Seldom have Grey Cup champions deteriorated quite as quickly as the Edmonton Eskimosappear to have this season.
After three weeks of regular-season play, the Esks have scored the fewest points in the Canadian Football League (42) and have allowed the most (84). They are 1-2, tied withSaskatchewan in the basement of the West Division, although the Roughriders have played only two games. And yet, even though the Esks have completed one more game than the Riders, they've scored 18 fewer points.
Truth is, the Esks have been irrefutably abysmalso far in 2006.
But then, what could you have expected when the team unceremoniously choppedveterans such as Joe Montford and Donny Brady?
"You could say Montford was the heart of the team last year and Brady was the soul," a veteran Edmonton player, asking for anonymity, told me the other day. "(Head coach) Danny Maciocia told us before the season that we were going to lose some popular players, for money reasons I guess, but if he told us they were going to be Montford and Brady, I think we might have looked at him and told him he was crazy."
Well, guess what? The Eskimos havere-evaluated the situation and have decidedto bring back Montford -- for half the $150,000 salary he made last season. And there is speculation in the Edmonton locker room that Bradyalso willbeasked to returnsoon.
Montford likely will be in the Esks' lineup when they entertain the B.C. Lions on Friday night.
Without Montford and Brady, the Eskimos' defence has been about as solid as shaving cream. And the D was particularly porous the other night in Winnipeg, when the previously woebegone Blue Bombers shredded the Montford-less and Brady-less Esks en route to a lopsided slaughter.
In the process, Edmonton's pretend defence allowed a mind-boggling 601 yards in total offence. It was the first time in 12 seasons that a team had amassed more than 600 yards in a game against the Esks.
Maciocia has had all kinds of interesting comments to make about his team since its debacle in Winnipeg, including: "We have to remove our heads from up our asses. . . .It's sheer stupidity at its best. . . .It's un-Eskimo like. . .Everything went wrong. . .It was just downright disgusting and embarrassing."
And from Edmonton linebacker A.J. Gass: "It was pathetic. It was a good, old-fashioned ass-kicking."
Neither the coach nor the linebackerhave beenhearing any arguments.
The Eskshave allowed an average of 136 yards a game on the ground -- worst in the CFL. They've turned over the ball a staggering 13 times. On offence, running back Troy Davis has averaged a meagre 1.4 yards a carry, a serious plunge from the 5.6-yard average he used to boast.
The team has clearly lacked leadership this season, not only because of the absences of Montford and Brady, but also because of the loss of fiery quarterback Jason Maas, who was tradedto the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Maas is missed for his ability to give the Esks a spark off the bench, and also for his holding prowess on kicks. Witha greenhornnamed Jason Johnson the inexpensive backup to QB Ricky Ray, there havebeen problems holding for kicker Sean Fleming. And there will be even more major problems should Ray get injured.
"We were champions last year because we had the right people," the aforementioned Eskimo said. "We've beenmissing people this year, and it's just not the same. . . .In our view, management tampered too much with our roster."
Probably. But re-signing Montford, and then maybe Brady, are management's ways of admitting its mistakes.• I guess the only team in the CFL that can relate to the Esks these daysare the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who have crawled off to an even worst start.
They're 0-3, in the cellar of the Eastern Division, and it's difficult to fathom a tougher loss than the one theyexperienced against the Stampeders in Calgary last Thursday night.
Let me elaborate:
Withless than 30seconds remaining in regulation time, the Ticats were upby a point. Then, Hamilton kickerJamie Boreham missed a 42-yard field goal, and a single pointgave the Cats atwo-point lead. Then,as the Stamps took over on offence with precious little time left,Calgary quarterback Henry Burris found Markus Howellfor a 13-yardcompletion to the Calgary 48-yardline. Then, Burrisconnected with Ken-Yon Rambo for a 24-yard completion to the Hamilton 38-yard line. Then, with Rambo rolling around on the ground and time running out, Hamilton safety Sandy Beveridge decided to touch him, and the clock stopped with all of two seconds left. Then, Calgary's sure-footed kicker, Sandro DeAngelis,produced the game-winning field goal from42 yards out --precisely the same distancethat Boreham missed from onlyseconds earlier.
And now Greg Marshall is on a seat so hot that his kiester is burning.
The Ticats have to play the Alouettes in Montreal on Thursday night, and they're double-digit underdogs. A loss could be the end for Marshall as the Ticats' coach.
"Weneeded that (late) field goal from Jamie," Marshall lamented. "Their guy, under pressure, made theirs."
Fact is, Boreham has missed five of his past seven field-goal attempts, and it's cost Marshall andthe Ticats considerably.
This week,the Ticats brought in former CFL kicker Bernie Ruoff to work with Boreham, butthey've done thatbefore and, not to diss Ruoff or anything,it hasn't helped much.
If Marshall loses his job, it'll be at least partly because of his loyalty to Boreham.
The Cats are considering a new kicker -- Jonathan Ruffin, out of the University of Cincinnati, but he hasn't been all that impressive in practices, either.
• For the record, I still believe the Ticats can be for real this season.
The team is laden with new players who are just getting to know each other and are trying to become more cohesive. The lack of cohesion has created trouble in the red zone, and the team has only scored three touchdowns.
"These things take time,"Hamilton QBJason Maas insisted. "We have the talent. It's just a matter of getting on the same page."
It's also just a matter of getting some production out of a field-goal kicker who seems to be lacking confidence as much as consistency.
The question is -- how long will owner Bob Young wait before replacing Marshall?
• Hamilton receiver Kamau Peterson is improving, but you have to love his new nickname -- Kamau Incompleterson. Not that he likes it at all. . .B.C. Lions receiver Geroy Simon, after a so-so season last year, is back to his old self, on pace to set a team record of 1,750 yards receiving. Simon hired a personal trainer in the off-season and also started doing yoga. He shed 10 pounds and seems to be even quicker than in the past. Just ask the Argonauts' secondary, whom he destroyed in the Lions' victory over Toronto last Friday night.
. .Is this fishy or what? Ron Rooke, former Stampeders publicist and president, won more than $12,000 in a draw organized by the club during its game against Hamilton the other night. Rooke serves these days as the marketing vice-president for the CFL Players Association. . .Talk about sweating the small stuff: Eight members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have now been fined by the CFL for dress-code violations -- things such as not pulling up their socks high enough, not buckling up their belts, not tucking in their jerseys... Conspicuous by his absence from CFL telecasts on CBC is Darren Flutie, easily the best panelistand analyst the network had to offer in past years... No one has a crystal ball and making predictions can always be dangerous, but how about the CBC's panelists getting so few right that the network decided not to flash their records before last week's game. Then, the panelists -- Greg Frers, Sean Millington and Eric Tillman -- all picked Edmonton to beat Winnipeg. Um, didn't exactly turn out that way.
• Did anyone catch Lions president Bob Ackles on a telecast the other day acknowledging that, yes, there was a quarterback controversy in B.C. last season and that, yes, it hurt and distracted the team?
Funny, but wasn't it the same Ackles who kept repeating over and over and over, ad nauseum, in past years that there was no quarterback controversy in B.C. when Dave Dickenson and Casey Printers wereon the roster together?
This, CFL fans, is why you must take anything league executives say with a grain of salt.
• According to a news release sent to me by a representative of Sherwood Schwarz, lawyers for the former Argos owner have filed a legal proceeding asking the New York State Supreme Court to overturn an arbitration award in favor of the John Hancock Insurance Company that denied Schwarz $30-million US in lost commissions.
The release said the ruling by the American Arbitration Association denied the breach-of-contract charges against Hancock and Schwarz's claims for $30 Million in lost commissions in connection with a high-end insurance product from Hancock that Schwarz was licensed to sell.
Message from Marty York:
After about three decades of covering the CFL in newspapers, magazines, on national television and on radio, the folks who run Metro newspapers have given me the opportunity to report on the league in a new and efficient way -- online, right here at
. Here, I will have the space and freedom to cover the league the way that will best serve you. My reports will be updated at least twice a week and will include information you're not likely to find elsewhere. I will also give you my weekly CFL picks. And I welcome email from CFL fans -- send them to
. I'll publish some from time to time. I'm very excited about this venture, and I hope you will be, too.