Usually, it works this way: The CFL season ends and coaches begin spinning off in all directions like satellites headed for deep space.
Corey Chamblin leaves the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the Saskatchewan Roughriders; Scott Milanovich bolts from the Montreal Alouettes for the Toronto Argonauts; Chris Jones leaves the Calgary Stampeders for Toronto when he wasn’t even offered a job (not officially).
But what’s happened this off-season has gone beyond the realm of normalcy.
Rarely, if ever, have two of the top quarterbacks in the league been traded from one provincial rivalry to another. And yet, there they are: Ricky Ray, formerly of the Edmonton Eskimos, now the Argonauts starter, with Henry Burris, formerly of the Stampeders, now with the Tiger-Cats.
The two veterans were moved in deals involving two other quarterbacks – Steven Jyles to Edmonton and Kevin Glenn to Calgary. Toss in Drew Tate’s full ascension in Calgary (and who knows what transpires with Buck Pierce, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ pending free agent) and it means at least half the teams in the CFL will be showcasing new quarterbacks to open the 2012 season.
That’s a huge turnover. But which teams have benefited and which have taken a step back?
In Hamilton, Burris, 36, represents a short-term upgrade. He still possesses a strong arm and the ability to use his legs to get out of trouble. He knows the league and he’s been surrounded with good coaches throughout his career. But there are worries about his game.
Last season, his inconsistencies from one week to the next angered fans at McMahon Stadium and undermined his confidence. As one rival team official noted: “Henry can still get outside and throw it 60 yards downfield. But last year, you’d see him bounce the ball off the dirt on a 10-yard out. I don’t know if that’s mechanics or what. He shouldn’t be doing that.”
That Burris struggled so mightily convinced the Stampeders to go with Tate, who was pulled after a mistake-prone start in the November’s West Division semi-final. Tate, 27, will get better with experience and Glenn, 32, will serve as a mentor/fill-in. Tate will also benefit from working with Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson.
The chief concern for Burris is he doesn’t know who his head coach, offensive co-ordinator or quarterback coach will be. The Ticats haven’t a one right now, after firing Marcel Bellefeuille and allowing Khari Jones to jump to Saskatchewan.
The head man could be Winnipeg defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke or maybe Buffalo Bills assistant George Cortez. (One source indicated it would take a lucrative offer to pry Cortez from the Bills, where he is both well-paid and has pension benefits.)
Partnering Burris with the right coach in the right offensive system is imperative – not only for Hamilton to get the most out of this season, but to begin grooming a replacement, too.
Burris’s play is sure to be scrutinized against how well Ray does in Toronto. The Argonauts made significant improvements by hiring the offensive-minded Milanovich as head coach, then giving him a two-time Grey Cup champion at quarterback.
Ray could use some help at receiver but, hands down, he’ll accomplish more than Jyles managed last season in his limited starts. It’s almost impossible to find a CFL coach or general manager outside of Edmonton who believes the Eskimos didn’t inflict serious damage on themselves by moving Ray.
Jyles can run better than Ray, but that’s the extent of it. Don’t be surprised if the recycled Kerry Joseph gets more playing time than expected as the Eskimos’ No. 1 pivot. He and Edmonton GM Eric Tillman won a Grey Cup together with Saskatchewan in 2007.
So if you’re keeping tabs at home, here’s how to chart the CFL’s quarterback scene:
Unchanged and settled: B.C. Lions with Travis Lulay; Montreal Alouettes with Anthony Calvillo; Saskatchewan Roughriders with Darian Durant.
Winners: Toronto Argonauts, big time; Hamilton Tiger-Cats, with a few caveats; Calgary Stampeders, for sticking with Tate.
Uncertain: Winnipeg Blue Bombers. A new contract may make Pierce happy, but can it keep him healthy?
Loser until proven otherwise, which could be a long time running: Edmonton Eskimos.