CFL East holds the hammer

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce looks sad on the sidelines late in the fourth...

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce looks sad on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter at the CFL's 99th Grey Cup at BC Place in Vancouver on Sunday Nov. 27, 2011. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

TORONTO - With the Buck stopping in Winnipeg, a process that became official on Thursday with the re-signing of Buck Pierce, it's worth taking a look at how the quarterback landscape has changed in the suddenly pivot-strong East.

Only when games officially are played and only when CFL rosters are officially established can one properly begin to judge the winners and losers, but with free agency looming, the CFLís East has become a beast, not to mention older when it comes to the guy who lines up under centre.

At 30 years old and entering his eighth season, Pierce is the relative youngster in a stable of arms that includes Anthony Calvillo, 39, Henry Burris, 36, and Ricky Ray, 32.

The quartet of quarterbacks gives the East arguably its most accomplished set of signal callers in a such a long time not even the most astute of CFL historians can refer to a comparable time.

But with age comes the inevitable question of staying healthy and ensuring a quality backup is present in the event of an injury.

As of today, itíll be hard for anyone not to give the Als the edge with Calvillo as the incumbent and Adrian McPherson serving as the understudy.

Despite a record-breaking year that vaulted Calvillo to the top of several of the leagueís career-passing categories, the veteran did take his share of shots.

Lost in Montrealís wild semifinal loss to Hamilton was how Calvillo torched the Ticatsí defence, but two turnovers, both in the first half on a fumble and interception, did lead to 10 points.

For the first time in a long while, the Als enter the coming season with plenty to prove, beginning with Calvillo.

In Hamilton, Burris will be given a new lease on his football life as new head coach George Cortez takes over an offence that will usher in change to virtually each position.

And with the Ticats poised to be aggressive and active once the free agent door swings open in two weeks, additional change is all but certain.

Ray can only hope the Argos establish a go-to receiver, either from within or through an acquisition.

As of now, the only other quarterback under contract is B.J. Hall.

Hall, despite his athletic talents, is nowhere near ready to handle any snaps if Ray is forced to miss any time.

Dalton Bell, a free agent, wonít be back and no doubt the Argos under rookie head coach Scott Milanovich have begun to audition quarterbacks when itís so obvious two, perhaps even three, capable bodies are required once training camp rolls around this spring.

No matter what unfolds in the next weeks and months, the East, pardon the pun, will be armed and ready, making it one of the most unpredictable seasons with virtually all four teams capable of winning the division.

In a pass-happy league such as the CFL, quality of play and team performance begins and ends with the quarterback position.

Given the fickle nature of pro sports, the art of developing young arms has become lost when shelf lives among coaches has become so small.

Out West, thereís youth in Travis Lulay, the CFLís MVP who led B.C. to its Grey Cup win, and Drew Tate in Calgary, where the Stamps have a solid backup in Kevin Glenn.

Edmonton can only hope Steven Jyles can make plays with his arm, or at worse feature a balanced attack that doesnít put too much pressure on Jyles to win games through the air.

Darian Durant has a lot to prove in Saskatchewan following a poor season for the Green Riders that witnessed two coaching changes, including one in-season.

Clearly, the balance of power has shifted to the East, a change that may become even more pronounced pending free agency.

Almost as clear is the need for the Lions to lock up Lulay, whose quarterback sidekick, Jarious Jackson, was released on Wednesday, leaving Mike Reilly and Corey Leonard as the only arms under contract.

Even at the worst of times, the CFL, given its unique rules and characters, offers some compelling stories.

Based strictly on this off-seasonís quarterback moves, the East has become as compelling as ever, which is saying a lot.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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