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Naylor: The Weekend Wrap and a look ahead at Week 2

Dave Naylor
7/3/2012 6:56:43 PM
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There is of course a long way to go this CFL season and the returns on a single week are rarely much indication of where things will shake out by the end of October.

But given all the anticipation about how new and improved the East Division was supposed to be this season, it was hard to ignore the West pitching a 4-0 shutout over the weekend.

The combined results of those games were one thing. But how about the fact that none of the East Division teams managed to hit the 17-point mark while the four Western teams averaged just over 33 points per game during Week 1?

There is no obvious reason why four Western teams should come out of the gate ahead of those from the East, beyond perhaps the fact that seven of the eight co-ordinators in the East Division are new to their teams, compared to just two in the West.

There is, however, a long tradition of West dominating East in the CFL, including amassing a better regular season record in each of the six seasons since the league reverted to two four-team divisions before the 2006 season. It's a pattern than defies explanation in a league where each team operates under a salary cap and so many players and coaches shuffle from one division to the other.

But the one critical element in which Western teams have consistently outdone their Eastern counterparts is when it comes to developing quarterbacks.

Go over the best CFL quarterbacks of the past 25 seasons and you'll find almost every one of them broke into the league with a West Division team.

For example, Matt Dunigan, Tracy Ham, Doug Flutie, Damon Allen, Dave Dickenson, Jeff Garcia, Ricky Ray, Henry Burris, and Kent Austin all broke into the league with West Division teams.

The pattern has generally been that quarterbacks will emerge from the West, then often play out their careers in the East, sometimes with plenty left in the tank (Doug Flutie) and sometimes without (Kent Austin).
 
Consider that of the eight starting quarterbacks in Week 1 of this season, not a single one broke into the league with an East Division team (including Anthony Calvillo since Las Vegas was a West Division team during his rookie season in 1994).

This season, three of the four Western teams are quarterbacked by players who've only played for one CFL team in B.C.'s Travis Lulay, Saskatchewan's Darian Durant and Calgary's Drew Tate. (Tate spent two seasons on Saskatchewan's practice roster before being cut without ever playing in a game.)

Contrast that to the East where three of the four teams are being quarterbacked by players deemed expendable by the Western Division teams for which they used to play. That's not to suggest that Buck Pierce, Ricky Ray or Henry Burris are has-beens. But it's true that each of their former teams deemed they could get by without them.

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Some other news and observations from Week 1 in the CFL and a look ahead to Week 2:

Back when he returned to Hamilton in early June, there seemed little doubt that Avon Cobourne would become Hamilton's No. 1 running back to start the season, especially since the Ticats agreed to pay him a significant salary for dropping his blooming career in insurance to return to football. Which is why it came as a bit of a shocker to see the 33-year-old as a healthy scratch for Friday's season-opener against Saskatchewan, benched in favour of rookie Chevon Walker. The Ticat staff simply thought that Walker gave them a better chance to win, based in part on his ability to break runs into open field for big gains. With Walker producing 132 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in his regular-season debut, it doesn't seem likely that he'll be coming out of the lineup anytime soon. So unless the Tiger-Cats can find a way to get two import running backs on the roster – a luxury many teams can't afford – it's fair to wonder whether Cobourne's second go-around with Hamilton might be a short one.

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Interesting rule being invoked by Hamilton head coach George Cortez, who has banned players from talking about the previous week's game – win or lose – beyond a 24-hour period. Since players are usually not available to the media the day after a game, and players often don't want to analyze a performance immediately afterward, this will present some challenges for Ticat beat writers.

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The most surprising thing about Montreal's 38-10 loss at Calgary was the poor play of the league's highest scoring offence from a year ago. It was by no means a career day for Anthony Calvillo (16 of 31 for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions – he had only eight interceptions all of last season) but the Montreal quarterback didn't get much help from his receivers. More importantly, Montreal's run game (12 carries for 39 yards) consistently left the Als in second-and-long situations. One year ago the Als finished second in rushing yards per game and first in producing first-downs along the ground. But that element of their game was completely absent against the Stampeders.

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The Calgary Stampeders wound up with some egg on their faces last week when their first-round draft pick – and No. 5 overall – defensive lineman Ameet Pall – bolted to Montreal without ever playing a regular season game for the Stampeders. Calgary maintains it explained to Pall that he was only cut because the team needed to open roster spots while it waited for medical reports on a number of players injured during their final pre-season game at Saskatchewan. The Stamps believed they had an understanding with Pall, who was to have an MRI on his injured foot in Calgary and then presumably would have been added to either the 9-game injured list or placed on the practice roster, once his medical status became clear. Bottom line is that the Stampeders took a risk exposing him and the Alouettes – who play in Pall's hometown – pounced. But the real issue – and not a new one – has to do with teams playing their final pre-season games late in the week and then being forced to set their roster within 24 hours. Throw in travel and teams can't reasonably know the medical status of any players injured during that final tune-up. It would make sense for the league to either back up its cut-down deadline at least a day, or give teams participating in the final pre-season game some extra time to set their rosters.

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Hamilton surrendering 43 points to the Saskatchewan Roughriders was among the more stunning storylines from Week 1 in the CFL. It's worth considering that the Roughriders had a possible advantage in that matchup since their head coach, Corey Chamblin, was Hamilton's defensive co-ordinator one year ago. Still there is reason for concern in Hamilton where the Cats started two new defensive ends in Shawn Crable and Brandon Boudreax and weren't able to get much heat on Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant. And there are those who believe that while Hamilton linebackers Rey Williams, Jamall Johnson, Kevin Eiben and Markeith Knowlton all are big hitters, their abilities in pass coverage can be exploited.

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Kudos to Montreal head coach Marc Trestman for not trying to defend the late hit by Als linebacker Shea Emry on Calgary quarterback Drew Tate Sunday night. Emry pounced on Tate, who had just recovered a fumble and had essentially given himself up on the play. There's little doubt that Emry was in the wrong (he was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty) but the sports world is full of coaches who will defend the indefensible. It was nice to see Trestman break that mould.

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Noticeably absent from the stats sheet Friday night for Hamilton was receiver Dave Stala, who was never shut out for catches during the 2011 season.

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The Toronto Argonauts have to be disappointed at not coming away with a victory at Edmonton after all the sense that they had stolen quarterback Ricky Ray from Edmonton over the off-season. Still, there are reasons for the Argos to be optimistic at the very least because Toronto did several things that should be easily correctable in the weeks ahead. Such as:

-- 18 penalties for 118 yards
-- a touchdown taken off the board by a holding call
-- a touchdown pass dropped by receiver Chad Owens
-- two missed field goals by Noel Prefontaine
-- Running back Cory Boyd touching the ball 18 times but producing only 57 yards, including a mind-boggling 10 receptions for nine yards.

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The 12 receptions for Nik Lewis versus Montreal marked the highest number of catches he has had in a single game during his career.

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B.C. middle linebacker Adam Bighill may not provide quite the same wallop as the man he is replacing, former two-time CFL hardest hitter Soloman Elimimian. But Bighill moves extremely well for a big man and gets up-field extremely quickly.

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Calgary rookie linebacker Deron Mayo is the younger brother of New England Patriot linebacker Jerod Mayo.

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Notable about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Week 1 loss to B.C. is simply how similar that game played out to the types of games the Bombers played a year ago. Winnipeg in 2011 typically struggled early on offence, while their defence managed to hold them in games during the second half, requiring a big play on one side of the ball to emerge victorious. The Bombers were so frustrated by their lack of offensive production last season that they fired former offensive co-ordinator Jamie Baresi immediately following the season, replacing him with Gary Crowton, a coach with tons of NCAA and NFL experience but none in the three-down game. It appears Buck Pierce will start this Friday's game for Winnipeg at Montreal. But a few more stat lines such as that from Week 1, (3 of 9 for 11 yards) and one has to wonder when – healthy or not – Pierce may find himself on the bench.

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Week 1 pick of two CFL players who are not yet CFL stars but will be by season's end. Offence: Saskatchewan RB Kory Sheets – the 27-year-old rookie had 80 yards rushing and 43 yards on two catches versus Hamilton. Defence: Winnipeg DL Bryant Turner – the second-year Bomber had three sacks against the B.C. Lions and repeatedly demonstrated his ability to get up-field with stunning quickness.

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