Spring has sprung which means we are creeping ever closer to June and the long-awaited CFL 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 continue in the CFL West Division quarterback preview.
CFL West Division Quarterback Preview
B.C. Lions: Jonathon Jennings
Anyone who watched a B.C. Lions game last season already knows the talent of Jennings. His 5,226 yards and 27 touchdowns landed him at third place in both statistical categories. He also added another 363 yards and four more majors with his legs. Jennings helped B.C. make a solid case for the best in the West mounting a late-season charge at the Calgary Stampeders. The Lions won their last three regular-season games finishing the year with a 41-18 rout of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. In that game, Jennings topped 300 yards and threw for three touchdowns.
It’s clear that he will remain the man in B.C. and will only give way to backup Travis Lulay in short yardage situations. With another season of familiarity with Emmanuel Arceneaux and Jennings, the West is about to get wild. As an added bonus, the Lions signal caller gets prime targets Shawn Gore, Bryan Burnham back. To top it all off, Jennings now has Chris Williams, one of the biggest wide-receiver free agents of the off-season. The Lions were one game away from the Grey Cup last season. Jennings has a real shot at getting them all the way to that final game this season.
Edmonton Eskimos: Mike Reilly
Reilly easily put together the most impressive season out of all the quarterbacks in the CFL in 2016. He led the league in passing with 5,554 yards and finished with 28 touchdowns, good enough for second in that category. Despite his stellar performance, it was a disappointing season for him and his teammates. Inconsistent play and the dominance of the Calgary Stampeders and the Lions relegated Edmonton (10-8) to a third-place finish in the West. The disappointment continued for Reilly as he and the Eskimos fell to the Ottawa Redblacks in the Eastern Division Finals.
There is nothing to signify that Reilly will slow down at all this coming season. Not having Derel Walker on the field will hurt, but retaining Adarius Bowman will help ease the pain some. Reilly will also benefit from the addition of running back Travon Van, and wide outs Vidal Hazelton and Shamawd Chambers. Expect another outstanding season in 2017 from one of the best in the league.
With that being said, keep an eye out for second-stringer James Franklin. Franklin had himself a fine day in the Esks regular-season finale against the Toronto Argonauts. Filling in for a resting Reilly, Franklin amassed 334 yards and four majors passing. All four of the touchdowns came in the first half. If Reilly should miss any time due to injury or otherwise, Franklin makes for a satisfactory insurance policy.
Calgary Stampeders: Bo Levi Mitchell
Bo Jackson knew winning in the NFL. Bo Levi Mitchell knows winning in the CFL. This far into his young career, his resume is shaping up as one that will end with a bronze statue. Last season, he had more than a heavy hand in the Stampeders league best 15-2-1 record. The unprecedented 16-game unbeaten streak he and his teammates enjoyed was a league record.
For Mitchell, 2016 was a banner year – until the final game. He definitely has some unfinished business entering the 2017 season. The young signal caller will try to wash the bad taste of an overtime defeat in the Grey Cup out of his mouth. He has the arm to do it racking up 5,385 passing yards, second in the league behind Reilly. He also has the weapons to put up large numbers on the scoreboard. With the help of returning receivers DaVaris Daniels and Marquay McDaniel he is poised to equal or surpass his 38 touchdown passes from last season. Of course, don’t forget Jerome Messam, the league’s leading rusher, who helps take the heat off of Mitchell. The guns are reloaded in Calgary and the Stamps are ready to come out firing. The rest of the league should be afraid.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Kevin Glenn/Vince Young
When the Riders brought Glenn on board this offseason, it seemed the successor to the departing Darian Durant was locked. But, along came the signing of Vince Young. Saskatchewan’s acquisition of the former NFL quarterback was arguably one of the biggest storylines of the last two months. Now, there will be a battle at the starting position instead of Glenn secure as the number-one guy going into training camp. Neither of them are the youngest players, and both have probably seen the best years of their careers behind them. But, what they lack in youth, they gain back in experience. That experience will go a long way to a positive locker room atmosphere.
Riding Off Into the Sunset?
Glenn makes his third stop of his career in Regina. He started his time in the CFL with the Riders from 2001-2004. After bouncing around for a bit he landed back in Saskatchewan during the 2015 season where he appeared in nine games. He has built a solid career in Canadian football. He sits seventh on the all-time passing list with 48,782 yards. Should he manage to throw for at least 1,754 yards this season, he can pass Ron Lancaster, another former Roughrider great, for sixth on that list. As far as touchdowns are concerned, he and Doug Flutie are tied for eighth with 270 majors apiece. Glenn has very little to prove at this point in his career, except a Grey Cup title. He would love nothing more than the chance to help turn around a struggling franchise to help end his journey. That chance was given to him unabated, if only for a month.
Vince Not So Young Anymore
For Young, this is an opportunity to prove that he can still play football at the professional level. Young’s NFL career showed flashes of promise to deliver on his stellar college days at Texas. After some considerable time away from the game, Young wants another go at it and he will get his chance very soon. Whether he takes it remains to be seen. Worst-case scenario is that there will be a potent combination at quarterback in Saskatchewan for the 2017 season. That’s something head coach Chris Jones would not mind at all.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Matt Nichols
Nichols received the keys to the Bombers in Week 6 against his former team in Edmonton. It was a 30-23 win for Winnipeg as he threw for 304 yards and a major. From there, he led his team on a seven-game winning streak. That streak would help propel him and the Bombers to their first playoff berth in five seasons. Nichols’ success made Drew Willy expendable and ultimately traded to the Toronto Argonauts mid-season.
Winnipeg did add to their quarterback depth during free agency by signing former Argonaut Dan LeFevour. But there is no need for Nichols to look over his shoulder for his starting spot. His contract with the Bombers was extended through 2020 and the team has high hopes for him this season. Two points were all that separated Winnipeg from a trip to the West Final last year. He would like to have another crack at that again this year.
Next Week: East Division Running Back Preview