Rouge: How do you see the 2011 CFL season shaping up?

Eric Rosales - Staff
11/29/2010 3:22:10 PM
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We have yet to thaw out from a chilly and impressive showcase in a battle for the Grey Cup. And we're already looking to next year.

When the top quarterback in the league gives a surprising revelation shortly after winning the title, it's hard to not look at the how the landscape of the CFL can change next season.

After putting the finishing touches on a two-year reign of excellence with consecutive Grey Cup titles, Montreal pivot Anthony Calvillo revealed that he will undergo an operation to remove half of his thyroid after doctors discovered a lesion. The thyroid will be tested and the club will determine what the next step could be, based on the result.

While football served as a welcome break from the anxiety and burden of news, the game is now a distant second to his health. And it's obviously encouraging to hear that Calvillo wants to overcome this and return next season to lead the Als to a three-peat.

And while the top concern for Alouettes' players, coaches and management is AC's health and well being, it also forces them to think of next season and the possibility of filling a talent and leadership hole in the CFL's most vital position for success. It's a spot the Alouettes haven't had to worry about since signing Calvillo as a free agent in 1998.

If this year is any indication, Montreal will need to find a reliable quarterback if they want to maintain their status as East Beasts. Even when Calvillo missed two games with a sternum injury, the Alouettes tried three different quarterbacks with varying degrees of success.

Youngsters Chris Leak and Ricky Santos struggled in a 38-17 loss to the B.C. Lions, while veteran Adrian McPherson put together a solid, if unspectacular effort in a win over the Tiger-Cats. One of the traditionally potent offences in the CFL stalled without Calvillo. And while that had to do with the coaches' game-planning a more conservative attack to have their back-ups manage a win, there are doubts as to whether that formula could be successful for an entire season.

But it's not like there's a team in the East that fits the role of dominating successor.

Hamilton could be that team, if for no other reason than the fact that Kevin Glenn gives the Tiger-Cats the most stable quarterback situation (if, in fact, Calvillo is out). Glenn put together one of the best years a Hamilton pivot has ever had, throwing for over 5,000 yards and a franchise-best 33 touchdown passes. He has a great set of weapons to work with as well, led by receivers Arland Bruce and the emerging Dave Stala. But as a whole, the team battled inconsistency, finishing at 9-9 and eventually dropping the Eastern Semi-final at home to the Argonauts.

Speaking of the Argonauts, their season had to be considered a success with a 9-9 finish and a playoff berth for the first time since 2007. They managed this with the growing pains of CFL rookie Cleo Lemon. Head coach Jim Barker stayed almost entirely with Lemon despite his struggles. While he did have some good moments, there were times that he struggled badly. Overall, Lemon was not afraid to admit that he was still learning the game.

All this despite the fact that Toronto was outstanding in nearly every other facet of the game. Rookie running back Cory Boyd proved he could be a workhorse and a great runner for years to come. The defence was also capable of making game-changing plays and led by Chad Owens, the Argos boasted the best special teams in the league.

The team just needs to figure out if Lemon is their guy. Judging by the way Barker stuck with him throughout his struggles this year, it may very well be the case. But it's safe to assume that Dalton Bell, Danny Brannagan and any other quarterback that comes into camp next season will be competing with Lemon for the starting job.

As the Argos search for stability, the Bombers would just like to have a healthy quarterback. The team had Buck Pierce as their starter, but picked up Stephen Jyles just in case Pierce's injury-riddled past would strike again. In the end, neither was healthy enough to play in Winnipeg's must-win game in Week 18 against the Eskimos to stay alive in the playoff picture. Instead, it was left in the hands of fourth-stringer Joey Elliott. The Bombers will again have to assess that position this off-season for them to find success in what could be a wide open East Division.

In the West, it looks as though the battle at the top will be fought between Calgary and Saskatchewan. The Roughriders are coming off consecutive trips to the Grey Cup and have no hardware to show for it. But in two seasons as a full-time starter, it's hard to argue with Darian Durant's success. With the best stable of Canadian receivers to work with, it should be another successful campaign for the 'Riders. Whether that can finally end in hoisting the Grey Cup trophy remains to be seen.

For the most part, Calgary was the class of the CFL this season. Henry Burris was again spectacular and took home the Most Outstanding Player Award over Calvillo. But their season ended in major disappointment at the hands of the Roughriders in the Western Final in front of their home fans. As long as Burris stays healthy, he has the most complete collection of offensive weapons in the league, led by receiver Nik Lewis and running back Joffrey Reynolds. Their defence was one of the best, though their strong secondary was victimized by Saskatchewan in the game that mattered most. It's hard not to see both the Riders and Stamps battling to represent the West in the Grey Cup.

It was about as roller coaster a year as it could get with the B.C. Lions. Rarely do teams in the CFL (and probably never on a Wally Buono-led team) release a veteran starting quarterback in mid-season to leave the reins to an unheralded rookie. But that's exactly what happened, as Casey Printers' second go-around with the team ended amidst an array of turnover-laden performances and unmet expectations. Travis Lulay assumed the starter's role and developed nicely, leading B.C. into the post-season, eventually losing to Saskatchewan in a thrilling overtime defeat.

As with any young pivot assuming control of a team, it will be up to Lulay's continuing development to lead the Lions back to the success that Buono's teams are accustomed to. They also uncovered a nice gem on special teams, as Yonus Davis would have received much more attention for his body of work, if not for Chad Owens' campaign with the Argos.

And then there was Edmonton. Like B.C., the team struggled horribly out of the gate. Much of the shake-up happened in-season when the team fired Danny Maciocia, the general manager and director of football operations, and brought in Eric Tillman to assume the GM spot. The Eskimos bottomed out at 3-10, before improved play from Ricky Ray led the Eskimos to respectability as they reeled off wins in five of their next six games. In fact, they were in position to secure the final playoff spot in the west in the final week of the regular season, but lost to Saskatchewan to end their year.

It didn't take long for embattled head coach Richie Hall to lose his job. While changes will continue in Edmonton - incluidng the hiring of a new head coach - the biggest question mark again surrounds the pivot spot. The team gave young Jared Zabransky every chance this year to supplant a struggling Ray, and he will have an opportunity again to win the job.

So the last Rouge of the CFL season wants to know: How do you see the 2011 CFL season shaping up?

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