Congratulations to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for finishing what they set out to accomplish in 2013 - to hoist the Grey Cup in their own backyard. For a CFL player, that overwhelming feeling of satisfaction is not often realized. And though it is often difficult to put into words for others to understand, a football season has finally become complete for you. I am not sure what was more impressive, running back Kory Sheets rushing for a record-setting 197 yards or the job that Roughriders general manager Brendon Taman did in piecing together a championship team. The strength of the Riders offensive and defensive lines was undeniable and, when you rush for a total of 268 yards in a game, you are communicating to everyone your dominance on the field.
One of the things that I enjoy doing is trying to predict the key storylines in each season and then look back at the conclusion of the season to see how they played out:
1. Is B.C. better without Geroy Simon & Arland Bruce?
Deciding when it is time to cut ties with veteran players who have given everything they have to the team and the city is the most difficult job for a GM. Although I'm happy both Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III were picked up by other teams, I believe this move was one that needed to be made. I'm sure that the B.C. Lions could have benefitted from their leadership, but at the end of the day, Nick Moore and Emmanuel Arceneaux finished the season with more catches, yards and touchdowns than Simon and Bruce. The issue for the Lions in 2013 was not the inexperienced receiving corps, but rather a porous offensive line and the fact that quarterback Travis Lulay couldn't stay healthy.
2. Is Kent Austin good or lucky?
I don't think that anyone can argue that Kent Austin is not a good coach after taking a young team all the way to the Grey Cup in his first year ... again! One could argue that he needed some luck along the way to pull the season together, but what successful season doesn't need a few things to go your way? That the Montreal Alouettes lost quarterback Anthony Calvillo for the season and the Toronto Argonauts had a brutal gameplan in the Eastern Divison final helped Austin's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. However, don't take anything away from the Ticats, who capitalized on the opportunities presented them. Austin has a way about him that convinces his young players that they can win. And they do.
3. Will Orlondo Steinauer or Noel Thorpe make their mark?
Both assistant coaches took on huge tasks this season, looking to rebuild really poor defences. It was odd to see the defence carry the Alouettes, considering how it was obviously the weak link in 2012. Thorpe did an impressive job piecing together a Montreal defence that finished first in takeaways and second in quarterback sacks. It took a little while for the Hamilton defence to become a unit capable of holding Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray to only 50 yards passing in the second half of the East final. Heading into the Grey Cup, six of Hamilton's 12 starters on defence were not with the team at the beginning of the season. Both Thorpe and Steinauer should be congratulated for the work that they were able to do this season.
4. Can Ed Hervey build a winner?
The Edmonton Eskimos GM has plenty more work to do. Although the team did not succeed this year, I feel Hervey made a good choice in quarterback Mike Reilly, who finished the season with more passing yards that Darian Durant (Saskatchewan) and threw just as many touchdown passes as Henry Burris (Hamilton). I can't believe that Reilly finished the season standing after the weekly punishment that he took. If Hervey can find some offensive linemen this off-season, Edmonton could have a really strong offensive unit. I can't say he made the right decision acquiring Odell Willis, though. True, the defensive end finished with nine sacks, but I think that he has made a career out of celebrating that statistic. Willis is a five-step guy who only gets to the quarterback if he is unblocked or paired up against a running back. There is a reason why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Riders let him go and Hervey should cut his losses and do the same.
5. Will Drew Tate step up?
Drew Tate can't stay healthy long enough for us to reach a conclusion on whether or not he can be a starting quarterback. He completed five of 11 passes, including one for a touchdown, in the West final in relief of Kevin Glenn. Still, it will be interesting to see which quarterback the Calgary Stampeders protect heading into the expansion draft for the Ottawa RedBlacks. My money is on Calgary protecting Bo Levi Mitchell before Tate. Here is a guy who emerged from the shadows with solid showings in back-to-back Labour Day Classics and showed that he is a talented player who not only knows how to win football games, but stay healthy.
6. Any gas left in the tank?
I was curious to see if veterans released from teams and picked up by others would continue to be the marquee players they once were. I'm happy that Simon will be remembered for his two touchdown catches in the Grey Cup, but the reality was he caught only three passes in the win and only 40 on the season. Simon was described as a "complement" receiver for the Riders. My opinion is they overpaid for a "once was great" player. Simon collected $5,000 per catch this season ... and, for that, I congratulate him.
7. Is Saskatchewan spending wisely?
I believe the job that Taman did, piecing together a Grey Cup championship team, is the most impressive feat of the season. Yes, he was given the budget to grab the players and coaches he wanted, but we have to give him credit for pulling his plan together.
And with that, another great CFL season is now in the history books.
Follow Greg Frers on Twitter @frersCBCsports
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