Of all four games played in in Week 1, the most impressive were the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on two levels.
First, Investors Group Field is as special as a football stadium and home field for the Bombers .
I didn't have the opportunity to visit the facility last year, so this year when I found out we were going to be there in person, I was eager to take a look. And it lived up to my expectations and more.
Outside, the visual concept and construction is exceptional. The sheer size, the lower bowl, the overhang of protection - all looks and feels professional and impressive.
The only criticism is they could have developed a more advanced scoreboard for the patrons, but that's the only negative I can express. Other than that, Investors Group Field is a gem of a football field inside and out.
And it's inside where it's even more enlightening. The visitors' locker room is better than most home locker rooms in North America. The weight room, meeting rooms and medical facilities are excellent and all in close proximity to one another. The architects and financiers involved did great work - a magnificent upgrade from the old stadium.
As far as the game went, I enjoyed the dominate win with cautious optimism. No argument from me that Winnipeg was the better team, but as with any football game there's a reason why a team wins and a team loses.
Winnipeg won because Toronto was not ready to play. The best indicator of that were the opening drives, seven plays, 62 yards and a touchdown to start the first half and then six plays, 62 yards and a touchdown to start the second half. They were not ready to play and to the credit of the Bombers they took advantage.
Toronto lost because of Drew Willy. Not an overwhelming statistical day, but he looked very comfortable as a quarterback. He was calm, precise and prepared. In football, when one person has success there are always others assisting. Offensive coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille had his quarterback very well prepared and you have to think Buck Pierce had a calming influence too. Willy looked great.
Now I say cautious optimism, because I seriously doubt that the Bombers next opponent - the Ottawa Redblacks on Thursday night - will provide 16 penalties just in the first half for a second week in a row.
For the Argos, next week is an intense test again. Saskatchewan Roughriders in their home opener with questions about pass rush, pass coverage and on field playing discipline. No time is on their side with a weekend away from football and five full preparation days. But after Saturday afternoon, Toronto has to know if they have good players that did not play well, or players that cannot play at a CFL pro level. Tough question to answer.
Game No. 2 of Week 1 was Montreal at Calgary - Bo Levi Mitchell vs. Troy Smith. Mitchell played well especially when you consider it was his fourth start and his fourth win. He has a good deep ball which all receivers love to see and like Drew Willy, was calm as a pro. Troy Smith had to be polite, being a tough day and all. Yes -there's a new offensive coordinator, new offence, only one game of action in the second exhibition and of course, the wind. But I saw a quarterback who could not throw effectively at all. I counted 10 overthrows with receivers wide open.
What's surprising is that I did not see this massive inaccuracy last year at all. Something's missing. I am sure as a pro, Troy Smith will find the problem and get it fixed by Friday night's game against BC. At least I think so.
The drama in this game was from a vicious hit by Kyries Hebert on Jon Cornish . Was it retaliation of the Nik Lewis hit on Marc-Olivier Brouilliette? I don't think so. The Lewis hit was legal, the Hebert hit was not. If legal, players don't get enraged to defend another player, if illegal they do. I think Kyries just "lost it" in a game that was already determined. I have seen it many times - when one team is dominating another team and it is only the beginning of the fourth quarter, it can get ugly fast and it did in Calgary.
To the players' credit, Kyries Hebert's apologetic comments and Jon Cornish's calm and thought out explaining why was impressive.
As much as a Calgary home win could be predicted and a dominant Bomber win is a unique surprise, I'm not sure how to evaluate the 27-20 win by Edmonton in BC. Early on, this looked like the Lions were ready and Edmonton was anything but. Three plays and six points to start a game for B.C. is an ultimate start.
Yet you really have to give the Eskimos compliments because as the game moved went on, you could sense that Edmonton was getting stronger and B.C. was fading. A question and an issue going into the game and the season is: can Mike Reilly be protected through the season? Although it's early and there were some individual pass rush breakdowns, it does not look like it will be a 60-sack season in Edmonton and it looks as if Reilly spent some time on a baseball diamond perfecting a second base slide.
Once in the first and once in the third, Reilly could have played the hero and dove for extra yards putting his brain in jeopardy. Instead, he did the intelligent response and slid into second to stay in the game.
No one touched him, there was no brain injury risk and it was a nice, mature play.
One thing Reilly must do is tell his new running back Tyler Thomas to learn how to pass block and who to pass block. Thomas took the job from Hue Charles and looked as fast and quick as anticipated. But he was beaten physically for a hit on the quarterback and again mentally for a hit on his quarterback.
That's one aspect of his game that must improve ASAP as someone's help depends on it. Another player that caught my eye was Dexter McCoil – a linebacker who was a previous safety. Sometimes a player just looks too athletically good not to think there is a spot for him somewhere. McCoil runs like a 5'11" guy and has long arms to compliment the speed. Edmonton went into the game without J.C. Sherritt - their best middle linebacker.
Now I'm not saying McCoil is the next Sherritt, but depending on ratio there has to be a place for him on game day.
For BC, this was a tough loss. Next week they're in Montreal to play an Als team that also needs to bounce back. BC allowed a fake field goal for a first down and a fake kick-off to lose possession. That should never happen.
Finally, Ticats and Riders. The 31-10 final flatters the Ticats, as I have not seen a more dominant performance by one team in an opener in a long time. Running back Anthony Allen looked confident in his first game as a Rider.
I'm not sure if the Riders will find the next Weston Dressler but just may have found the next Kory Sheets. Allan is a big back and has the patience and explosive ability when the opportunity presents itself. Now one game doesn't create a confident reality, but it seems with 27 carries for 158 yards in difficult weather, Allen is off to a great start.
To say this will be a difficult week for Kent Austin and his Ticats is stating the obvious. There next two games are at Edmonton and at Calgary and then the home opener at Tim Horton's Field. What do you do? How do you approach the work week after being physically abused on both offensive and defensive lines? Because it's only Game 1, I do think you have confront yourself and learn from your mistakes. I would not want to be in the video meetings with the Ticats. Just like the Argonauts, this next week will say a lot not only about Hamilton's talent and character. The single biggest issue is quarterback protection.
Now it's not as simple as blocking better. Protection is a combination of quarterback skill, pass blocking design, route running and running back toughness. All four elements come into play for a pass play to produce perfection. The next two games will say a lot.
Finally, I'll enjoy watching the Ottawa Redblacks play come Thursday night in Winnipeg. I believe for this league to make it, Ottawa must thrive as a CFL city (and a 10th city must be found out East). As the nation's capital, you must have a good team and as a country you must include one of the hidden gems of our country along the East Coast. Looking forward to Thursday night.