So history will record Johnny Manziel’s final game as a Hamilton Tiger-Cat came against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, although he never saw the field. A few days later, Manziel goes to Montreal is what is a make it or break it deal for Kavis Reed, and the floodgates holding back other trades breaking and seeing players like Adarius Bowman and Shawn Lemon moving on.
The Manziel trade in retrospect was maybe the easiest of calls. Montreal had been interested in trying to get next to Manziel since last fall when they got permission from Hamilton to work Manziel out. Mike Sherman knew Manziel when he was a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M and the interesting thing of this first third of the season was how Jeremiah Masoli rose to the challenge of having Manziel on the sideline and the accompanying pressure of producing or else lose his spot on the field.
Now Hamilton lost twice to the Riders, but blaming Masoli for not producing in those games is not really fair. Hamilton allowed a big run by Marcus Thigpen to score a touchdown in the first minute of the third quarter and then a punt return touchdown to seal up the win later on in the third.
Hamilton also had a couple of third down plays go south and a quick kick that probably worked much better in practice, but in those cases, an argument can be made the Riders outcoached Hamilton. Which brings us to this point.
Maybe Chris Jones knows what he is doing? I don’t make that statement lightly because after the Riders choked, and choked seems a fair way to describe their loss to Montreal, the Riders rode their defense to their first win over Hamilton, and in the second game seemingly managed to get Brandon Bridge untracked to manage the game to a win and avoid a second half of quarterback swapping between Bridge and David Watford.
There are still a lot of holes and questions on the Riders, but if Bridge can manage to hold the fort, then the outlines of what kind of Rider team to expect are starting to emerge. The Riders are going with a three running back system, with Jerome Messam as the closer, Tre Mason as the starter, and Marcus Thigpen as the middle relief.
Mason hasn’t played football since 2015 so one would think conditioning might be an issue, since the CFL puts a greater premium on cardio. So until Mason gets more into shape, he might be fit for only spot duty. Thigpen is coming off a two game suspension for PEDs and perhaps he needs to get a bit more into shape before seeing more game time. Messam is closer to the end of his career, but his size and ability makes him invaluable to close out games and especially when the weather gets colder, so it doesn’t make sense to throw him now and not have his best reps in November when it means more.
Derrick Moncrief’s injury makes adjustments to the linebacking corps with Carl Bradford, currently on the practice roster as a leading candidate. It could be argued that Cameron Judge, who has pleasantly surprised at linebacker, may be ready to move into that spot, but alternating Judge and Sam Hurl, who seems to be giving what the coaches are wanting in the middle, is prudent and Bradford should start against Calgary.
Brendon LaBatte played a gutsy game against Hamilton, coming back in with an injury and apparently after the game was seen walking without a limp, which is good. LaBatte was spelled for awhile in the game by defensive tackle Eddie Steele, but while Jones can’t be criticised for winning two games not many had given him a chance to win, his roster management is open to debate with only one reserve offensive lineman on the starting roster.
This explains why Jones has players learn different positions, because roster size makes versatility a premium. It may also explain Duron Carter on defense, but I think the reason is more in managing Carter on the sideline and preventing him from being a distraction to an offense that is very much a work in progress.
So with the meat of the Riders schedule coming up, two games against Calgary, two against Winnipeg and single games against Edmonton and BC, the Riders now have the opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Calgary is at 5-0, having not really been tested much this year, and the game Saturday presents some interesting scenarios. The Riders defense, which has been playing lights out football against a pretty good offense in Hamilton, face another good offense in Calgary with enough weapons that you concentrate on stopping one at your peril.
The interesting thing is in the last two games the Riders have played Calgary, Calgary’s offense has yet to score a touchdown. So the real challenge is how Saskatchewan’s offense will handle Calgary’s defense. Even after trading Charleston Hughes, the Calgary pass rush doesn’t seem to have lost a step and their defense is only giving up 9 points a game.
But there is a difference between beating up on the east and then facing a tougher western opponent, especially one which seemed to have figured out how to stop their offense in the last two meetings.
Before we move on to the upcoming week, a few other thoughts about the Manziel, Bowman and Lemon trades.
Montreal is the worst team in the league in protecting quarterbacks so it shouldn’t come as a surprise two offensive linemen, Tony Washington and Landon Rice were accompanying Manziel to Montreal. Hamilton got Jamaal Westerman and Chris Williams, in addition to two #1 draft picks in 2020 and 2021.
I noticed Rice being late for a few plays which may or may not indicate anything, but a person would like to see players involved with the game and knowing their responsibilities. Rice may not be that someone. This might not have bothered Hamilton who had a plethora of riches on offensive line and could afford to move some assets, especially those who didn’t know when they were on a short yardage team.
So assuming Washington knows what he is doing, and not being mentioned is the highest form of flattery to an offensive lineman, Manziel has at least one player who has his back in Montreal.
Hamilton got Westerman who was a high profile signing by Montreal from Winnipeg but whose time in Winnipeg was taken up in between making plays by getting stupid penalties for things like unnecessary roughness. Maybe Jerry Glanville, Hamilton’s defensive coordinator, can help sand off the rough edges, but Westerman seems to be slotted as a rotational player on the defensive line, which hopefully for Hamilton limits the time he has available to take stupid penalties.
Chris Williams has never really been the same since he banged up his hamstring and the irony of this is he returns to Hamilton, a place where he tried to move heaven and earth to get away from after his breakout year in 2012. Williams managed to make his way to the NFL Chicago Bears where he lasted a year before coming back to the CFL and restarting his career in Ottawa, then BC, then Montreal and finally back in Hamilton.
Williams presence gives Hamilton a speedy, but small receiving corps. If opposing teams match up with bigger defensive backs who can keep pace with the speedsters, Hamilton may have to resort a bunch of tricks to spring their receivers loose. The other problem appeared to come up when Chris Banks visibly pouted on the sidelines Thursday night during the loss to the Riders. Banks is a high maintenance receiver who is fine when everything goes his way, but hasn’t shown the ability to lift his team when the situation depends on it.
So if Banks and Williams are competing for balls, instead of trying to make each other better, Hamilton might have a problem on its hands. The clincher in the trade are the two first round picks. Hamilton has done well focusing on draft picks in their trade deals and getting Montreal’s means Hamilton has more a chance to nab likely Canadian starters in the first round. Hamilton has set itself up for a nice run and in the years ahead. Westerman and Williams won’t be that much of a cap hit this year and this is likely Williams last year on his contract, so if he doesn’t produce, the payday don’t be what he imagined in upcoming years.
Montreal grabbed Bowman for an eighth round draft pick, a trade that made sense for both sides. Bowman has been largely ineffectual in Winnipeg, which probably is what Edmonton saw coming and decided to cut him. Bowman adds some size in Montreal to go with the speed they have in BJ Cunningham and Ernest Jackson. Whether Bowman has run out of gas is an interesting question, but that’s why he is worth an eighth round draft pick.
A trade that slipped under the radar was Toronto shipping Shawn Lemon to BC. Lemon was let go for a negotiation list player. Lemon’s play has slipped from last year, especially with the absence of Vincent Butler to take attention off of him.
Left unsaid was Lemon’s new appearance in BC means he has covered the western conference and is approaching Kevin Glenn’s record. The problem with Lemon is he can be disruptive in the locker room and Trestman doesn’t like guys who don’t buy into team goals. Lemon will be paired with Odell Willis, which may mean walkers will be handed out as part of their equipment. This is clearly a stop-gap move by BC to try to have as competitive team as possible in Wally Buono’s last year.
So how does all of this affect this week’s games? Well we are seeing the start of divisional games, which will help separate the wheat from the chaff in the west and whatever they do in the east.
Edmonton goes to Montreal which may give us the first look at Manziel at quarterback, but it would seem more like that Mathew Shiltz gets one more start while Manziel sees his first regular season game action in a limited series of plays, unless Montreal coach Mike Sherman is feeling especially frisky in putting Manziel in. If Manziel is not ready, getting beaten like a gong is not going to do wonders for his confidence, but luckily for Manziel, Deadmonton has 16 players on one and 6 game injury lists, and six players suspended, which is always interesting.
Montreal is coming off a beat down in Calgary and if the team is looking for Manziel to raise them to the promised land, this game seems like a placeholder. However, Montreal is going to have to demonstrate some improvement, especially on the offensive line, or else Manziel is going to look like the second coming of Homer Jordan. The game is in Montreal so Edmonton keeps it close while battling their hangovers 27-20.
Toronto goes to Winnipeg to complete the home and home parts of their knuckleduster. In front of 10,000 apparently homeless refugees, Toronto lost the first game 38-20 as Toronto seems to be searching for an identity off of James Franklin, who has had the playbook expanded for him over the last few weeks. Winnipeg is feeling fat and sassy, which is always fun to watch, and they should win this game 28-21 because they may be too bloated from their previous success to score another 38 points.
Ottawa goes to Hamilton and this will be an interesting game for two teams trying to show they are more than what they have shown so far. Ottawa did its best to lose to BC but managed to hang on and how Hamilton blew the third quarter against the Riders will be subject of song and legend for years to come.
The Manziel trade has made it clear that this is Jeremiah Masoli’s team and he should be playing with confidence, especially since his pursuit of the record of 300 yard passing games was stopped by the Riders. However, the problem may be more on Hamilton’s defense although the lack of Luke Tasker has exposed some shortcomings in Hamilton’s offense.
This should be a tight game as the two teams are playing to assert themselves, and more importantly, get some room between each other in the standings. Ottawa wins this one 23-22.
Finally, we have the Stamps at the Riders in what will be an interesting battle. So far this season, every time I have picked the Riders, they have lost, while every time I picked the Riders to lose, they have won. This should be a defensive game, but on paper, Calgary’s defense and especially offense are better than the Riders. Calgary will win this one 26-16, but I do believe I have said this before…
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