55 Yard Line

  • 2013 Hec Crighton winner Jordan Heather is now playing in France.There are plenty of incredibly talented Canadians already in the CFL, with many more to follow in May's draft, but the player judged to be Canadian university football's top talent last year and one of the best Canadian university athletes in any sport isn't among them. That would be former Bishop's Gaiters quarterback Jordan Heather, last year's Hec Crighton winner as the top CIS football player and one of four nominees for the Doug Mitchell Trophy as the top male CIS athlete at Monday's BLG Awards. Like many top CIS football players, Heather has moved on to the professional ranks. In his case, though, largely thanks to the position he plays, he's doing so in France:

    One of four nominees up for the Doug Mitchell Trophy to be awarded to the CIS male athlete of the year, Heather endured a nine-hour flight back to Canada from France, where he's playing professional football for the St. Etienne Giants.

    "I had to talk to our team president to obviously come back," said Heather, who missed a game on Sunday so he could be in Calgary. "They were very much on board with me coming over. They thought it was too big of an opportunity to miss."

    Heather, from Oromocto, N.B., recently completed his fifth and final season as quarterback for the Bishop's University Gaiters. He set a new Canadian university record by throwing for 3,132 yards in eight league games en route to claiming the Hec Crighton Trophy as CIS player of the year.

    "For me, winning the Hec Crighton was a huge honour," said Heather during a Sunday afternoon reception for all eight male and female award nominees. "I never thought at all of ever being nominated in the class of athletes that we have here. We have people here that could potentially be in the Olympics one day. It's a surreal moment and it's the height of my athletic career so far."

    It is somewhat unfortunate that Heather, one of the best CIS quarterbacks ever by the numbers, won't be heading to Canadian professional football. It's probably logical for him, though; while he posted a CIS single-season record of 3,132 passing yards in eight regular-season games last year, and while it would be very interesting to see what he could do in the CFL ranks, the league's decision to not consider quarterbacks' nationalities means that few Canadians are going to get a real shot at the position. Plenty have tried and found some limited success, from Danny Brannagan to Brad Sinopoli to Marc Mueller to Kyle Quinlan, but none have been able to stick around for the long term, and the amount of high-profile, high-potential former NCAA and NFL quarterbacks out there means many teams aren't even willing to look at Canadians at the moment. Thus, heading overseas is probably a better move for Heather at this point in time.

    Read More »from Hec Crighton winner Jordan Heather opted to go to France instead of the CFL, which might be a smart move for Canadian quarterbacks
  • Steve Slaton (@0) is headed to the Toronto Argonauts.Chad Johnson isn't the only former American football star coming north this offseason, as the Toronto Argonauts announced this week that they've signed running back Steve Slaton. While Slaton didn't have as long of an NFL career and doesn't have as much of a social media buzz as the man formerly known as Ochocinco, he may prove to be a more important CFL player. He shone in college at West Virginia, where he's still the Mountaineers' all-time leader in both rushing touchdowns (50) and all-purpose touchdowns (55), and he had several impressive years with the Houston Texans. Yes, Slaton hasn't done much in recent years; he was waived by Houston in 2011 following fumble and injury issues, went to Miami and didn't play much before being released in 2012, and appears to have been out of high-level football since then. Still, he's done remarkable things in the past, and his skill set would seem to be a great fit for the CFL.

    Slaton is listed at 5'9'', 199 pounds, which is a bit on the small

    Read More »from Can college and NFL star RB Steve Slaton rediscover top form with the Argonauts?
  • Ed Willes' End Zones and Border Wars is a great look inside the CFL's U.S. era.If ever there was a perfect subject for a CFL book, the league's brief foray into the U.S. from 1993-1995 is it. The odd stories alone could fill any number of volumes, from parking-lot practices and training camp marriages in Las Vegas to players sleeping above circus animals in a barn in Shreveport to the announcement of an Orlando franchise that didn't happen. Vancouver Province columnist Ed Willes' new book, End Zones and Border Wars: The Era Of American Expansion In The CFL, includes the fascinating details on all of those and many more stories, but it's much more than just a collection of unusual anecdotes. Willes thoroughly explores the CFL's weirdest era, looking at the factors that led the league to U.S. expansion, how each of the separate teams did over the years, and the overall impact of the American era on the league, making a strong argument that while U.S. expansion itself failed, it may have proved crucial to the CFL's survival. In the process, he's put together one of the best CFL books in ages.

    The brilliant side of End Zones And Border Wars is how it hits the topic of U.S. expansion from a wide variety of angles. Want solid top-down details on what led CFL leadership to start, carry out and then abort American expansion? They're there, thanks to Willes' own interviews with the likes of then-CFL commissioner Larry Smith and then-league-CEO John Tory, plus extensive and well-used quotations from newspaper articles from the time. Looking to see what the era was like for coaches and executives? There are some great tidbits from Willes' interviews with Wally Buono, Brendan Taman, Jeff Reinebold and many others. Perhaps the funniest material comes from the various reporters Willes interviewed about expansion era weirdness. One of the best is Sportsnet columnist Stephen Brunt's description of the 1994 press conference at an Orlando Hooters, streamed back to Canada via a satellite feed, that was supposed to announce a new CFL franchise in the city:

    Read More »from Review: End Zones and Border Wars is a fascinating look inside the CFL’s oddest era
  • Kory Sheets and the Riders won the 2013 Grey Cup; did exceeding the cap help them?Wednesday's news that the Saskatchewan Roughriders were the only team to exceed the CFL's salary cap in 2013 (they spent $4,417,975 in salaries, $17,975 over the cap) is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, this breaks one pattern; the 2011 and 2012 seasons both saw no team go over the cap, the first seasons since at least 2007 with no violations. However, it reinforces another pattern of Saskatchewan being the team most willing to flirt with the cap line; the Roughriders were over the cap in 2007, 2008 and 2010, and they've committed four of the six reported cap violations under the salary management system first implemented in 2006. (The others came from Montreal in 2007 and Winnipeg in 2009).

    The CFL has a sliding system of cap-violation penalties, though, and Saskatchewan has never exceeded the cap by enough to pay any penalty beyond a monetary fine (unlike the Alouettes, who lost a first-round draft pick in 2007 for exceeding the cap by $108,285). Thus, in essence, the Riders are just simply working with a higher cap than the rest of the league. Is that desirable, or should the cap rules be tightened to prevent it? There's a chance to revisit the rules this year thanks to the ongoing CBA negotiations, so it's worthwhile exploring how they currently work and how they could change.

    Read More »from Should the CFL go to a harder salary cap?
  • Western DL Dylan Ainsworth rose up the list thanks to a strong combine showing.

    It's always interesting to watch how the CFL Scouting Bureau top prospects list (a combination of each team's rankings of draft-eligible Canadian players) evolves over its three editions, and this year is no exception. The same player (McGill offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif) has topped the boards since September (and is likely heading to the NFL), but the other rankings have changed substantially, with September's being positionally-balanced, January's boosting defensive players and offensive linemen, and Tuesday's final rankings ahead of May 13's draft favouring players on both the offensive and defensive lines. Here they are:

    The April 2014 CFL prospect rankings are heavy on linemen.

    January saw offensive linemen ranked first, second and third, and that hasn't changed, but Montreal's David Focault (now second) has swapped spots with Laval's Pierre Lavertu (now third). The most interesting name in the top five is Quinn Smith, though. Smith shone at defensive tackle for the Concordia Stingers this year and also double-shifted on the offensive line given the team's injuries, leading to him being named program MVP in February. Despite that, he wasn't listed in either the September or January prospect rankings. He impressed at the combine, though, recording 28 reps on the bench press (third amongst defensive linemen), a 7.56-second three-cone drill time (third amongst defensive linemen) and a 4.82-second 40-yard dash (fifth amongst defensive linemen). Teams obviously liked what they saw from him, and his stock is rising.

    Read More »from April CFL Scouting Bureau list big on both lines
  • Billy "White Shoes" Johnson (24) briefly starred in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes.Former NFL star Chad Johnson's signing with the Montreal Alouettes Thursday sparked discussion of how unusual it is for veteran NFL players (and receivers in particular) to head to Canada. There are plenty of CFL players with one or two years of minimal NFL experience, and there are plenty who go on from the CFL to NFL success, but it's rare to see guys who were once established NFLers trying to catch on up north; guys who have been NFL stars don't often want to continue in football at the CFL's much-lower salaries, and CFL teams often prefer to bring in younger unknowns. That's especially true at the receiver positions, which is what makes Johnson's move so unusual. However, there is precedent, and one of the best previous examples comes from a (non-related) guy with the same last name who went to the same CFL city: Billy "White Shoes" Johnson.

    Billy Johnson fit the typical model of guys overlooked by the NCAA and NFL, as his 5'9'', 170-pound stature caused many to overlook him. He wound up playing Division III football at Pennsylvania's Widener College, and although he starred there (eventually earning a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame), he was only taken in the 15th round of the 1974 NFL draft by the Houston Oilers. That didn't stop him from becoming a NFL star, though. From the CFL Scrapbook:

    Read More »from The other Johnson: could Chad follow the path set by Billy “White Shoes” Johnson in Montreal?
  • Will Chad Johnson succeed in Canada, or fail to make it out of camp?Thursday provided confirmation that the talks between the Montreal Alouettes and Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson were more than just a promotional stunt, as Johnson officially signed a contract with the team. While Johnson has been known for self-promotion lately and hasn't played a regular-season NFL game since 2011, he's been training hard with Hall of Famer Cris Carter and has impressed during the Alouettes' Florida minicamp this week, and his stated desire to get back into high-level football suggests he's taking this relatively seriously. Montreal GM Jim Popp and his staff must agree, too, as it's tough to see the Alouettes giving Johnson a contract otherwise. However, there are still questions about where Johnson could fit with the Alouettes and if he'll manage to make it out of training camp.

    Read More »from How does Chad Johnson fit into the Alouettes’ lineup, and will he make it out of camp?
  • Chad Johnson signs a contract Thursday in Dodgertown with the Alouettes, as G.M. Jim Popp looks on (via Alouettes Twitter)Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp wore his very best freebie promotional T-shirt for the occasion, while receiver Chad Johnson, the man formerly known as Ochocinco, officially became "Huit-Cinq".

    Johnson, 36, signed a contract with the CFL squad Thursday, upon completion of the team's three-day minicamp at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

    Read More »from Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson signs on dotted line with Montreal Alouettes
  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders have signed QB Darian Durant to an extension.The Saskatchewan Roughriders may have suffered remarkable attrition this offseason after winning the Grey Cup last November, but they've managed to retain one of their key pieces for the foreseeable future, signing quarterback Darian Durant to a multi-year extension Wednesday that will likely make him one of the league's highest-paid players.Based on his recent play, that's a solid move; 2013 saw Durant throw for 4,154 yards with a 61.2 per cent completion mark and 31 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions, staying effective and efficient when called upon despite the Riders' run-heavy strategy, and he was a crucial part of their run to the Grey Cup. His 2012 campaign was also impressive, as he racked up 3,878 passing yards with a 64.4 per cent completion mark and 20 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. It's worth noting that Durant has had substantial struggles in the past, though (something discussed here in 2012, the last time he signed an extension), and that he is turning 32 in

    Read More »from Riders sign Darian Durant to multi-year extension: can he maintain a high level of play?
  • The Stampeders' open tryout in New Orleans attracted plenty of top talent.A major part of the reason for the CFL's recent off-field success (including its massive new TV deal, substantial stadium deals and high franchise valuations) is the strong quality of the on-field product. This league has tons of top talent at the moment, and that's reflected both in the numbers of CFL players who are attracting NFL interest and in the ever-improving resumes of new CFL players. That latter element was on display this week at the Calgary Stampeders' open tryout in New Orleans. Just about every team does plenty of these tryouts (for example, the Edmonton Eskimos have 24 separate ones across the U.S. listed on their website), and they've proven quite valuable for most franchises, but it's particularly remarkable to see just how impressive the backgrounds of some CFL hopefuls at these camps are. The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Christopher Dabe covered the Stampeders' tryout, and his notes on some of the prospective players are well worth a read:

    Chad Boyd turned to keep pace with a receiver whose eyes focused on the airborne football, just as the all-conference defensive standout had done so many times in his life.

    Only this time the metal bleachers were nearly empty. It was mid-morning on a sunny Saturday in the spring. And the former Archbishop Shaw and Louisiana Tech defensive back desperately hoped to get noticed once again.

    This is another side to the NFL draft. Players who once had reasonable hopes to play professionally after college felt derailed by injury or other reasons. They're all at least a year removed from college. They each want another shot. ...

    "If an opportunity presents itself, I'm going to take it," Boyd said.

    Many players are in a similar position.

    Michael Smith, the leading receiver on Connecticut's Fiesta Bowl team in 2010, felt the season he missed the next year due to poor grades damaged his pro prospects, he said.

    Former Southern Miss linebacker Korey Williams already had three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown when he blew out a knee during the fourth game of his senior season.

    Those are players from some excellent programs, and perhaps even more notably, guys who shone for those teams. This isn't an anomaly, either; the B.C. Lions' tryout I attended last year in Seattle also featured players with impressive NCAA backgrounds, including former Cal star Kendrick Payne and Montana star Peter Nguyen, and most of the various teams' open tryouts attract some notable former college players. (The Montreal Alouettes even managed to reel in former NFL star Chad Johnson this week.)

    Read More »from Stampeders’ New Orleans tryout illustrates just how much talent’s out there for the CFL
  • Brian Brohm (seen with Hamilton last year) skipped his honeymoon for Bombers' camp.Offseason trades can come with a lot of challenges, but one of the worst has to be missing your own honeymoon. That's what happened to Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Brian Brohm, who the team acquired from Hamilton in March. Brohm had his wedding set for April 12 in Louisville, Kentucky, which would have been fine with the Tiger-Cats' late-April minicamp, but wound up conflicting with the Bombers' earlier one (which started the same day at Florida's IMG Academy), one day after Brohm's wedding to Ashley Krawczyk ). The team was good enough to let Brohm miss the first two days of camp (arrival and one day of practice) for his wedding and travel to Florida, but as he told The Winnipeg Sun's Kirk Penton after arriving in time for Monday's practices, he's had to postpone his honeymoon:

    Read More »from Bombers’ quarterback Brian Brohm skips his honeymoon to attend the team’s mini-camp
  • Marwan Hage (seen with the 2009 Tom Pate Award) announced his retirement Monday.When the Ottawa Redblacks selected veteran Hamilton centre Marwan Hage in December's expansion draft, it looked like a promising move—if they could get him to go there. On Monday, it became official (after a weekend of rumblings) that Hage won't be coming to Ottawa, as he announced his retirement from the CFL at a press conference in Hamilton. No one can blame Hage for choosing to hang up his cleats after a 10-year punishing professional football career, but his loss will be felt by the Redblacks, who are now going to have to find someone else who can handle the responsibilities of leading their offensive line.

    Hage has been an important part of the league over the last decade, and he'll be missed both on and off the field. He spent his entire career with Hamilton until December, earning two divisional all-star nods and one league all-star nod, and he did plenty of impressive community work both in that city and others, helping distribute food and game tickets to those in need. His involvement with the CFL isn't coming to an end, either. Hage has been involved with the CFLPA as a player rep since 2007, and was recently re-elected as a CFLPA vice-president, a role he's held since 2010. He'll be an key figure in the ongoing CBA talks (further talks were held this weekend, with another round set for May). He's also planning to continue his Hage's Heroes efforts for food and toy drives, as well as bringing kids to Tiger-Cats' games.

    Read More »from Marwan Hage announces his retirement, which takes away a veteran leader from the Redblacks
  • Former Miami Dolphin Chad Johnson will work out for the Alouettes in Florida.Get your "Huit-cinq" or "Quatre-vingt-cinq" (depending on whether you prefer a literal "eight-five" or an actual "eighty-five") jerseys ready; the chances of Chad Johnson (previously Chad Ochocinco) coming to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes have risen substantially. Johnson initially expressed interest in joining the B.C. Lions last month, but GM Wally Buono shot that idea down; Montreal general manager Jim Popp then added Johnson to the Alouettes' negotiation list. Things have progressed since then, with Popp saying Saturday that Johnson will work out for the team (which is holding open tryouts in Vero Beach, Florida) this week:

    "We do expect to meet with Chad Johnson and work him out in Vero Beach, Fla., this week," Popp said. "Talks did take place and have escalated over the last week."

    Johnson played 11 seasons in the NFL, the first 10 with Cincinnati. He last played in 2011 with New England, when he had 15 catches for 276 yards.

    The 36-year-old Los Angeles native confirmed on Twitter late Friday that he was planning to attend a mini-camp Tuesday for some on-field work.

    Most interestingly, CBS' Jason LaCanfora issued a series of tweets Saturday afternoon about Johnson's chances and how he's been working with Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter, a current ESPN analyst and father of Als' receiver Duron Carter:

    There are some valuable points there from LaCanfora, and they illustrate how the Alouettes may view Johnson. They're likely not expecting him to be the deep burner he was early in his career, but possibly more of a veteran route-runner and a guy who can make crucial catches. There could be an opening there, as the team released fellow 36-year-old veteran Arland Bruce earlier this year following his homophobic comments on Twitter. While the Als have plenty of other proven and promising receivers, including Carter, S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson and Brandon London, Bruce caught 64 balls for 851 yards (fifteenth in the CFL) last season, so there could be some passes up for grabs now that he's gone. The news that Johnson's working out with Carter and that the Alouettes have received reports on where he's at is also interesting; this won't be just a blind look or an attention-grabbing stunt from Johnson, but a serious evaluation from the team.

    Read More »from Chad Johnson has been training with Cris Carter, will work out for Alouettes in Florida
  • Riders' DE Alex Hall is off to the NFL's Carolina Panthers.The NFL's Carolina Panthers have ventured north of the border again, announcing Friday that they've signed defensive end Alex Hall. Hall spent the last two seasons in the CFL, playing first with Winnipeg, then with Saskatchewan following a mid-season trade last year, and the 16 sacks he accumulated in 2013 was the league's second-highest total. While he was more productive with the Blue Bombers than the Roughriders (15 of his sacks came before the October trade) during the regular season, he rounded into form in the playoffs, generating plenty of pressure and recovering a crucial fumble in the Grey Cup. The NFL will be an adjustment for him, but he has great pass-rushing skills and could potentially be a big addition for the Panthers. He'll definitely be a substantial loss for the Roughriders and the CFL.

    Hall is the third player Saskatchewan's lost to the NFL this offseason, following the departures of running back Kory Sheets (for the Oakland Raiders) and slotback Weston Dressler (for the Kansas City Chiefs). That's substantial attrition to say the least, and that's before you discuss how many Roughriders' players have left for other CFL teams. Of course, this departure wasn't completely unexpected; Hall was a CFL free agent (the main reason why the rebuilding Bombers traded him in the middle of the season), so it's quite possible he might have left Saskatchewan even without interest from the NFL. Still, the NFL is certainly taking a toll on the Riders at the moment.

    Read More »from Alex Hall signs with NFL’s Carolina Panthers, adding to Saskatchewan’s losses
  • Niagara Falls, NY is being discussed as a potential home for the Buffalo Bills.The discussions of where the Buffalo Bills will eventually end up are continuing in the wake of owner Ralph Wilson's March death, and, as expected, they're largely shaping up as a tug-of-war between groups that want to see the team stay in Buffalo and groups that want to move them to Toronto. Both groups have powerful and well-heeled members, and both have points on their side; keeping the Bills in Western New York maintains history and matters to the region, but moving them to Toronto would help them tap a richer, more populous market. This week saw a new wrinkle thrown in, though, the almost literally Solomonic idea of splitting the difference and basing the team in Niagara Falls, New York. From John Wawrow of The Associated Press, here are the details:

    Don't rule out Niagara Falls as a potential future home of the Buffalo Bills.

    Several officials told The Associated Press that a newly formed Bills stadium task force of public and private leaders seeking to bolster the team's long-term viability is considering sites that would put it closer to the team's burgeoning Ontario fan base.

    ''We're looking at Niagara County,'' Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy told the AP this week. ''We're open to looking at a number of venues.''

    Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster confirmed Niagara County was discussed as an option during the inaugural meeting last week of the newly formed New Stadium Working Group committee.

    Duffy made clear ''that all options should be on the table,'' Dyster said, adding that includes Niagara County and even Batavia, about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester.

    That goes beyond the group's initial directive, which was first limited to seeking potential stadium sites in Erie County, where Buffalo is located.

    There's plenty to support that idea. Moving the team to Niagara (21 miles and less than half an hour from Buffalo proper, 35 miles and a 42-minute drive from the team's current home in Orchard Park, NY) would maintain the Bills as a Western New York team and still hopefully allow them to attract many of their existing American fans, but it would also put them closer to the heavily-populated cities of Southern Ontario (and the rich corporations that have their headquarters there). It also avoids the complications that would arise from basing a NFL team in Canada proper, which could include political and legal challenges (which happened before when someone tried to bring American football north and has been discussed again), but also could include the difficulties in getting publicly funded stadiums built north of the border, something typically much more challenging than it is in the States.

    Read More »from Bills’ Niagara Falls rumblings might serve as a compromise between Buffalo and Toronto
  • Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz (2nd from left) was at the stadium announcement conference in 2010, but can't see flooding damage for himself now.The extent of the flooding damage at Investors Group Field is still being hidden from the public, and that's troubling some government officials, given that the stadium was largely funded by tax dollars. Chief amongst them is Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz. The city contributed $10 million ($7.5 million in cash, $2.5 million in in-kind services) to the project directly and is paying another $37.5 million to the province over time (the province itself paid the costs up front, is loaning money to the Bombers, and is contributing $60 million) but wasn't involved in the stadium's design or construction. Like everyone else outside the construction group and the Bombers' executives, city officials aren't able to see the extent of the damage, and that's bothering Katz too. He said Wednesday he's not thrilled to hear about the efforts to keep media out:

    BBB Stadium, the consortium that oversaw construction of Investors Group Field, has given few details on what exactly is damaged or how much it'll cost to repair the rooms.

    The Blue Bombers organization has denied media access to the damaged spaces, turning down a second request by CBC News on Wednesday morning.

    Katz said that shouldn't be happening in a facility that was built with taxpayers' money.

    "As the mayor I'm very disappointed to hear that. Very disappointed to hear that," he said. "The realities are [that] this is a, in my mind, a public facility."

    However, provincial sports minister Ron Lemieux said while he also considers the building a public facility, he's not going to try and force the Bombers to let media in given ongoing construction efforts. Those were cited by stadium management firm BBB Stadium in a statement Wednesday. Via Metro Winnipeg:

    Read More »from Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz calls for public to see flooding damage at Investors Group Field
  • The CFL's history of providing opportunities for black players who were discriminated against in American football is one of the most interesting elements of the league, and it's the focus of a new documentary set to air on TSN this fall—if enough people back it. Filmmaker William Armstrong spoke to 55-Yard Line last week about the project, titled Gridiron Underground. Armstrong, president of Strongwall Productions, said there's a compelling story here, and one that goes beyond just sports.

    "It's an hour-long documentary about the waves of African-Americans who came to Canada to play in the CFL," he said. "Canadians really opened their arms to them, and the legacy of African-Americans in the CFL is huge. ...Football and sport in general is its mode of transport, but the story is a more general one of perseverance and hope."

    You can see an impressive trailer Armstrong's put together for the project here, complete with snippets of interviews with Warren Moon, Henry Burris and Bernie Custis:

    Perseverance and hope describes the project to date, too. Armstrong has been working on this for several years, and that involved plenty of cross-continent trips to track down former players and interview them, but he accomplished that without major funding.

    "Out of my own pocket and money I've raised, we've been travelling all around North America for the past few years," Armstrong said. "We've been working on it for three or four years now."

    Read More »from Interview: Filmmaker William Armstrong turns to crowdfunding to finish Gridiron Underground, a documentary on black players in the CFL
  • Roughriders' general manager Brendan Taman has received a contract extension.It's not particularly surprising that the Saskatchewan Roughriders have extended the contract of general manager Brendan Taman; after all, the team's coming off a Grey Cup win, and they gave head coach Corey Chamblin an extension through 2017 earlier this offseason. Taman's contract was set to expire after the 2015 season, and it looks like the Riders want him to stick around through 2017 as well. That's probably a good move, given the success he's found so far, but there will be challenges ahead for him and the team.

    Taman has been with the Riders since 2009, starting as the director of football administration, and he's been the full general manager since Eric Tillman's resignation in January 2010. That span's had some ups and downs for the team; they made it to back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010, but lost both to Montreal, and then went 5-13 in 2011. 2012 saw them post a 8-10 record and a first-round playoff exit, but it was this year that was particularly impressive, with the team going 11-7 in the regular season and then making a dominant run through the playoffs to win the Grey Cup at home. Taman's moves over the years played a big role there, too. He inherited a capable quarterback in Darian Durant, but made the decision to stick with him despite struggles in 2011. He took a major leap of faith on Chamblin, who had only been coaching for six seasons and had only spent one year as a coordinator when he was hired as Saskatchewan's head coach in December 2011. The team also found star running back Kory Sheets on his watch, and he made smart signings and trades for proven CFL stars like Dwight Anderson and Alex Hall. All of those moves proved crucial to the Roughriders' 2013 triumph.

    Read More »from Roughriders extend GM Brendan Taman: now, can he lock up Durant, replace Sheets and Dressler?
  • Winnipeg's Investors Group Field is reportedly suffering water damage.It may be warming up in Winnipeg, but that doesn't seem to be a good thing for the Blue Bombers' stadium. Water from melting snow is apparently exposing inadequate drainage systems at Investors Group Field, causing massive flooding in the suite level. Via Paul Friesen of The Winnipeg Sun, here are the details of what's gone wrong:

    The Winnipeg Sun has learned of significant flooding at Investors Group Field, caused by a lack of drainage to handle the spring melt.

    A source who saw the problem first-hand but spoke only on the condition of anonymity said roughly one-third of the suites have been affected, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

    “And then there will be the cost of the permanent fix,” the source said, describing a scene of collapsed ceilings, soaked carpets, even a bucket catching water in the middle of the visitors locker-room.

    One problem, the source said, is water from melting snow falls down from the stadium’s roof into the seating area, where it flows back towards the suites, instead of away from them.

    “There’s no drainage — it’s sitting at the doors and leaking through.”

    The water has also spilled out of the suites and into adjoining hallways, the source said.

    Bombers' CEO Wade Miller downplayed the reported damage in his comments to Friesen, but said media outlets wouldn't be permitted to examine it. In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, though, BBB Stadium (the non-profit group responsible for building the stadium) CEO Andrew Konowalchuk described drainage as something that's been a problem before:

    Read More »from Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field’s suites are flooding, which could be problematic for Bombers
  • The Saskatchewan Roughriders trained in Florida in 2013, and are back this year.The CFL is coming to the Sunshine State—for real this time. Two attempts were made to put teams in Florida during the league's USA expansion era in the 1990s, which didn't work out, but four of the league's current nine teams are heading to Florida's IMG Academy for offseason camps this year. The Saskatchewan Roughriders' camp is already underway this weekend, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers following from April 12-15, the Edmonton Eskimos heading there April 22-25 and the Calgary Stampeders taking over April 26-28.

    It's interesting to see such an extensive CFL presence in the US, and all at one facility. These aren't free-agent tryout camps of the sort just about every team runs; they're the three-day offseason voluntary workouts for current members of the team that we've discussed before. There are huge advantages to doing these in Florida rather than in the team's own city as they've often been in the past, though, and they go well beyond just getting sunshine instead of snow. One of the biggest factors is geography and the cost and availability of flights; as explored in 2011, it was extremely difficult for teams in more isolated cities such as Regina and Winnipeg to get their American players in for a minicamp. At that time, Edmonton was the only West Division team holding an offseason voluntary workout, and that was a short one. Now, teams like Saskatchewan and Calgary have elected to do these in Florida, making it much easier (and cheaper) to bring in their players from across the States. That's a way around geographic isolation, and one that will likely work out well for those teams.

    Read More »from Florida’s IMG Academy is hosting preseason camps for almost half of the CFL’s teams