CFL season preview: 10 players to watch
Will a bigger Reilly be even better? Can Ricky Ray stay healthy?
With a new franchise and a lot of player movement in the Canadian Football League between seasons, some old faces in new roles pop up among the players to watch in 2014. The league lost some key players to the NFL after the end of the 2013 season.
Saskatchewan lost both running back Kory Sheets and receiver Weston Dressler and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost star Canadian linebacker Henoc Muamba and receiver Chris Matthews.
Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the all-time passing leader in professional football, and Geroy Simon, the CFL's all-time leading receiver, also both decided to retire.
Here are 10 players to watch expected to play major roles in how their teams fare in 2014:
It looks like the running back will finally get back to the starting blocks with the Redblacks. He seems to have the tools but wasn't allowed to use them fully in Hamilton, where he sat behind the versatile C.J. Gable on the depth chart last season. But he rushed for 656 yards in 2012, his first season with the Ticats, and had a combined 1,411 all-purpose yards when receiving and kick returns were included.
One of three first-time starters at quarterback this season, he likely faces the biggest challenge turning around the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a franchise that finished just 3-15 last season. The former Saskatchewan backup doesn't lack confidence and the team has looked better in the pre-season than last year. Yes, they lost both games, but by a combined total of just five points. Last year they scored just six to the 76 scored against them in their pre-seasonmatchups.
The rock he has to push up the hill is only slightly smaller than Willy's. Edmonton finished ahead of only the Bombers in 2013 (4-14), as Reilly won the starting quarterback's job by default when Matt Nichols went down with an ACL injury in the pre-season. Reilly completed 305 of his 512 passes for 4,207 yards last season. He also rushed for 709 more, good enough for fifth in the CFL, as his legs made up for other deficiencies in the Eskimos' lineup. He's added about 25 pounds since last season to withstand the wear and tear.
In 2012 Owens set the all-time record for all-purpose yards in a single season and was voted the league's outstanding player. He finished with 3,863 all-purpose yards, a CFL and professional football record. But in 2013 he started only 13
games for Toronto and finished with a total of 2,172 yards. He remains one of Toronto's most potent weapons but even he couldn't get them to the Grey Cup last season. He also turned 32 this year.
Last season wasn't a banner year for Ray or the Argonauts, although they finished first in the CFL East. Shoulder and leg injuries cost him almost half a season and his usual passing accuracy vanished in the second half of the East final. He threw 17-for-20, 279 yards and two touchdowns in the first and 5-for-12, 50 yards and no touchdowns in the second as the Ticats won 36-24 and booked a trip to the Grey Cup. At 34, can Ray stay healthy this season and add perhaps one more to his collection of three Grey Cup rings?
Moore caught fire in 2013 with B.C., finishing third in CFL receiving yards. Can he move that ability a few provinces East, where the Blue Bombers are competing in the West Division for the first time in nine years? The Bombers made Moore and Canadian defensive back Graig Newman priorities in their pre-season shopping spree and have already lost Newman to injury. A couple of 1,000-yard seasons from Moore and veteran Clarence Denmark could help bring the Bombers back to respectability.
You only get one chance to make a first impression and the Ottawa Redblacks have decided to trust theirs to Henry Burris, the current dean of CFL quarterbacks now that Calvillo has retired. Like Calvillo, Burris is playing at an age (39) when many have hung up their cleats. He has played for three CFL teams and was signed by two NFL teams in his 17-year career, winning Grey Cups in 1998 (as a backup) and 2008 (starter) with Calgary.
Talk about a tough act to follow. Smith is stepping into the shoes of professional football's all-time passing leader. Montreal without Calvillo seems like poutine without cheese - what's going to keep the Alouettes together? Smith is a former
Heisman Trophy winnner who spent three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL, also played for San Francisco and went 2-1 last season for an injured Calvillo.
Ricky Ray casts a long shadow but Collaros managed to stand out as a backup and became a top prize in the quarterback sweepstakes. Can he build on the momentum Henry Burris created last season when he took the Ticats to the Grey Cup? Hamilton is looking for a little magic to christen their new stadium. An Eastern final and another trip to the Grey Cup would do just fine but they're thinking long-term with the 25-year-old.
The dynamo Canadian running back is coming off his best season ever with the Calgary Stampeders, 1,813 yards. He was an all-star and the CFL's outstanding Canadian in both 2012 and 2013 and the league's CFL's outstanding player last season. Cornish and the Stamps led the CFL regular season at 14-4 but came up short in the West final against the Roughriders. With Kory Sheets's move to the NFL, can any other running back even come close to Cornish in 2014?