A confident Henry Burris looked very good against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last week. (Canadian Press)
Q and A: Greg Frers
The CFL this Week
CBCSports.ca ask one of our CFL on CBC analysts to dissect league happenings and provide insight into the football action ahead
Last Updated Thurs., July 5,, 2007
Q: Henry Burris looked very comfortable in Calgaryís opening-week victory against Hamilton. His decision-making was strong and he didnít turn the ball over. How is offensive co-ordinator George Cortez influencing Burrisís game?
GF: I think that heís given Hank [Burris] a lot of confidence. Heís a very detail-oriented football coach. When you continue to hear responses from Hank and guys like [receiver Marc] Boerigter, who have familiarity with Cortez (Boerigter was with George in 2001 and Burris was with him in 1999), what they like about his offence is he creates options for all circumstances in a football game.
When you have options, you have a greater probability of success, and that breeds a level of confidence with the players. Game 1 is always very difficult, especially for a guy like George Cortez who is very good at preparation and putting his players in the right position, to succeed because you donít have any game film to prepare for that game plan. What you did see in Game 1, and this is a good illustration of the skill that Cortez has, is the Calgary Stampeders outscore the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 20-3 in the second half. What this means is George was able to dissect the first half of the game, when they were leading 17-6, and figure out what Hamilton was doing and find ways to adjust their offensive strategy to be more successful. And thatís what George Cortez brings to this football club. He is so good at dissecting whatís going on in real time that heís able to make the offensive that much more effective.
Q: There appears to be a war of words playing out in the media between B.C.ís O-lineman Rob Murphy, and outside tackle Jason Jimenez, and Edmonton defensive linemen Rahim Abdullah and Adam Braidwood. Each side is accusing the other of dirty play last season. Weíll see what plays out on the field when the two teams play Friday, but could you enlighten the CFL fan as to what kind of activity happens in ďthe trenches?Ē
GF: Anything that can possibly go without being called. Itís kind of like that old saying, 'If youíre not cheating, youíre not trying.' In this situation, both sides are trying to create a level of intimidation. What [Murphy and Jimenez] do really well is bring an attitude and nastiness to that offensive line.
If in fact Abdullah were to go and get a late hit on Dave Dickenson, theyíre going to go and make sure he hears about it. How are they going to make sure he knows about it? Theyíre going to do certain things when the officialís eyes are not on them. So itís all about sending messages. Is it above board and according to the rules? Probably not. But much like in hockey, thereís an unwritten code that takes place on the ice that is against the rules, but people who play the game and are familiar with the game know that itís part of the game.
If itís a bend of the finger, or taking your hand and rubbing it up a facemask, or an extra twist of the knee here and there. Itís all part of the game. Ultimately itís a strategic thing too &;150# both sides of the ball are always trying to be able to create any level of hesitation, and that comes from trying to be a physical force. A guy like [Toronto Argonaut] Michael OíShea has been notorious for giving a late twist here and late twist there on peopleís body parts when heís in a scrum of people, and the reason why he does that is just to irritate you and to get you thinking about other things than executing the offence. [Former CFLer] Doug Peterson was one of the dirtiest players ever to play in the league, but he was a great defensive lineman too and you have to respect that.
Q: Iíd be remiss if I didnít ask how you felt the first official week with the new blocking and kicking rules on special teams went. Statistics appear to be up as of last season.
GF: I think what it does is open up the width of the field. Itís not like you couldnít hit somebody from the side last year, but it was called a little bit more stringently. You would have to be more on the front corner of the playerís shoulder last year (about a three- to four-inch difference from this season). Now you can hit directly onto the side of a person. What that opens up is sideline returns, side blocks, and that really leverages the width of the CFL game. It gives teams the ability to create space. We saw that happen in Week 1. Itís hard to say whether thatís how [Argos kick returner Bashir] Levingston was able to get his record return on a missed field goal Ė it was a medium-length field goal, so B.C. didnít put their more athletic bodies onto the field to cover that kick, so youíve got a bunch of heavy guys that donít run the field well. If you look at the start of the second half, B.C.ís Ian Smart was able to quickly get up field and get some yards on that kick return &;150# thatís more of an example.
By and large, youíre seeing explosiveness. [The CFLís head of officiating] George Black said that two years ago there were 55 flags thrown on kick returns, and in 2006, there was 126 thrown Ö I think thatís the number he said. Anyway, thatís why they had to evaluate and see whether or not they needed to make adjustments.
Q: It was an eerily similar beginning of the season with Hamilton with a miserable loss on Saturday. Itís only one game is it just growing pains (part of adding something like 25 players), or did Desjardins make enough changes in the off-season to address their problems?
GF: Letís wait and see. I donít know. Is this Jason Maasís fault? No. Does he have a supporting cast? Iím not sure yet. Does he have a supportive and strengthened coaching staff to give him the guidance to put the pieces together? I donít know. Thereís inexperience throughout that organization. When you have that level of newness all the way from offensive and defensive philosophies, offensive and defensive personnel, coaching personnel, front office personnel, you have every reason not to be successful. The Ticats have the potential to be successful, but they need to realize that. And thereís fans in Hamilton who are very impatient and justifiably so and the organization needs to show them something. It was too bad that the game got away on them last week, but again that speaks to a stronger coaching staff, I believe, in Calgary than a real weak roster of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Q: The CFL on CBC panel talked a bit about the way the Toronto Argonauts handled their quarterback situation last week, choosing to start Damon Allen. Now, theyíve gone to Bishop with McMahon as the backup. How do you feel the Argos handled this situation and could they have managed this in another way?
GF: They could have, but they didnít. Itís a really tough situation. I donít envy Mike Clemonsís position, I mean, how do you usher out a CFL legend? Whatís the right way of doing that when itís an individual who really feels like they can still compete? Thatís a real challenge. Weíre not privy to all the practices, but obviously Damon showed enough that the organization felt like he would come in and perform this year. But at the same time, how long as an organization can you hold Michael Bishop back who has really shown a lot of skill, specifically in the last two playoff games last year, before you start to fragment your team.
Ultimately you have competitors, and competitors want to win. And if theyíre seeing a quarterback like Damon Allen not showing levels of success and see a Michael Bishop have success and score points, then all of a sudden you get two divided camps of loyalty, and thatís not what you want. The other question that I have is what was promised to Mike McMahon to give up the clipboard in the NFL where he was making a lot more money than heís making right now to come and hold a clipboard here in the CFL. Clemons said this year that they finally had the quarterback of the future of the Toronto Argonauts in camp this year, so is that Bishop, who was on the roster last year but who has shown a tremendous amount of maturity this year? Or is it McMahon?
Just some interesting questions, weíre not privy to know what was promised or implied to these players, but ultimately I think it was a mistake to not deal with this prior to the season. I think theyíve done a disservice to Damon Allen and the valuable impression that heís placed in the minds of Canadians. Now heís been benched. Heís the veteran who doesnít have it anymore and heís been benched instead of looking like heís going out on his own terms. Thatís why you always give the player the option to retire or reposition himself and obviously Damon was not interested in any of that. Heís like Iím going to compete, youíre going to have to kick me out, and he probably pushed the envelope on it.
Q: This weekís CFL on CBC game is Toronto at Hamilton, two teams that opened the season with losses. What are the keys to victory for both teams in this game?
GF: The Argonauts need a much better showing from their offensive line. They gave up five sacks against B.C. That was supposed to be an area of improvement in their team. Thatís why they acquired Taylor Robinson and Mike Pearson, and Iím interested to know whether or not Steve Morley is going to be up the running curve far enough to play this week. Thereís been a lot of change and they just did not perform well. They did not protect the quarterback and they didnít run block very well. Jamel White was only able to rush for 44 yards on 14 carries Ė not a very good average at all. It always starts up front, and for Toronto, itís an area that has to improve.
For Hamilton, they need to be able to find out who is going to step up and be the supporting cast beyond Corey Holmes and Jesse Lumsden. Let me put it this way. The two top receivers for the Tiger-Cats were the two players I just mentioned. Two running backs. Someone has got to step up. Why did they have the urgency to make a trade with Saskatchewan to get [receivers] Thyron Anderson and Jason French? Obviously because theyíre not confident in the guys they have. Iíd be interested whether or not they play and whether or not they can absorb enough of this West Coast offence Ė which is supposedly very complicated Ė to be able to be effective. Until someone steps up as a supporting cast in the Hamilton receiving core, theyíre not going to have the type of offensive power you need to win games. You canít win games with your two running backs as your leading receivers. This is not a Jason Maas-Timmy Chang issue. Itís a, 'Who am I distributing the ball to?' issue.Ē
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