Every once in a while an athlete catches your attention. For me, it is usually a natural, almost effortless movement that seems like an instinctive extension of themselves. What they are able to do so effortlessly, others mechanically manufacture with all of the effort they can harness.
During the pre-season there were two players who caught my attention, which I made mention of in a blog I wrote called 10 things to watch in CFL in 2012. I felt Kory Sheets of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Chad Simpson of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had the tools that would establish them as two of the next dynamic athletes of the CFL in 2012.
There are two things I really enjoy observing: Raw dynamic God-given athleticism in action and being proven right about my assessment.
Since writing the blog late in June, we have been able to see what kind of talent Kory Sheets is. Much of the early success the Riders are having offensively is due to the play of Sheets.
Coming out of training camp, quarterback Darian Durant was one of his strongest supporters and he suggested Sheets would quickly become a household name to CFL fans.
With the departure of veteran running back Wes Cates, Sheets has filled the rushing vacancy extremely well. The Riders average over 100 yards rushing per game and with the establishment of a balanced attack, the Riders have challenged and already beaten some of the best defences in the league.
For the past four weeks, I have had a permanent grin on my face as I had a feeling that Kory Sheets was going to be one of those special athletes we get to enjoy watching.
Sheets has registered a touchdown in every game so far this season and currently sits second among rushers this season (317 yards) just behind Toronto's all-star back Cory Boyd (373). CFL fans have now come to appreciate the explosive speed that he brings to the game which allows him to get to the edge of the field, turn the corner and effortlessly avoid would-be tacklers down the sideline.
Although it took four weeks before we had a chance to see the Bombers' Chad Simpson play in a regular-season game, I was not disappointed.
Simpson was finally inserted into the starting running back role over Bloi-Dei Dorzon to see if he could provide a spark on offence following the its poor performance against the Argos. Entering Week 4, Winnipeg only averaged 71 yards rushing per game and with an offence led by an inexperienced quarterback, they were in desperate need of more production from their ground attack.
It didn't take long for us to see the explosiveness that Simpson brings to the field. On the second play of the game, he was able to take a busted play and convert it into a substantial gain by breaking several tackles. Every time that he touched the ball, Simpson was an offensive threat and consistently advanced the chains.
As much as you could tell that Simpson was an impactful offensive threat, you could also tell he wasn't even close to being in game shape.
By halftime he was completely gassed and the hot humid night in Toronto had got the best of him as he crumbled on the sidelines with leg cramps. However, by the half he had already surpassed the Bombers average rushing total per game, with 77 yards.
The second half was a battle for Simpson but he was able to finish the game with 122 yards of offence against a stingy Chris Jones defence.
What I really like about Simpson is how quickly and aggressively he hits the hole. The Bombers' O-line has struggled so far this season, and having a back that can get through the line quickly means the boys up front don't need to sustain their blocks for very long.
His speed through the hole gets him quickly into space behind the defensive line where he has the ability to be a very physical back who chooses to initiate contact. With great balance he lowers his shoulder, breaking tackles and keeping his shoulders downfield.
Although he has the ability to be an explosive back like Sheets in space, he also has the power and balance to be a great between-the-offensive-tackles running back.
Simpson showed he is the real deal on the field, and also proved he has no business in front of a camera with a mic in hand. At halftime when asked by the sideline reporter what his impressions were of the first half, I think he said something in regards to how well the Bombers offensive line was playing, but I can't be sure.
It was great to see he understood he should give credit to the big boys up front. However, I am still not sure that what he spewed out of his mouth was English.
Both of these backs have a dynamic athleticism that is unmistakable, and when placed onto the CFL stage, the result is jaw-dropping entertainment. Both of these backs have bounced around the NFL and as they head into their late 20's they are both extremely motivated to seize the opportunity that they have been given in order to make a career out of a football dream.
Each year there are a couple players who step up and grab your attention. I think it is a safe bet that we will continue to see great moments from these two backs through the 2012 season.
Khalif Mitchell barred 2 games
The CFL released its disciplinary ruling in relation to the violent and "unnecessary, reckless act" of B.C. Lions defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell towards Edmonton Eskimos offensive lineman, Simeon Rottier. The video repay was pretty nasty, to say the least.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon held a hearing late Monday with Mitchell and a representative of the Canadian Football League Players' Association via telephone.
"This type of behaviour has no place in our game and will not be tolerated," Cohon said. "Any play that unnecessarily puts one of our players at risk of serious injury will be met with discipline."
I have three things to say about this incident.
First, when a player chooses to do something as blatantly vicious as he did and gets caught in the act on tape, keep our mouth shut and let football administration and legal counsel represent you.
When asked by reporters to explain his action, Mitchell responded by saying, "I'm a nasty player. Not a dirty player. I was just playing football ... it was a football play. If an O-lineman is trying to block me, I'm taught to get his hands off me." Really, keep your mouth closed.
Secondly, anyone who watched the replay of the act will conclude Mitchell was fully aware of the fact that he was bracing Rottier's arm and initiated a movement to hyperextend his arm with the intent to inflict pain. I can't conclude Mitchell was intending to injure Rottier, but I would suggest his intent was to inflict some pain. The video replay is pretty clear to me that there was no 'football' purpose in his body movement.
Lastly, those of you who were appalled by the violent act need to understand that football is played by violent men who would be charged with assault every week if they acted the same way on the streets as they did on the football field.
To be clear, football players are men that crave the collisions and brutality of the game like adrenaline junkies crave jumping out of airplanes. Nothing nice happens in the trenches of a football game. Like a hockey fight, there are times in a football game when a player may step outside of the rules of the game to "communicate" a message to their opponent.
The league office responded as I anticipated it would. Although some will suggest the two-game suspension is not harsh enough, I imagine it is the maximum allowable suspension under the CFL's collective bargaining agreement. The message conveyed by the league was that the CFL brand is to be respected and that player safety is paramount where no tolerance whatsoever is to be given to any suspected infraction.
I would anticipate that even though discipline has been meted out, the next meeting between B.C. and Edmonton on Sept. 22 will be a battle you won't want to miss.
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