BY: RODPEDERSEN.COM STAFF
With training camps set to open in a week (we hope!) and with one of the best CFL quarterbacks of all-time, Ricky Ray, hanging up the cleats this past week, thoughts across the country have naturally drifted to the most important position in football, quarterback.
Here are a few thoughts about the past, current and future arms in the CFL:
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Ray was a Hall of Famer on and off the field. He embraced this game and the country and there isn’t a fan who doesn’t respect what Ray has done across the CFL landscape.
2 - One begins to wonder if we just witnessed the golden age of quarterbacking in the CFL? Yes, Doug Flutie is the best of all-time, and of course Ron Lancaster’s great play over many years, not to mention Matt Dunigan throwing for thousands of yards, but as a league traditionally there were only one or two guys that stood out in an era.
Much like today. It’s Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell followed by the rest of the league’s quarterbacks. There are more yards through the air, but other than Reilly and Mitchell, the names in the top five have changed every year.
3 - When you look back at a four-year period between 2009 and 2012 there are four Hall of Famers and one possible Hall of Famer that were in the top-five or six every year. All of them also had long careers and all but one have Grey Cup rings.
We are talking about Ricky Ray, Henry Burris, Anthony Calvillo, and Darian Durant -- with the wild card being Kevin Glenn.
The first four have 12 Grey Cups between them (though in 1998 and 2007 Burris and Durant respectively were on the roster but not on the field) and a myriad of team and league records.
Calvillo was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017. The other three will see their busts go into the Hall over the next four or five years.
4 - This gets us to Kevin Glenn. Is he a Hall of Famer? Glenn is in the top-ten of almost every passing category and has done it for almost every team in the CFL with so many different offences. The one thing he lacks though, is a Grey Cup ring.
We figure Glenn will be a Hall of Famer but may have to wait a little longer than the other four to get in once his career is officially over.
We talked about a golden age of quarterbacks but beginning two years ago, this may be the era of Canadian quarterbacks.
We have watched Andrew Buckley (Calgary) and Brandon Bridge (Toronto) become the first Canadian pivots to start a CFL game in decades.
Toronto is now the hub of the future of Canadian quarterbacks. With Bridge signing there in the off-season, University of Regina's Noah Picton getting a shot and now the drafting of UBC Thunderbird Michael O’Connor, the Argonauts see that the future of CFL quarterbacking may lie in USports.
There are a few reasons for this. The NCAA has undergone a change from multiple pro-style offences to almost every team running either a spread, the run/pass option (or RPO) and the air raid offence.
As a result, they take a lot of the decision making out of the quarterback’s hands. There is no reading of a defence, you don’t need the strongest of arms, it’s all tempo.
Tempo may be the biggest difference. In the NCAA the official places the ball on the line of scrimmage and gets out of the way seconds after the previous play is over (unless there are substitutions) and away the offence goes. An offence either snaps the ball right away or they sit and look back at the play caller on the sidelines (either huge cards or hand signals) and then get the play off.
The CFL game is quick but very deliberate. There are some spots that these schemes have been implemented but the differences between the NCAA and CFL game are widening.
This is why Canadian-trained quarterbacks are getting a chance. Another reason is the top athletes in the U.S. would always drift to quarterback. In Canada they tend to drift away from quarterback, especially at the higher levels.
Now with the provincial and national teams flourishing (the U-16 programs and such), passing in USports continuing to evolve and yes, the opportunity for NCAA scholarships have all helped make the quarterback position cool in Canada.
If Bridge, Picton or O’Connor have any sort of success, the CFL is a copycat league and we will see a few more scouts lingering around USports games and practices looking at their next potential leader on the field.
The Rider defence looks set to be, yet again, one of the best units in the CFL. Special Teams will be solid again. But what about the offence?
It begins at quarterback and if Zach Collaros is able to shake off a lot of what hindered his progress last season, the Riders will be set up to make a run to the Grey Cup. If not, it could be a very long season.
However, it's not all on Collaros. He has proved in the past that he can put up great numbers and lead a dynamic offence. If Collaros is to have any success, a lot of it is up to offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo to open things up a little and take a few risks.
It will be a slow start. There are a lot of new faces on offence and the stink of last season needs to wash off. By mid-season, if this offence isn’t clicking it could get ugly.
The pressure on Collaros is immense because there isn’t a murderer's row of quarterbacks behind him.
David Watford has seen some time in the Rider offence but always as a running option. Cody Fajardo was signed in the off-season but he too has been predominantly a third down or short yardage quarterback. The fourth quarterback on the roster is Isaac Harker.
Harker is a raw rookie from the Colorado School of Mines where he was a NCAA Division II honourable mention All-American. Before that he played at Indiana State of the FCS (Division I-AA). Read this great IndyStar.com article for more on Harker.
As always, all eyes are on the quarterbacks.