He may only have five tackles this year, but that's largely thanks to battling injury all season and only seeing limited playing time; his veteran leadership on defence will be missed. That could lead to more time for everyone's favourite team-switching defensive player, though, who commented earlier in the week that he'd like more playing time.
Elsewhere on the injury front, the Argonauts will be bringing Cleo Lemon back to a starting role despite his recent ineffectiveness and Dalton Bell's decent performance in Lemon's absence last week, which suggests that they might at least partly share Winnipeg's wins-and-losses-based approach to evaluating quarterbacks.
According to Terry Koshan, though, the Argos may put Bell in if Lemon struggles in the intense environment in Regina; Bell used to be a Roughrider, so he has more experience with what it's like to play in Mosaic Stadium. As Mark Masters writes, the Argonauts have been practicing dealing with crowd noise all week, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy for them to get a win in Saskatchewan. The Cory Boyd Experience seems set to continue, as he's leading the CFL in rushing with 1,048 yards on 175 carries despite missing two games thanks to a concussion, and he seems to be as healthy as ever. However, the Argonauts will need to give him some help if they want to pull out a win Saturday (5 p.m. Eastern, TSN).
Winnipeg: The decision to go to Alex Brink at quarterback is still the main topic of discussion in Winnipeg ahead of Monday's crucial clash with B.C. Ed Tait has a neat profile on Brink and how he got to this point; similarly to the much-discussed story of Kurt Warner stocking shelves at a grocery store, Brink was out of a football job this winter and working at a warehouse in Oregon. Now, he's making his first start for a team that desperately needs a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Hopefully the Bombers won't be throwing him to the Lions Monday (4:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN).
Saskatchewan: The big news in Regina this week was the Darian Durant injury saga, which Rob Vanstone breaks down in terrific detail. As Vanstone's Regina Leader-Post colleague Murray McCormick writes, though, Durant is expected to start Saturday's game against the Argonauts (5 p.m. Eastern, TSN). That's good news for the Roughriders, as Durant had one of his best games of the season last week against Toronto, completing 29 of 37 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. If he can keep that up, there might be plenty of joy in Riderville Saturday.
Edmonton: The Eskimos will be going for their third-straight win tonight in Hamilton (7:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN/NFLN). As Mario Annicchiarico writes, they haven't done that in almost five years. Part of the key to another win will be the performance of their offensive line. Con Griwkowsky reports that the team also will be getting receiver Kamau Peterson back from injury, which should help. This still isn't going to be an easy one for Edmonton to win on the road, though, as it's crucial to both teams' playoff hopes.
Calgary: Allen Cameron of The Calgary Herald reports that the Stampeders have signed former Eskimo and Blue Bomber LB/DB Siddeeq Shabazz, who was recently cut by the UFL. He should be a nice addition to their already-formidable depth on defence. One area they will still have to work on improving is special teams, though, as both Rita Mingo and Stampeders punter Burke Dales wrote in the Herald this week. They face a tough challenge on the road in Montreal Monday (1 p.m. Eastern, TSN).
B.C.: The Lions might just be rounding into form. They've pulled off successive wins over Calgary and Winnipeg, even if last week's victory over the Blue Bombers was narrowly determined by Paul McCallum's field goals and Travis Lulay's aerial endeavours. On the field, the biggest debate at the moment might be Lowell Ullrich's discussion of if McCallum or Sean Whyte will start at kicker Monday in Winnipeg (4:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN). Receiver Shawn Gore might see more action as well thanks to Paris Jackson's injury struggles. Ullrich also has a solid piece on Lions' safety David Hyland, and off the field, there appears to be some renewed interest in buying the team from Nanaimo's Hadi Abassi, who's been mentioned as a potential candidate before.
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