September 12, 2011
CFL Blitz - Pivotal decisions
By IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency
Take a minute to ponder this scenario. It’s the mid-1990s, and there is a CFL quarterback struggling, completing 50.6% of his passes with a 69.0 rating.
Cut him and forget about him, right? The stats attached to that player during his first 25 starts in the CFL are ugly, to be sure, and one team did give up on him.
Had a different team not given Anthony Calvillo another chance, the name of the eventual all-time passing yardage leader in pro football history would be forgotten.
We bring this up because there were many who wanted Cleo Lemon gone from the Toronto Argonauts almost since the day he arrived in the CFL, and those critics got their wish a week ago.
In 25 starts with the Argos, Lemon certainly had his struggles. Nobody would argue with that. However, as a general rule, American-born QBs coming into Canada need time adjusting to the nuances of the three-down game.
Is a season-and-a-half enough? It wasn’t for Calvillo, but he was rescued after his release from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and joined the Montreal Alouettes. He was Tracy Ham’s backup for a couple of years before becoming one of the best pivots of all-time.
During Lemon’s tenure with the Argos, he was the starting QB for all 11 of the team’s wins. In Calvillo’s first 25 starts, he only won eight games, granted with horrible teams in Las Vegas and Hamilton.
But what would you call the Argos offence? The receiving corps that was built around Lemon wasn’t exactly stocked with all-stars, and the offence was a run-first philosophy.
This isn’t to say Lemon would eventually turn the Argos into Grey Cup contenders, but his performances were improving this season before the outing against the Lions that prompted his release.
Calvillo isn’t the only current CFL starting pivot who struggled out of the gate. In Henry Burris’ first 25 starts, he had a 9-15 record and an 83.0 passer rating. He threw 34 interceptions but with 44 touchdowns to show flashes of what he would eventually become.
Since those first 25 games, Burris has a 74-44-3 record, as he grew into his potential and became of the league’s most dangerous gunslingers.
Of course, there are rare cases when a QB steps right out of college and becomes a star, and Ricky Ray is the best recent example. In leading the Edmonton Eskimos to Grey Cup appearances in his first three seasons (2002-03, ’05), Ray became an instant star.
The 18-7 record and 109.7 passer rating in his first 25 starts is quite amazing, but the Eskimos have struggled offensively over the past few seasons. Since that start, Ray has a 56-58-1 mark, and his career passer rate has dropped to 95.8.
One thing is clear, now that the Argos have turned the page and are going with Steven Jyles as their starting QB, they will have to give him time to get going.
Jyles has only made 12 starts in the CFL, and his record is a dismal 2-10. Could it be the start of something? We have to wait (patiently) to find out.
PIERCE KNOCKED SILLY
A beaten and battered Buck Pierce is questionable for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers visit to Montreal this weekend. The biggest hit Pierce took, a massive shot on a blitz by Saskatchewan Roughriders safety Craig Butler, was a carbon copy of the hit Pierce took in Hamilton earlier this year. Pierce can’t blame anybody but himself — for not recognizing the heat coming from his right side on either play.
“We checked to a quick screen,” said Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice about Butler’s hit. “The receiver didn’t hear it — he missed the check. I told Buck, ‘If you know he missed the check, just get the ball out of your hands’ ” … The B.C. Lions said goodbye to Empire Field on a strong note, improving their record at the temporary home to 5-9. After losing the first four dates at Empire, the Lions were 5-5 there, but they are happy to be headed back to B.C. Place Stadium, now renovated. With four wins in six games, the Lions playoff hopes are alive and well. They can pin their hopes on this fact: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup in 1984 after a 1-5 start … The last time the Calgary Stampeders completed a wild Hail Mary to end a half, it was 2008. The Teyo Johnson TD at home vs. the MOntreal Alouettes propelled them to a strong second half and a Grey Cup run. The miracle moment Friday against the Edmonton Eskimos was different in that Nik Lewis didn’t outjump opponents but instead let the tipped ball come to him. The play was actually designed by Stamps offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson and executed to perfection. “When you practise that play, you just think the coaches are making you do it just to waste your time,” said Stamps running back Joffrey Reynolds.
If Stampeders fans felt a touch of deja-vu during the Banjo Bowl, there is a good reason for that. When the Roughriders completed a fake field goal on a shovel pass from holder Weston Dressler to Wes Cates, it must have looked oddly familiar to folks in Calgary. That’s because Riders special teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson held the same position with the Stamps from 2005-09, and under former head coach Tom Higgins especially, Dickenson would dream up creative fakes, and his rate of execution was extremely high with the Stamps. It took until halfway through his first season in Regina, but it appears Dickenson has found his groove with the Riders … Next season, bet on the Argos losing in Vancouver. The last Argos victory in B.C. was 2002 … A week ago, the Ticats looked like they had taken the balance of power from the Alouettes in the East Division. Now, all the Als need to do is beat the Ticats by two points at home Oct. 16 to take the season-series … Since 2009, the Ticats haven’t beat the Stamps, the Als or the Riders on the road … Chris Getzlaf is the Cris Carter of the CFL: He only catches touchdowns. The Riders receiver had a stretch over three games with five straight receptions, all for majors … At this rate, the Stamps might want to go on the road for the playoffs. They have a seven-game road winning streak dating back to last year — the best run they’ve had since eight in 1994-95 … Clearly Darian Durant loves Ken Miller. How else do you explain his 119.9 passer rating since Miller took back over as head coach of the Riders? Durant had an 86.4 rating this season under head coach Greg Marshall and offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry before they both were turfed … The defence in Swaggerville will need to function without a key cog, maybe for the rest of the season. LB Joe Lobendahn suffered a knee injury Sunday and could be gone for the rest of 2011 … The Lions, who have their next five games against West opponents, have gone 13 quarters without giving up a TD … Lions R Marco Iannuzzi could play another 10 years in the CFL and not record another INT. The rookie receiver picked off Argos kicker Noel Prefontaine on a fake punt.
On Twitter: @ianbusby57