July 23rd, 2024

Who’s behind centre can determine a lot

By Medicine Hat News on August 22, 2017.

To borrow from Mark Twain, “The rumours of his demise are greatly exaggerated.” Three weeks ago it seemed that Ricky Ray might have finally sustained one shoulder injury too many. Last Saturday, along with Montreal castoff S.J. Green, the Argo quarterback and fourth-leading passer of all time put on a brilliant display against the Alouettes before a small group who accidently wandered into BMO Field while looking for the CNE. The score was 38-6. Ray completed 35 of 43 passes for 377 yards and four majors.

Two days earlier, quarterback Matt Nichols, running back Andrew Harris and receiver Darvin Adams bombed the undefeated Eskimos 33-26, their first loss of the season and, at Investors Group Field, ever. Nichols has gone 16-5 since finally getting a chance to start last year, turning the Blue Bombers into a bona fide contender in the process. Until then, Mike O’Shea had not been considered the sharpest knife in the coaching drawer. Nichols’ play has substantially increased his gridiron IQ.

Harris, a Canadian, ran for 105 yards on 11 carries and caught eight passes for 120. He needs eight yards to become the first running back in CFL history to pass the 1,000-yard mark on both the ground and through the air. If he stays healthy, he is a shoo in for the Most Outstanding Canadian award and a strong candidate for league Most Outstanding Player.

But quarterback is the key to success, the musical chairs position in the CFL. Last season, Darian Durant was Saskatchewan’s quarterback. This year he leads the Alouettes. In 2016, Kevin Glenn, Vernon Adams and Brandon Bridge were the pivots of record in Montreal. After a recent trade, all three are with the Roughriders. Meanwhile, Drew Willy who was the backup in the Land of Living Skies, the starter in Winnipeg and backup in Toronto, is behind Durant on the Lark depth chart. Ottawa’s Trevor Harris used to back up Ray while Mike Reilly was the third string quarterback in B.C. Nichols was his backup in Edmonton. Such are the recycling ways of the CFL. A good quarterback makes everybody around him better, especially the offensive line which plays with more confidence.

We reach the halfway point of the 2017 season this weekend. Which quarterback is the best?

See Mitchell, Page A9

Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell is technically the best in the league and certainly the most consistent. Once again he has the fewest interceptions. Since becoming the starter in 2014, his record is 49-8-2, one Grey Cup win, one loss. He was last year’s MOP. There is no one better at operating an offence.

Eskimo pivot Reilly is the best leader. By dint of character and hard work, Reilly can put the team on his back and carry therm to victory. His record is 40-27 with a Grey Cup title in 2015. His interception rate is much higher than Bo’s but he has more than four times the rushing yards by which he keeps drives alive. Both men command the complete respect of their teammates. Ray is No. 3, followed by Nichols, Glenn, Durant, Harris, Jonathon Jennings and the confidence-shattered Zach Collaraos. What do you think?

During the next three weeks, Saskatchewan plays Edmonton and the Bombers twice while B.C. faces Ottawa and Montreal. Calgary and Edmonton face off during Labour Day week.

The Eskimos were banged up before losing in Winnipeg. Six more starters went down during that loss. Coach Jason “Houdini” Maas pointed out that until now they have been able to back fill with roster players who knew his system. Now he has to pick up guys who don’t know the Eskimo way. For example, to help compensate for the loss of D-linemen Almondo Sewell and Marcus Howard, Edmonton traded 2018 2nd round draft pick to Hamilton for veteran John Chick who has two sacks this season. His departure may give CHHS Viking Connor McGough a chance to start for the 0-8 Ti-Cats.

Saskatchewan has the most critical row to hoe. They will never have a better opportunity to win at Commonwealth Stadium than this Friday. If they lose, Rider nation should be deeply concerned.

It’s crunch time in the Western Division.

Graham Kelly has covered the CFL for the Medicine Hat News for 45 years. Feedback for this column can be emailed to sports@medicinehatnews.com.

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