It has been three years since we had a normal CFL season, and what an opening week it was to welcome back the league we all love. With CBA negotiations and COVID-19 now (hopefully) firmly in the rear view mirror, we can focus purely on the football, as nine teams compete to bring home the Grey Cup. It’s a long season ahead of us, but already, there are some key observations from the first week of action that could prove somewhat to be themes throughout the season.
Concussion Spotter Got It Right With Collaros
With the Bombers being down by one point with just one minute and 46 seconds left on the game clock and the ball at their own 33, there’s no quarterback that the Winnipeg faithful would rather have to lead a potential game-winning drive than reigning MOP winner Zach Collaros.
After an incompletion, Collaros ran for the ten yards on the second down, but at the end of the play, something wasn’t right. Collaros took an awkward-looking hit to the head, and to the dismay of the crowd and Collaros himself, the games injury spotter took Collaros out of the game in case there was a concussion.
Back up Dru Brown lead his team down the field on a game-winning drive, which ended in a field goal to make it 19-17 Bombers, making the absence of Collaros less consequential to the outcome. But even if the drive stalled when Brown took over, it was still absolutely the right call.
We know better than ever that concussions can have devastating long-term effects on the brain, and we want football to be as safe as it can possibly for the long-term viability of the sport. Forcing such a high-profile player to the bench in such a key moment in the match was a big call for the injury spotter, but no matter what the impact on the final result, it was the correct decision.
Writing on the Wall for Bo Levi Mitchell
For some, the moment Calgary signed Jake Maier to an extension sparked the beginning of the end of the Bo Levi Mitchell era in Calgary, and Thursday night might have accelerated that outcome. Under pressure to show that last year was behind him, Mitchell, on paper, was fine, but not spectacular, going 21/34 for one touchdown and interception and 199 passing yards.
Mitchell missed some throws he should’ve made where he overthrew his receivers, and in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 27 a piece, Mitchell was taken out of the game with an ankle injury, and backup Jake Maier took the reigns.
After a punt on the first drive, Maier and Calgary got the ball back at their own 39, and Maier took the game into his own hands. Maier escaped pressure on the first play of the drive before finding Richie Sindani for twenty yards to spark the final drive to life. After two more passes and a three-yard run, Maier had done enough to put Calgary in field goal range to win the game, finishing with a stat line of four for five for 57 yards in a 30-27 win.
Health has been a big concern for Mitchell since his 2018 MOP season, and he hasn’t been able to reach those heights since in the previous two seasons. Mitchell is still a serviceable quarterback, but the best ability is availability. Calgary can’t lean on a signal-caller that can’t stay on the field. Who starts for the Stampeders in week two is still unknown, but if Maier can continue to impress, perhaps the job will become his sooner rather than later.
Nathan Rourke Belongs in the Canadian Football League as a Starter
When quarterback Michael Reilly retired this offseason, there were those who saw BC naming Nathan Rourke as their starter for 2022 as a marketing gimmick, especially with the addition of fellow Canadian quarterback Michael O’Connor as the number two. But any fears that Rourke, who grew up in Oakville, Ontario, was just a marketing gimmick were quickly dismissed with a monster outing against the Edmonton Elks in front of a crowd of 34,000 at BC Place.
Rourke played like he’s been a CFL vet for years, not as someone making just their third-ever start in the league. His mobility, pocket awareness, and downfield vision were all on display in a 59-15 win where Rourke finished 26/29 for three touchdowns and 282 passing yards. Rourke, who accounted for five rushing touchdowns in 2021, also displayed his immense ability as a running threat. running for seventy-eight yards and two touchdowns.
Rourke and the Lions were so dominant, in fact, that Michael O’Connor even got in on the act as he was brought into the game late in the fourth quarter. O’Connor ran a quarterback sneak from the Edmonton one-yard line, making this game the first time in modern CFL history where two Canadian quarterbacks scored a touchdown on the same team.
While he only played three downs which included an interception, Niagara native Tre Ford lined up at centre for the Elks late in the second quarter giving us three homegrown quarterbacks in the one game. Of the three, Rourke is expected to, and should be the one who shines the most this season. It seems premature to call him the best Canadian CFL quarterback since Russ Jackson, but if he can maintain this form this season, I don’t think many will disagree with that statement.
Stanback Injury a Blow to Montreal
When running back William Stanback was carted off the field against Calgary, there would’ve been Alouettes faithful who were fearing the worst for the reigning East division MOP and 2021 rushing yards leader. Stanback made a good start to the game, totalling thirty-eight all-purpose yards and a touchdown before unfortunately injuring his ankle. Stanback’s injury was initially feared to be potentially season-ending, but upon being looked at, it looks like he will possibly be able to return this season.
Stanback has been placed on the six-game injured list, meaning that Montreal will be looking for backup Jeshrun Antwi and recently acquired Walter Fletcher to carry the load, and make up for the loss of their star running back. Montreal is a team that is at its best when running the ball, which opens up the passing game for duel threat quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for Stanback lead to back-to-back post-season trips for the Als, and maintaining that running game in his absence will be key to making it three successive trips.
Hamilton O-Line Fails to Impress in Season Opener
If you were to ask me ahead of week one which team would have the worst offensive line after the first round of fixtures, I would’ve immediately said the BC Lions. Instead, the Lions line performed great against the Elks, and it was the reigning East Division champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats who failed to dominate the line of scrimmage.
All game Dane Evans had pressure in his face, forcing him to turn over the ball through either fumbling the ball or throwing ill-advised passes that were intercepted. On the ground, Hamilton managed just twenty-six yards all game on eleven attempts all, as running for Hamilton appeared not to be a viable option all game.
The Ti-Cats line has good players like Chris Van Zeyl and Brandon Revenberg anchoring it, but the unit could do almost nothing to stop Saskatchewan registering eight sacks, three leading to the Hamilton quarterback fumbling the ball, four knockdowns and countless pressures in an outing that will leave a black mark on this unit.
Dane Evans never looked comfortable, and with the pocket constantly collapsing around him, he struggled to use his legs to buy himself time in a game where he and the offence finished with just six points and five turnovers. If Hamilton can’t do better in the trenches against Calgary, it could be an awkward season ahead in steel town.
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