Andrew Bucholtz

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Andrew Bucholtz is a Canadian football blogger for Yahoo! Sports.

  • Flag football? CFL penalties are up 30 per cent

    CFL VP (officiating) and former referee Glen Johnson said player inexperience may be part of why penalties have shot up 30% this year.One of the most notable elements of the 2014 CFL season thus far has been the amount of penalties called. Paul Friesen of The Winnipeg Sun dug into that this week, talking to CFL vice-president of officiating Glen Johnson Wednesday. Johnson confirmed that there's been an average of 24 penalties per game thus far, a 30 per cent rise over the 18.4 called last year, and talked about how that's not the intention of the league office:

    The average number of penalties per game has exploded this season, up 30 percent from last year: from 18.4 per game to 24, league vice-president of officiating Glen Johnson confirmed in an interview with the Sun, Wednesday.

    "There's more penalties than anyone would like," Johnson said. "We're working really hard to sort that out... it's a shared responsibility between the clubs and our officiating department." ...

    The type of calls most on the rise: illegal blocks, including holding, on kick returns, objectionable conduct and unnecessary roughness, including roughing the passer.

    Many of the objectionable conduct calls are for taunting an opponent. This year players also get called for pretending to throw a flag when they believe a penalty should have been called.

    "The league's asked us to clean that up," Johnson said.

    So, part of the rise may be about the league trying to enforce its rules more consistently. Another element may be the amount of rookies in the league this year, which may be higher than normal thanks to the creation of a new team in Ottawa and the siphoning off of some veterans to them through the expansion draft and free agency, plus the numbers of CFL players who left for the NFL this past offseason. Still, the league spent three hours with each team's coach this offseason on what is and isn't a penalty, so part of the issue may be that coaches haven't passed that message on to their players effectively enough. It may also be that there's more money being spent on training and evaluating officials; Friesen writes that "With more immediate evaluation and feedback than they've ever had, and a brighter spotlight on their work, officials seem to be calling games by the book, hard and fast." That seems like a desirable outcome from a consistency standpoint, but coaches and players will have to adapt to the new standard to limit the amount of flags thrown.

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  • The "Ice Bucket Challenge" has been sweeping through the world of sports recently, raising awareness and money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease) research and efforts to improve the lives of people with ALS. That's a cause that should hit home with the CFL, considering that many former players have suffered from the degenerative, incurable and deadly disease; legendary player and broadcaster Tony Proudfoot lost his three-year-battle with it in 2010, while former CFL and NFL player (and current Baltimore Ravens' senior advisor to player development) O.J. Brigance continues to fight the disease. The CFL's players have gotten in on the act this week, with several of them taking the challenge (have a bucket of ice dumped over your head to raise awareness and/or funds for ALS research) and passing it on to others. Here's Hamilton Tiger-Cats' slotback Andy Fantuz taking the challenge Wednesday:

    Part of the challenge is that each person who takes it then calls out others. Fantuz challenged former teammate Henry Burris, who's now with the Ottawa Redblacks. Burris then did it himself Thursday, and called out CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

    Read More »from Videos: CFL players do ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, bringing back memories of Tony Proudfoot
  • A Blue Jays’ playoff run could potentially leave the Argonauts homeless in October

    The Toronto Argonauts could be kicked out of the Rogers Centre if the Blue Jays make the postseason.The Toronto Blue Jays' current struggles might just benefit the Argonauts. If the Jays do manage to make the playoffs, something that once appeared to be a great chance but now has projected odds of 16.2 per cent or less, that could leave the Argonauts without a place to play some home games in October. As Curtis Rush of The Toronto Star writes, the team has four October home games scheduled, but the Jays always have first priority at the Rogers Centre, which could necessitate moving the dates of Argos' games or perhaps even forcing them to find a new venue:

    It’s a long-shot, but consider this: If the Blue Jays make the playoffs, the Argos could be kicked out of the Rogers Centre for a few home games.

    The Argonauts have an unusual number of games in October — four — so if the Jays win the division or gain a wild-card spot, there are potential schedule conflicts with the CFL.

    Under the Argos’ lease agreement with the Rogers Centre, which expires at the end of the 2017 CFL season, the Jays have priority in selecting dates.

    Argonauts CEO Chris Rudge is working with the baseball team on contingency plans and with the CFL on a range of options.

    “There are multiple permutations and combinations that we have to look at,” Rudge said. “It’s an ongoing process and we don’t have any answers at this time. I don’t think there’s anything we won’t consider right now.”

    Moving games to another night of the week is a possibility, but that isn't easy in the CFL; that would affect TSN's schedule and the visitors' travel plans, plus the amount of rest each team had coming in. It also reportedly takes over 24 hours to convert the field from baseball to football or vice versa. The Argonauts have had to play home games on odd nights before thanks to their low scheduling priority at the Rogers Centre, such as this week's Tuesday night game. However, those games have been long scheduled in advance. Trying to move the date of a game on short notice would be exceptionally challenging.

    Read More »from A Blue Jays’ playoff run could potentially leave the Argonauts homeless in October
  • Mike Reilly (13)'s deception was key to John White (30)'s touchdown against Montreal.Last Friday's Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes clash was a pretty safe win for Edmonton; the eventual score was 33-23, but the Eskimos led by 22 points at the half. However, part of what led to that win was a long touchdown that came on a rather daring play, with quarterback Mike Reilly faking an audible and then running back John White taking a direct snap and rushing 58 yards for a touchdown. Here's video of that:

    While that clip shows the great jukes and swerves White made to find a hole and avoid pursuers, it doesn't really show what Reilly did to set up the play. Chris O'Leary of The Edmonton Journal has a good piece talking to Reilly about that, though, and it illustrates the crucial role the quarterback played in it:

    Read More »from Video: John White’s big direct-snap touchdown was partly thanks to Mike Reilly’s acting
  • Ricky Ray and the Argos down the Bombers 38-21, add to their lead at the top of the East

    Ricky Ray threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns against Winnipeg Tuesday.One of the East Division's struggling teams may be starting to return to respectability. The Toronto Argonauts improved to 3-4 on the year with an emphatic 38-21 destruction of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-2 heading into the night) Tuesday, and that may prove to be a crucial win for them. Not only was it their second-straight game scoring over 30 points (they beat Montreal 31-5 two weeks ago before a bye), it reinforced how impressive their offence is, and it gave them a two-game lead on the rest of their division rivals. Unsurprisingly, the man who deserved the biggest share of the credit Tuesday was the same one who's been so key to this team's resurgence since 2012: quarterback Ricky Ray.

    Although this is a quarterback-driven league, the Argos' struggles this season really haven't been about Ray. Heading into Tuesday's game, he'd thrown for 1,687 yards (third in the league, behind two quarterbacks who'd played one more game each) with a 68.1 per cent completion mark, and he had the Toronto offence leading the league in yardage per game, passing yards per game and completion percentage. That was a big reason why the Argonauts (and to a lesser extent, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats) didn't look quite as bad as the rest of the division even before Tuesday's game. Ray was particularly good Tuesday, though, throwing for 297 yards with a 78.8 per cent completion rate, and he did that despite Toronto having its entire preferred lineup of starting receivers injured. Perhaps most importantly, Ray was able to find ways to get his receivers into the end zone in this one, tossing four touchdown passes. The Argos have too often had to settle for field goals this year, but they didn't against the Bombers.

    Read More »from Ricky Ray and the Argos down the Bombers 38-21, add to their lead at the top of the East
  • TSN cuts away from Maurice Mann talking about Mike Brown and police brutality

    After this touchdown against Winnipeg, Maurice Mann talked about Mike Brown and police brutality.

    The football-broadcasting habit of camera closeups on athletes who have just scored often leads to a lot of shoutouts and even occasionally some profanity. It's unusual for it to lead to comments on current events, but that's what happened in the Toronto Argonauts-Winnipeg Blue Bombers clash Tuesday night after Toronto receiver Maurice Mann caught a touchdown pass. Mann caught it right near the back of the end zone and fell forward almost into the signage, meaning that the cameras were right there when he got up. Instead of shouting out his friends or family, though, he used the moment to reference the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of 18-year-old black teenager Michael Brown. Mann said "Remember Mike Brown and the police brutality" (or possibly "RIP Mike Brown, police brutality...") and then TSN quickly cut away. That led to plenty of Twitter praise for Mann for taking a stand, but criticism for TSN for their quick cut:

    Mann's own background on this issue may be notable. In early 2011, a friend of Mann's, 25-year-old Reggie Doucet, was shot dead by police in Los Angeles. Mann and Doucet grew up together in California near Monterey Bay and trained together at times. Both also went on to play Division I college football, at Nevada and Middle Tennessee State respectively. Doucet's death led to Mann putting up Facebook posts about the issue, and he later spoke to Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator about how his friend's death affected him:

    Read More »from TSN cuts away from Maurice Mann talking about Mike Brown and police brutality
  • The CFL "Signature Look" alternate jerseys that have been released so far seem to have gone over well, with the B.C. Lions' gunmetal grey (brought out last year) and the Saskatchewan Roughriders' blitz green (revealed last Friday) both receiving plenty of plaudits. Both were very bold moves that substantially differed from the teams' previous looks, and the Toronto Argonauts have continued that trend, unveiling their new jersey Tuesday during their game against Winnipeg. Here's a video the team released featuring slotback Andre Durie in the new uniform:

    Zoomable front and back looks at the jersey are available here. It's interesting to see how heavily these uniforms emphasize white, rather than the team's more typically-prominent double blue. The double blues are still there, but as sleeves and shoulder stripes; the double-blue stripe down the middle of the helmet is cool, though, as are the light-blue pants. The end product also looks substantially different than the road whites the

    Read More »from Argonauts’ “Signature Look” jersey revealed with big A logo, small front number, no team name
  • Why the Southern Ontario franchises might be the least of the East’s problems

    The Argonauts and Tiger-Cats (seen in a June 2013 game) may have more hope than other East teams.Through seven weeks of CFL play, there's been one clear league-wide storyline: the dominance of the West Division and the struggles of the East. Heading into Week Eight's games, the West teams were a combined 23-9, while the East was 5-19 and just 2-16 against the West. With the Eastern teams having records of 2-4, 1-5, 1-5 and 1-5, it's tempting to lump them all into the same boat and write the division off altogether. A closer look suggests there may be two distinct tiers in the East, though, with the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats substantially closer to turning things around on the field than the Montreal Alouettes or Ottawa Redblacks.

    Let's start with Toronto, which had a better record (2-4) and a better point differential (-13) heading into Week Eight than any other East club. The signs that the Argonauts aren't a bad team go beyond that, though. Through seven weeks of play, they led the CFL in offensive yardage per game (377.0 yards), passing yards per game (306.3), and completion percentage (68.5 per cent). Quarterback Ricky Ray has been remarkably good despite a laundry list of injuries to his top receivers, throwing for 1,687 yards so far (third in the league, but with one less game played than the guys ahead of him) with a 68.1 per cent completion mark.

    Yes, the Argos' offence isn't perfect; the rushing offence has been okay, but needs to be better (their average of 5.4 yards per rush is fourth in the league), they need to limit the turnovers, and they have to work on finishing drives with touchdowns rather than field goals. Still, the Toronto offence is in pretty great shape compared to a lot of teams, and the defence is doing some things well also, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 57.7 per cent of their throws to date. The Argonauts are far from an elite team right now, but their issues (players adjusting to two new coordinators with both DC Chris Jones and STC Mike O'Shea moving on to head coaching jobs elsewhere, plus the aforementioned injuries) seem much more fixable than some other clubs'.

    Read More »from Why the Southern Ontario franchises might be the least of the East’s problems
  • Jeff Garcia (L) is Montreal's new QB coach, while Troy Smith (C) has been demoted.This season's been a disaster so far for the Montreal Alouettes, who are 1-5, last in the East, and have scored the fewest points (98) in the CFL while allowing the second-highest total points against (189). To try and turn it around, the team has made several bold changes this week; they've shuffled their coaching staff, firing receivers coach Erik Campbell and giving most of their array of consultants more tightly-defined roles, and they've announced there will be changes at quarterback, with Alex Brink taking over from Troy Smith as the starter for Saturday's game against Saskatchewan, Jonathan Crompton and Tanner Marsh reportedly sliding up the depth chart, and the potential for a two-quarterback system. Will these moves help the Alouettes get back on track, or will they further complicate the issue?

    The coaching staff changes actually make a fair bit of sense. Heading into this week, the team had three high-profile consultants in vague roles. Now, Jeff Garcia is specifically the quarterbacks coach and Turk Schoenert is specifically the receivers coach, replacing Campbell. Don Matthews remains a consultant without portfolio, but that's a role that makes sense for a 75-year-old Hall of Fame coach, one who's done well in a consultant's role before and one who's comfortable offering advice to any unit. Having more specific roles for Schoenert and Garcia seems logical.

    Read More »from The Montreal Alouettes are making bold changes, but will those translate to team success?
  • Three Stars: John Chick, Jerome Messam and Sean Whyte shine in Week Seven

    Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end John Chick (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive end John Chick (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)
    Here's the next edition of our Three Stars series, looking at Week Seven's top performances.

    First star/defensive player of the week: John Chick, defensive end, Saskatchewan Roughriders: Chick has been one of the league's most dominant players this season, and he was lights-out in the Riders' 23-17 win over Winnipeg Thursday. On the night, Utah State product Chick recorded five tackles and three sacks and put plenty of further pressure on Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy. While Willy still threw for 303 yards, he wasn't as efficient as normal and tossed three interceptions. The pressure Chick and the rest of the Saskatchewan defensive line applied was a big factor in those picks. Chick now has a league-high nine sacks on the year, while his closest competitors all have six. If he continues this level of play, he'll likely be named the CFL's top defensive player. Strong performances from him will be critical to Saskatchewan's success going forward as well.

    (Honourable mentions: Alex Bazzie, DT, B.C.; Geoff Tisdale, DB, Montreal; Jasper Simmons, LB, Ottawa.)

    Second star/offensive player of the week: Jerome Messam, running back, Saskatchewan Roughriders: Messam was an unlikely hero Thursday against Winnipeg, as he started the game at fullback and didn't see many touches until after the half. He made the most of them, though, ripping off 126 yards on 19 rushing attempts for a superb average of 6.6 yards per carry. The solid rushing offence he provided was critical to the Riders' comeback victory. Saskatchewan's used a lot of backs this year with some success, including Anthony Allen, Hugh Charles (since released) and Will Ford, so Messam's showing here won't necessarily mean he'll be starting going forward. It was a terrific performance from the Graceland University alumnus, though, and one that suggests he still can be a good CFL player.

    (Honourable mentions: Kevin Glenn, QB, B.C.; Dan LeFevour, QB, Hamilton; Marquay McDaniel, SB, Calgary.)

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