Monday, February 16, 2015

Five Players Primed for a Bounce-Back Season

The 2014 season was dominated by defences around the Canadian Football League. Whether it was due to injuries surrounding many of the league's top players or others just having a down-year, the CFL saw only 4 running backs and receivers surpass 1000 yards and only 2 Quarterbacks throw for over 20 touchdowns. Since the majority of CFL offences are due for a bounce back year, I decided to narrow it down to a list of 5 offensive players who need to get back on track in 2015.
1.) Chris Getzlaf, Slotback, Saskatchewan Roughriders
Getzlaf followed up his second career 1000 yard campaign in 2013 with a rather underwhelming season in 2014 that saw the Most Valuable Canadian at 101st Grey Cup only haul in 36 passes for 591 yards and one touchdown. While I would agree that Getzlaf's poor play was impacted by the loss of Darian Durant to a season-ending elbow injury, it should be mentioned that the Regina Native only averaged 15 yards per game during the 10 games Durant started, including three straight games early in the season with zero receptions. At 32 years old, the Riders are looking for at least one more productive year from the Canadian they pay $220,000 annually.

A healthy Darian Durant will certainly help Getzlaf get back on track; however, I think it's the hire of new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine that will help Getzlaf the most. "Air Chap's" offence is expected to be pass first with many high completion percentage short routes. Durant very well could be dropping back 35-40 times each week; a significant increase compared to the run-heavy offence George Cortez ran for two years that saw Durant attempt around 25 passes per game. Getzlaf will get plenty of targets while also playing the entire season in a more familiar role behind Weston Dressler as the number two receiver.

2.) Andrew Harris, Runningback, BC Lions
The entire BC Lions offence had a down-year in 2014. Despite missing 6 games with an ankle injury, Harris was very productive, amassing 1,181 total yards and six touchdowns. Harris' 652 rushing yards are low by his standards, but a large part of that is due to BC giving both Harris and Stefan Logan similar touches and utilizing them both heavily in the passing game.

Newly hired head-coach Jeff Tedford decided to bring in George Cortez from Saskatchewan to run BC's offence, which seems to be a perfect fit for Harris as Cortez's offence is primarily run-first. Cortez's Roughriders were the league's third best team running the football in 2014 and also led the league in rushing attempts with 417. Harris was already on pace for 972 rushing yards in 2014 before the injury bug hit him, so I have no doubts that Harris will shatter the 1000 yard mark next season under George Cortez where he will get double the carries and spend less time lining up in the slot. If I had to pick one player who has the best shot at dethroning Calgary's Jon Cornish as the league's Most Outstanding Canadian, it would Winnipeg-native Andrew Harris.

3.) Henry Burris, Quarterback, Ottawa REDBLACKS
Burris was brought into Ottawa before their inaugural season to provide instant stability at the Quarterback position. While numerous factors played into Ottawa's offensive woes such as former offensive coordinator Mike Gibson's awful play-calling, it's safe to say Burris did not get the job done or live up to expectations. Ottawa finished last place in the CFL with a 2-16 record and a large reason for that is due to them having the league's worst offence that only averaged 15.4 points per game. Burris only threw 11 touchdowns versus 14 interceptions despite starting all 18 games; his worst statistical season as a starting Quarterback in his Hall of Fame career. It all starts with the Quarterback, so Ottawa will be looking for Burris to turn this team around on a much shorter leash in his final year under contract.

 Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins did his part in Free Agency, signing three receivers in Ernest Jackson from BC, Greg Ellingson from Hamilton and Brad Sinopoli from Calgary to help bolster the CFL's worst receiving corps in 2014. Desjardins also traded for veteran speedster Maurice Price from Calgary, so don't expect there to be any more dropped touchdown's at TD Place in 2015. Burris will also have more time to throw as Ottawa signed Left Tackle SirVincent Rogers from Toronto and will also hopefully have projected first overall pick Brett Boyko in the lineup as well. Burris has no excuses to not have a good year in Ottawa. If he doesn't, I wouldn't surprised if Ottawa gave him the hook in favour of who they hope is their franchise Quarterback, Thomas DeMarco.

4.) CJ Gable, Runningback, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

It appeared as though we were only witnessing the tip of the ice-burg of CJ Gable's full potential in his rookie season, where the USC product amassed 1,380 total yards with 12 touchdowns and East Division All-Star recognition. Yet only 10 months later, several Ti-Cats fans figured they found an upgrade over the now-injury-prone Gable in Nic Grigsby; who, similarly to Gable, was voted an East Division All-Star in his rookie season. Gable's injury riddled sophomore season allowed Grigsby (who was signed mid-season after demanding a release from Winnipeg) and back-up Mossis Madu to showcase their talents. If the Ti-Cats do decide to re-sign Nic Grigsby, I would expect a competitive pre-season between the two former Division All-Stars.

5.) Nick Moore, Slotback, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg's prized Free Agent acquisition in 2014 just couldn't stay healthy during his first season in the Blue and Gold. Moore was solid in the nine games he did play, catching 44 passes for 553 yards as Willy's main target. If only Moore could have stayed in the lineup, he definitely could have broke the 1000 yard plateau for a second straight season as he was on pace for 1,106 yards. Moore proved to be a big time player for Winnipeg early on, providing a spark to the offence with a pair 50 yard receptions against Ottawa and Montreal when his team needed them most. Moore is also yet to find the end zone as a Bomber, so a few touchdown's early in 2015 would already be an improvement over his first season in Winnipeg.

Moore will be in a good situation with Winnipeg next season. Drew Willy will only get better in his second year as a starter and will also have more time to throw now that GM Kyle Walters decided to re-tool the offensive line by bringing in a trio of guys in back to back CFL All-Star Left Tackle Stanley Bryant from Calgary, Saskatchewan's 2014 Most Outstanding Lineman in Centre Dominic Picard and serviceable Right Tackle Marc Dile, formerly of the Tiger-Cats. Moore will also be paired beside Clarence Denmark, who eclipsed 1000 yards for the first time in 2014. Winnipeg will need Moore to live up to his salary of $185,000/year if they want to make a serious run at winning the 103rd Grey Cup on home turf in November.

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