Two long-time CFL veterans are facing serious career questions at the moment. Toronto Argonauts' kicker Noel Prefontaine, a 15-year veteran, is facing hip surgery and isn't sure he'll ever see the field again, while Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Buck Pierce, an eight-year veteran, will be in a walking boot for at least this week after tearing ligaments and a muscle in his foot last week against Edmonton. The injuries are of different natures and severities, of course, but there are some remarkable similarities between the two players, and neither is a sure bet to ever have a CFL starting role again.
At first glance, Pierce's situation doesn't seem to be all that bad. Torn ligaments are never good, but the Bombers' statement that Pierce will only miss a week is promising for him. However, his hold on the starting quarterback job in Winnipeg may be growing tenuous. Pierce has thrown for just 357 yards this season, ninth in an eight-team league, and that's never a good sign. Calgary's Drew Tate and Kevin Glenn, who have each played about a game and a half, have both thrown for more yardage than Pierce. His other statistics aren't dominant either; Pierce is completing just 60 per cent of his passes and has just one touchdown against two interceptions. That's not new, as there were similar questions about his early-season effectiveness last year as well.
What's most concerning about Pierce isn't his performance, but rather his durability, though. The man is as tough as anyone in the CFL and has battled on even after brutal hits, but his career litany of injuries is unbelievable, and he's exited two of three games this season (against B.C. and Edmonton) early on after being hurt. The Bombers have to question if continuing to run Pierce out there is the right move, as they risk having him get hurt and then having to quickly attempt to change game plans in midstream, or if they should start the transition to Alex Brink or Joey Elliott as the starter.
That's solely based on the Pierce side, but there's another element involved here as well, namely the performance of the other quarterbacks. Brink and Elliott are both still pretty raw, and that can be tough in the CFL, although the experience they've picked up filling in for Pierce (and Steven Jyles in 2010) over the last few years certainly helps, and both were college stars (Brink at Washington State, Elliott at Purdue). Brink will be under centre for the first snap when the Bombers play Toronto Wednesday, and if he wows in his first 2012 start, that might convince Winnipeg to stick with him a while longer. Elliott is also a possibility; he has less starting experience than Brink, but has looked good on numerous occasions, including in last week's loss to Edmonton after Brink took a knock. Although the Bombers' three-headed quarterback monster didn't perform well overall in that 42-10 drubbing, Elliott was by far the best of the three, completing 11 of 18 passes (61.1 per cent) for 193 yards and a touchdown with one interception. He won't start Wednesday, but injury or ineffectiveness on Brink's part might cause Winnipeg to turn to Elliott, and he could also seize the starting job if he dazzles.
Even with all that, though, Prefontaine's injury appears more career-threatening. The hip issues are an ongoing problem that has been bugging him for years, and while surgery could help fix that, bouncing back after that's going to be a tough task at age 38. He told The Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan that while he's still optimistic, this could spell the end of his career. It's been quite a journey for Prefontaine, who was born in Camp Pendleton, California, but qualifies as a non-import for CFL purposes thanks to spending his childhood in Verdun, Quebec with his grandmother; he's played in the CFL, the NFL and the XFL, and is a six-time CFL all-star and an eight-time division all-star. It's a shame to see an Argonauts' legend like Prefontaine hurt so soon after he talked about the fun he was having this year and described this year's group as "more of a complete team" than units he's played on in the past. Prefontaine gets all the best wishes from this corner, but he'll need them; it's going to be tough for him to bounce back from this. If he's able to return to health and form, his chances at a starting job may be more certain than Pierce's, but both are facing significant odds.