Spring has sprung which means we are creeping ever closer to June and the long-awaited season opener in Montreal. Over the the waning weeks of the off-season, we’ll turn the spotlight on each division, breaking down players by position. There are new faces in new places and many of them have shifted the balance of power in the league. This series will bring you up to speed if you missed the flurry of activity these last few months. We start in the CFL Eastern division at the quarterback position.
CFL Eastern Division Positional Preview: Quarterback
Ottawa Redblacks: Trevor Harris
With the retirement of Henry Burris, the door is now fully opened for Harris to take total control of the Redblacks offence. Trevor played in 12 games last season in relief of (and in place of) an injured and sometimes ineffective Burris. He was a solid insurance policy for the team and the clear starter of the future. That future starts now. In 2016, Harris was good enough, despite his part time status, to finish sixth in total passing yards (3,301) and passing touchdowns (16). There is no telling how much higher those numbers will be with a full season as a starter.
Of course, this season, he must do it without some of his favorite weapons. Free agency was rough for the Ottawa receiving corps. They lost two of four 1000-yard receivers in Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson. Also gone to new homes were running backs Kienan LaFrance and Travon Van. But they added Diontae Spencer and Kenny Shaw by way of the Toronto Argonauts, which should go a long way of cushioning the blow. All things considered, Harris, barring injury, will be the top signal caller in the East Division in 2017.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Zach Collaros/Jeremiah Masoli
The Ticats have a real penchant for adding embattled NFL quarterbacks to their neg list. What is shadowed in all of the recent Colin Kaepernick and RGIII nonesense is the fact that Hamilton already has two quality starting quarterbacks in Collaros and Masoli. Together the two combined for over 5,500 passing yards last season.
The Tiger-Cats gave the Redblacks all they could handle for the division crown down the stretch. In that time both quarterbacks turned in some amazing performances. Among them was a game from Masoli in which he completed a record 23 consecutive passes, gaining an unexpected win against the Edmonton Eskimos. In the process, he also helped to erase a 25-point deficit, the biggest comeback in team history.
Not to be outdone, Collaros posted a game where he threw for five majors in a 53-7 destruction of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. His 18 touchdowns were good enough to finish fourth in the CFL, behind only Bo Levi Mitchell, Mike Reilly, and Johnathon Jennings. Hamilton’s one-two punch at quarterback makes it unnecessary to add any more names to consider as a starter. Once again they will make for formidable opponents this year.
Montreal Alouettes: Darian Durant
When Kevin Glenn vacated the starting spot in Montreal last season, the Als knew the quarterback position was of premium importance in the off-season, which led them to trade for Darian Durant in January. The man who carried the Roughriders to a Grey Cup win in 2013 was traded by the team three years later after diminishing returns in the starting position.
But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Durant’s arrival at the Alouettes gives them a strong leading presence on the field and in the locker room. In 15 games last season in Saskatchewan, Darian amassed over 3,800 yards (fourth in the league) and threw for 14 touchdowns, adding another six with his legs. He will be surrounded by a solid corps of wideouts. Among them are the ageless Nik Lewis, recent Grey Cup champion Ernest Jackson, and S.J. Green who returns from injury this season. Look for Durant to adjust quickly to the East and make a good showing in Montreal.
Toronto Argonauts: Ricky Ray/Drew Willy
What can be said about Ricky Ray that has not already been said? He sits among the list of the greatest players in league history in just about every quarterbacking category. He’s started over 200 games in the CFL, a feat which has been accomplished by only four other players. In that time, he has thrown for 54,833 yards, fourth all-time.
For 14 seasons, Ray has been a dominant presence on the field. But time has a way of catching up with a player and last season, it might have caught up to Ricky. He was sidelined for six weeks after a hit in week 5 against the Alouettes. He returned in week 11 only to get put back on the shelf with an injury to his ribs and lungs. And all this was after missing most of the 2015 season while recovering from surgery. We might be watching the swan song from a future hall of famer. If you’re the sentimental type, this is probably the season for you.
Like Ottawa, Toronto seemed to be preparing for the loss of their legend by making sure his successor was locked down. Enter Drew Willy. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers chose to part ways with Willy when it became clear that Matt Nichols would be their starter going forward. The Argonauts saw that as their opportunity to prepare for a future without Ray. It was a rough go last season for Willy, who is now on his third team in five years. But a full season behind one of the greats could definitely remedy that. Ray won’t be shunted to the sideline right away, but look for Willy to get his fair share of work this season as well.
Next Week: Western Division Positional Preview: Quarterback