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  • Will the Argonauts end up at BMO Field?

    If nothing else, Tim Leiweke has shown an ability to make headlines in his brief tenure as head of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

    After musing about Stanley Cup victory parades and excising (with implied burning) of photos depicting long-ago Maple Leafs glory days at the Air Canada Centre, Leiweke has taken to speculating about possibly getting involved with the Canadian Football League. He hinted at that a few months ago and appeared to strengthen his resolve on New Year's Eve when he raised the possibility of hosting both an outdoor NHL game and a Grey Cup game at Toronto's BMO Field in an interview with Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

    That's the same BMO Field he earlier said would likely remain a soccer-only stadium to preserve a sacred bond with the city's soccer fans.

    What this all means isn't quite clear, since Leiweke seems to be prone to frequent changes of mind. But it has already raised speculation that MLSE will buy the Argos from reluctant owner David Braley, renovate

    Read More »from MLSE’s dance with the Toronto Argonauts continues to take new and interesting turns
  • Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel is one of the big-name players on CFL negotiation lists.One of the most interesting but least-discussed aspects of how CFL teams build a roster is the negotiation list. Each team can put up to 35 players (Canadian or American) on their list, giving them exclusive rights to that player if he decides to play in the CFL. However, because the lists are kept secret, it's tough to tell if players teams sign come off those lists or if they're truly free-agent finds, and when names on the lists do leak, they're frequently big-name players who aren't likely to ever come to Canada. Those leaks are still interesting, though, both in terms of what they say about potential future CFL players and in terms of what they tell us about each team's negotiation list strategy, so some of the names Sportsnet's Arash Madani tweeted Monday are on negotiation lists are worth discussing. Here they are:

    There are plenty of interesting names in there. The three Laval players mentioned are perhaps most likely to end up in the CFL, as they're Canadians, but Troup looks like a guy who could potentially come north if his injury issues drive him out of the NFL, while Rugland (the Norwegian kicker who briefly played with the Detroit Lions last year) might fit in under the same terms as Aussie punter Josh Bartel and be counted as a non-import. It's the quarterbacks that really stand out, though, and they're worth further analysis.

    Read More »from Big-name QBs such as Johnny Manziel and Braxton Miller are on CFL negotiation lists, but don’t expect them to play north of the border soon
  • Former CFL and NFL star O.J. Brigance describes his battle with ALS in a new book.CFL and NFL alumnus O.J. Brigance has had a remarkable life, winning the Grey Cup and the Super Bowl, working in the Baltimore Ravens' front office, and inspiring many with his courageous battle against ALS. Now, he's telling that story in his own words. Brigance's recent book Strength Of A Champion: Finding Faith And Fortitude Through Adversity (co-written with Fox Sports' Peter Schrager) discusses his upbringing, his NCAA, CFL and NFL career, his ongoing fight with ALS, ths support he's received from wife Chanda and the rest of his family, and more, and it's well worth reading for CFL fans.

    One particularly interesting section of the book discusses how Brigance switched not just positions, but sides of the ball from high school to college. Positional changes are one thing, but it's extremely rare to see a player switch between offence and defence. Brigance did that twice, though. He dreamed of playing linebacker growing up, and did so through the first part of his high school career at Willowridge in Houston, but then became the team's starting centre in his junior year. He led them to great success and was selected as the first-team all-state centre in Texas, but was lightly recruited at the college level, as he weighed just 190 pounds. However, assistant coach Donald Dobes from the Rice Owls was intrigued by Brigance, and that led to him impressing in a workout and being signed as a linebacker despite not playing that position at the varsity level in high school. That led to a terrific college career that took him to the CFL and the NFL, and it never would have happened without coaches being willing to take a chance on him.

    It was another chance that led Brigance to the CFL. Despite finishing his college career as the Owls' all-time leading tackler, a three-time winner of the team's Jess Neely Linebacker of the Year award and a two-time all-Southwest Conference pick, he wasn't chosen in the 1991 NFL draft. That led to him going to Canada, and that took place under unusual circumstances. Here's what Brigance wrote about it:

    Read More »from Review: “Strength Of A Champion” provides a compelling look at CFL and NFL star O.J. Brigance’s life, career and battle with ALS
  • The Argos released Dontrelle Inman (11) Tuesday, which may let him go to the NFL.Usually, a business parting ways with an employee on Christmas Eve would be seen as the most Scrooge-like situation of them all, but in the case of the Toronto Argonauts and wide receiver Dontrelle Inman, it may actually be the team giving him an early Christmas gift. Inman would have been a free agent in February, so the Argos didn't have him under contract for any further games, and it sounds like he wants to test the NFL waters. Releasing him now allows him to not only try out for NFL teams before February (something even under-contract players can do), but also gives him the chance to sign with one of those teams immediately if he wishes. It's something the Argonauts have done before, and it seems like a pretty smart move from this standpoint; it keeps their players who want to try the NFL happy and adds to the case for them to return to Toronto if they can't make a roster south of the border, and it also serves as a good way to boost the team's reputation as a desirable destination for players.

    Read More »from Argos give wide receiver Dontrelle Inman an unusual early Christmas present—his release
  • Former Eskimos' LB coach Mark Nelson is Ottawa's new defensive coordinator.The Ottawa Redblacks continue to put pieces in place ahead of their CFL debut this coming season, and Friday's announcement of the team's assistant coaching staff marks a major step along that path. New head coach Rick Campbell has gone with an interesting mix of assistants, tabbing long-time CFL veterans Mike Gibson and Mark Nelson as offensive and defensive coordinators respectively and adding a long-time NCAA veteran in special teams coordinator Don Yanowsky, but also bringing in guys more known for their playing careers in Marcus Crandell (quarterbacks coach), Travis Moore (receivers coach) and Ike Charlton (defensive backs coach). Will that blend work out for the Redblacks, or will tweaks be needed?

    The key announcements here are the picks of Gibson, Nelson and Yanowsky, and each has plenty of factors in their favour. After a substantial NCAA career, Gibson's spent the last 11 years in the CFL with Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Hamilton and Calgary, and he's been an offensive coordinator in both Hamilton and Winnipeg. Nelson's a 26-year coaching veteran who played in the league and coached in it with Edmonton, San Antonio and Toronto before a U.S. college stint from 1997-2008, then returned to the CFL with Winnipeg in 2009, went to Edmonton in 2010, worked there until 2012 and spent the last year as the Alouettes' linebackers coach. He has a bit of experience as a CFL DC from his time in Edmonton and Winnipeg in this last go-round, and he won Grey Cups as a CFL coach in Edmonton (1993) and Toronto (1996). Yanowsky is newer to the CFL, coming to the league as Calgary's linebackers coach in 2012, but he has 10 years of experience as a special teams coordinator in the NCAA, and he's worked with some notable programs, including LSU, Memphis and Boston College. None of the three has a ton of experience as a CFL coordinator, but they all have promising coaching backgrounds.

    Read More »from Ottawa Redblacks go with a mix of experience and youth at assistant coaching positions
  • Marcel Bellefeuille will be back as the Bombers' offensive coordinator next year.Despite changing head coaches, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are staying with the same offensive coordinator they had to end last season, which on its surface is curious. After all, this was a team that finished dead last in 17 of the 30 offensive statistical categories tracked weekly by the CFL, including points per game (20.1), yards per game (281.4), yards gained per pass (6.7) and yards gained per rush (5.1, tied with Montreal for lowest). However, keep in mind that that OC, former Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille, was only brought in midway through the season (first as a consultant, then elevated to OC a week later after Gary Crowton was fired), and it's difficult to completely overhaul an offence midway through the year given the CFL's limited practice times. As Melissa Martin writes in The Winnipeg Free Press, Bellefeuille said this week he plans to make dramatic changes this offseason:

    "In terms of challenges last year, they were obviously evident," Bellefeuille said. "We couldn’t change an offence halfway through… There will be pretty much complete overhaul of offence."

    Bellefeuille said he plans to retain about 20 per cent of the concepts from last season, and will tweak plans as the team gets a better sense of what their roster could look like for 2014. The biggest question mark remains around the quarterback position, where Max Hall did show improvement as the year went on but still often looked unready for a full-time starting pivot role.

    "I feel like we can get better in every area," Bellefeuille said about the personnel situation. "I’m very excited about how Max picked up his game, and started to be more productive. Obviously we’d like to get better at every position, and that will be an ongoing process."

    He has strong support for his plan from Winnipeg head coach Mike O'Shea, as Kirk Penton writes:

    Read More »from Marcel Bellefeuille’s back as Bombers’ OC, but plans “complete overhaul” of the offence
  • Former Argos' HC Rich Stubler is the new DC in Calgary.When the B.C. Lions elected to part ways with defensive coordinator Rich Stubler earlier this offseason so they could promote DB coach Mark Washington, it seemed likely it wouldn't take Stubler too much time to find another gig. The 64-year-old Stubler has spent more than 25 years in the CFL, mostly as a defensive coordinator, and his B.C. defence found plenty of success recently, including leading the league in 18 of 25 defensive statistical categories in 2012 and finishing tops against the pass this year. Calgary snapped up Stubler as their DC Thursday, filling the void left when Rick Campbell took the Ottawa Redblacks' head-coaching job, and he certainly seems like a strong hire. Can Stubler bring the success he found in B.C. to Calgary, though, especially considering how he's been tagged as a conservative coach?

    One advantage for Stubler is that he'll have a strong group of players to work with. The Stampeders led the CFL with 63 sacks last season, and they were second in the league in points allowed per game (22.9) and opposing completion percentage (58.4 per cent), plus fourth in yards allowed with 332.7 per game. They also had the West Division's defensive player of the year in DE Charleston Hughes, who led the league with 18 sacks. Calgary does have a lot of potential pending free agents, including some key players like DE Cordarro Law, linebacker Juwan Simpson and DBs Fred Bennett and Chris Randle, and they lost starting safety Eric Fraser to Ottawa in the expansion draft, so there is work that needs to be done on the roster-construction side. Still, there's a solid core here, and that should help Stubler's efforts.

    A criticism some have offered of Stubler's defence is that he doesn't tend to be overly aggressive, though. That was cited as one of the reasons offered for why B.C. opted to go in a different direction this offseason, and that could represent a major change in Calgary from the more-attacking philosophy Campbell has often talked about. However, when you look at the statistics, that change might not necessarily be as big as you'd think.

    Read More »from Rich Stubler is Rick Campbell’s replacement at DC in Calgary: can he replicate his B.C. success?
  • Montreal guard Andrew Woodruff (60) has retired following a long-lasting concussion.It's not many players who retire five years into their career, but that's the case with Montreal Alouettes' guard Andrew Woodruff; the team announced Wednesday that he's chosen to hang up his cleats. His loss is a significant one for the organization, as solid Canadian guards aren't easy to find, and he'll leave a major hole on their line. However, it's the reason why Woodruff is exiting the CFL that seems particularly notable. He missed all but two games this season after suffering a concussion off a collision with Winnipeg Blue Bombers' defensive end Kenny Mainor in the Alouettes' second game July 4. Woodruff told The Gazette's Herb Zurkowsky in October that concussion led to him having a horrible night:

    “I had a headache. Things were blurry. I was hearing things. My mind was racing,” said Woodruff, 28, in his fifth season with Montreal. “I couldn’t look at a computer screen or do anything to wind me down. My eyes hurt. My ears were popping, ringing a little bit. I was on edge, a little paranoid about my own condition at the time.

    “There are images and moments of my memory that are there,” he added, “but I don’t remember specific details. It’s a bit scary.”

    Woodruff’s eyes were sensitive. He couldn’t look at a computer screen, couldn’t turn any lights on in his apartment. Come morning, he went outside, without sunglasses, and was overwhelmed by the light and noise. The headaches persisted.

    Woodruff struggled for the next few weeks afterwards as well:

    Read More »from Andrew Woodruff’s retirement is a warning about the long-term impacts of concussions
  • Glenn's age made him expendable to Calgary (The Canadian Press)

    Nine days before Christmas, the new old quarterback of the CFL's ninth team sounded jolly, but not old.

    How did that loaded three-letter pejorative get in there twice? Kevin Glenn's take on joining the expansion Ottawa Redblacks was not just good spin, but a tight spiral. It was like he's been around the CFL since the last time a new Ottawa franchise took root.

    Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins kept his word during the first phase of Monday's CFL expansion draft by adding a seasoned quarterback, the 34-year-old Glenn, and a younger yet not completely callow pivot, 24-year-old Thomas DeMarco from the B.C. Lions. The decidedly conservative approach might prove to be a long-term handcuff, but the Redblacks are set up to kick off in 2014 with a passer who's played more than 200 CFL games. It puts Glenn farther away from that elusive Grey Cup ring, but he is warm to the challenge.

    [Chris Zelkovich: CFL RedBlacks get off to better start than Renegades did]

    "It's something new but it doesn't mean that it's going to be impossible to work through," said Glenn, who helped the Stampeders win the West Division last season when he rotated through with the younger Drew Tate, 30, and Bo Levi Mitchell, 23. "The situation is a lot different than coming back to a team that you played on five, six, seven years. I think everyone is going to take it serious and do whatever he can to put exciting football back in Ottawa. Everybody's going to come to mini-camp and to training camp with the mindset to learn as much as they can as they fast as they can.

    "There will be people saying it takes a couple of years," said Glenn, who started in the Stampeders' 2012 Grey Cup loss to Toronto and was injured while leading Winnipeg to a win in the '07 Eastern final, before the Blue Bombers lost to Saskatchewan a week later. "but as we've seen in this league, you can win depending on who you have and what type of football you're playing at the end of the season. You don't have to win 14, 15, 16 games to win the Grey Cup. As a veteran quarterback, one thing I want to bring is that winning attitude."

    Read More »from Kevin Glenn ready to recruit for Redblacks, while Thomas DeMarco knows about starting from scratch
  • Marwan Hage's departure makes Hamilton look like one of this draft's losers.

    Monday's expansion draft (see our recaps of rounds one, two and three) was mostly about building the Ottawa Redblacks, but it also had substantial impacts on the eight other CFL teams, who each lost three players in the draft. They weren't affected equally, though, as some lost key contributors while others only lost seldom-used players. Here's a look at which teams survived Monday's draft with minimal losses, which teams were hard-hit and which teams were in the middle.

    Winners:

    —Winnipeg Blue Bombers: The Bombers appear to have lost less than anyone here. The players selected from Winnipeg were import wide receiver Wallace Miles (round one), Canadian linebacker/special teams player James Green (round two) and Canadian wide receiver Rory Kohlert (round three). Kohlert is the biggest loss, as he showed plenty of potential this past season, but he was a pending free agent, and a return to a Winnipeg team that went 3-15 might not have been all that appealing for him. Moreover, he still only had 493 receiving yards last season, so it's not like he's hit all-star status yet. Miles also has potential, but was on and off the practice squad last year and only picked up 158 receiving yards, and Green has been decent on special teams, but hasn't been particularly close to contributing on defence. That's not bad at all. Of course, given the Bombers' roster issues, there wasn't as much for Ottawa to choose from with them as there was with other, better teams, but still, they emerged from this draft relatively unscathed.

    —B.C. Lions: The Lions' primary loss was quarterback Thomas DeMarco in the first round, but that probably worked out being a good thing for them. While DeMarco was reasonably effective during his stints filling in for the injured Travis Lulay last season, and while he's only 24, his loss allowed the Lions to protect more Canadian players in the second and third rounds. DeMarco wasn't going to replace Lulay any time soon, and B.C. is pretty set at quarterback if the 30-year-old Lulay can stay healthy. Even if he can't, they have one experienced backup in Buck Pierce, and they'll undoubtedly be developing other young guys (which they've done impressively over the last few years, as Pierce, Lulay, current Edmonton starter Mike Reilly and DeMarco all got their first CFL experience in the Lions system). DeMarco wasn't a world-beater in B.C., either, as he completed just 53.9 per cent of his passes in 2013 and threw 10 touchdowns with eight interceptions. His loss isn't great, but it let B.C. hang on to more of their Canadian depth; they only lost offensive lineman Matt Albright (in the second round) and defensive end Andrew Marshall (in the third), and neither was a key piece last year.

    Read More »from Winners and losers from the expansion draft: how Ottawa’s picks affect the CFL’s other teams

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