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Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider

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For the past 12 months, CFL 2.0 has been CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s favourite topic.

Last off-season, it went from an outside-the-box idea to a reality in just weeks, with the CFL launching a combine and draft in Mexico during January, then inviting select players from Europe to the league’s college combine in March and then to be part of a global draft. 

It all had the feel of a making-it-up-on-the-fly plan, which may have had a lot to do with wanting to get the idea up and running in time to be integrated into the new collective bargaining agreement with the players, which was signed in May.

But the result of all this, at least so far, has been tepid, to be quite honest. Not a whole lot has happened, as most of the league’s global players (one per team) have watched from the sidelines, rarely participating in games.

In fact, there hasn’t been a single rush or reception from a global player in the league this year, with the BC Lions having not played a global player for a single snap all season while Toronto and Ottawa have played theirs for fewer than 10 snaps each.

The most impactful global player has been Winnipeg defensive lineman Thiadric Hansen, who has played 186 snaps, accumulating five defensive tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

But he’s the only one who’s come close to having an impact of any real consequence at all.

All of which strongly suggests that in the eyes of the league’s coaches and GM’s, the current crop of global players isn’t good enough. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given their transition from much lesser leagues and the adaptation to Canadian football, as opposed to the four-down game.

But if CFL 2.0 is ever going to generate interest beyond North America as hoped, the league is going to have to find better players who can impact the games on a week-to-week basis.  

That’s why the league has laid-out an aggressive plan for identifying and recruiting the best players from around the globe for next season, when the requirement for global players on each roster will double from one to two.

That plan includes holding multiple combines in countries across Europe during January and February, as well as in Mexico and Japan. The CFL also plans to track any graduating NCAA seniors who would qualify as global players based on their upbringing.

The best of all of those players will then be invited to the March CFL combine where teams can get an up-close look leading up to the global draft.

The league wants to hire a director of global scouting to oversee international player recruitment, someone with a background in the league who can spearhead the effort to effectively centralize information on players from around the world.

It's expected that eventually most global players will be developed through NCAA or U Sports programs, as the pathway from Europe to North American college football becomes the norm. But we're not there yet. 

One of the issues the league ran into last off-season was resistance on the part of European teams to release their best players for opportunities in Canada. Those issues have apparently been ironed out, in part because the CFL has agreed to facilitate the movement of Canadian players to Europe. For example, every U Sports athlete at next March’s combine will be asked about their willingness to play in a foreign league if they fail to crack a CFL roster.

The league also plan to share coaching and officiating resources, with representatives of various international federations all expected to be at November’s Grey Cup game in Calgary.

That’s where Ambrosie will be pushing another notion he envisions: a world where the international game is played with three downs on a 110-yard field with 20-yard end zones.

There were plenty of skeptics about CFL 2.0 both within the league and beyond it, and it’s far too early to judge the merits of this experiment.

But it absolutely hinges on being able to identify and integrate talent that’s worthy of playing in the CFL.


The Andrew Harris dilemma 

Now that Andrew Harris has returned from his two-game suspension for testing positive for an anabolic steroid and all the debates about his legacy have been had, it’s time to think about whether he can win the league’s Most Outstanding Player or Most Outstanding Canadian Award.

There is no shortage of opinions on this topic, or on the rationale for why Harris should or shouldn’t be considered for these awards this season. 

TSN recently conducted a poll of media, asking the question: “If you believed Andrew Harris was the best player in the CFL this season, would you still vote for him as MOP, despite the positive drug test?” The responses came back 17 for ‘Yes’ while 11 said ‘No.’

Among coaches and GMs, the numbers were 10 ‘No’ and two ‘Yes’ responses, with one abstention. 

But the group that matters most is the Winnipeg chapter of the Football Reporters of Canada who must vote on whether Harris even gets the Bomber nomination as MOP or MOC.

That group consists of four voting members – former Bomber Doug Brown, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Jeff Hamilton, TSN Radio’s Darrin Bauming, play-by-play voice Bob Irving – and a vote from Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. In the event of a tie, chapter chairman Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun would cast a deciding vote. 

There is reason to believe Harris may not have enough support to get the MOP nomination but might have enough to get the MOC. That’s essentially because the presence of Bombers defensive lineman Willie Jefferson gives the voters an alternative, which doesn’t exist in the vote for MOC.

But if Harris is truly deserving of both awards, as he arguably appears to be right now, does it make any sense to give him one and deny him the other?

Should the fact that Harris is a good citizen, well-liked and responsible to his community be factored into the voting? And does that mean the next elite player with a positive drug test will get the same treatment?

It may be too late for the league or the Football Reporters of Canada to do anything about it this season, although FRC president Jeff Hamilton is going to spearhead conversations with both the league and the players association on the matter. 

But Harris aside, the league needs a rule in place that states any player suspended for a positive drug test cannot win one of the league’s awards in the same season he is suspended. 

It’s that simple. 

And that has very little to do with Harris, who continues to maintain his innocence and promising efforts to clear his name.

It’s just not a good look for the CFL to have its outstanding player or outstanding Canadian be someone who has tested positive for a PED during that same season he wins the award – not to the general sports fan, not to other players and not to the league’s international partners.


Esks’ draft gambles pay off

The CFL Draft involves an element unique in North American team sports: drafting a player whom you hope will perform well, just not too well.

By that we mean taking a chance on Canadian players who are getting attention from the National Football League, knowing that they may or may not be available anytime soon.

There are some obvious examples of CFL teams steering clear of top-ranked college players, such as when Windsor, Ont.,’s Tyrone Crawford came out of Boise State as the No. 1-ranked prospect for the 2012 CFL Draft. He was passed over by every Canadian team after being a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. 

But in other instances, trying to guess whether a player will have serious NFL opportunities is a roll of the dice. The more serious those opportunities appear to be, the further that player is likely to fall in the draft.

There is no perfect science to it. 

Edmonton Eskimo draft picks Stefan Charles (10th overall in 2013) and Mathieu Betts (third overall in 2019) both signed NFL free-agent deals before the CFL Draft, but neither was a sure thing to stick south of the border. Yet Charles, a defensive lineman, managed to play 49 NFL games while spending parts of six seasons with six different teams, while Betts, the former star linebacker and defensive end out of Laval, returned to the CFL immediately after being cut this past August by the Chicago Bears.

The Eskimos got them both in a matter of two weeks this month. It’s just that one took much longer than the other.

There have been similar gambles that have paid off, such as Montreal getting offensive lineman Phil Blake (now with Saskatchewan) after he was a fourth-round pick of the Denver Broncos, or Hamilton waiting on Sam Giguère during his time with Indianapolis and then Buffalo. 

But there have also been some gambles that have never paid off. 

Here are a few drafted players who never played, or have yet to play, a down in the CFL:

Israel Idonije – 17th pick overall by Ottawa in 2003
Austin Pasztor - 4th overall pick of 2012 by Edmonton
Nick Kaczur – ninth pick overall by Toronto in 2005
Jerome Pathon – 11th pick by Montreal in 1997
O.J. Atogwe – fifth pick overall by B.C. in 2004
Shaun Suisham – 20th pick overall in 2004
Danny Watkins – fourth pick overall by B.C. in 2010
Luke Willson – 32nd pick overall by Toronto in 2012
Brent Urban – 15th pick overall by Hamilton in 2013
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif – 19th pick overall by Calgary in 2013
L.P. Ladouceur – 29th pick overall by Ottawa in 2004


Mike Reilly the last QB standing

The Edmonton Eskimos announced Thursday that quarterback Trevor Harris will be inactive for Friday’s contest with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after leaving a game two weeks ago against Calgary with a problem in his throwing arm.

The hope was that the Eskimos’ bye week would allow him to heal sufficiently. But after practising for the first time on Wednesday, the decision was made to hold him out.

The Eskimos believe Harris’s injury is week-to-week and that by sitting him they can prevent his injury from developing into something worse. 

In the meantime, the ball is in the hands of Logan Kilgore, the former Argo and Ticat who hadn’t thrown a live pass in a CFL game since 2016 until he completed 21 of 28 passes for 242 yards in relief of Harris on Sept. 7 against the Stampeders. 

The Esks will become the eighth CFL team to start more than one quarterback this season. The lone exception is B.C., where Mike Reilly will make his 13th consecutive start on Saturday, despite the Lions leading the league in giving up sacks.