Healthy quarterbacks could make all the difference



There was relief in B.C., Saskatchewan and Edmonton as starting quarterbacks Travis Lulay, Darian Durant and Mike Reilly all looked healthy in CFL pre-season games.

Having their veteran pivots back maintains continuity in the league at a key position, with eight of nine teams set to begin the 2015 campaign with a returning starter.

A year ago, new starters took over in Hamilton, Montreal and Winnipeg, not to mention at expansion Ottawa, and backups were pressed into heavy duty by injuries in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

This season, the only new starter is Trevor Harris in Toronto, and he will likely only be in that spot until 2014 passing leader Ricky Ray returns from off-season shoulder surgery.

Harris, a fourth-year Argonaut, looked solid in the pre-season. He is backed up by Mitchell Gale.

“He hasn’t made mistakes, protects the ball, goes to the right guy, gets us in and out of the huddle,” Argos coach Scott Milanovich said of Harris. “He’s played well in the past, so our guys have confidence in him and I do too.”

The 35-year-old Ray led the CFL with 4,595 passing yards, but needed off-season surgery for a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.

Lulay got into only four games last season, including one start, due to shoulder trouble that caused him to miss most of the last two campaigns. The Lions are counting on a full return to form for the former league MVP, having let veteran backup Kevin Glenn go.

New head coach Jeff Tedford asked Lulay to protect himself better while scrambling or running the ball, and it will be interesting to see how showing more caution will affect the free-wheeling quarterback’s performance. His backups are untested John Beck and rookie Jon Jennings.

Saskatchewan’s campaign was derailed when Durant, the starter since 2009, suffered a season-ending elbow injury on Sept. 7, but the 2013 Grey Cup MVP has looked healthy in the pre-season. Interestingly, the Roughriders let go all three backups from last season and signed 36-year-old Glenn.

Reilly suffered a broken foot and bruised ankle in the Eskimos last regular season game. Backup Matt Nichols played in the West semifinal, but Reilly returned for the division final loss to Calgary. The third-year starter, both a passing and running threat, looks back to full speed.

Uncertainty rules in Montreal, where Jonathan Crompton’s hold on the starting job is tenuous. The Alouettes began 2014 with Troy Smith as the starter, then went with Tanner Marsh and Alex Brink before Crompton took over a 1-7 team and finished the season 8-2 and made the playoffs.

With experienced Dan LeFevour now in the picture, there is a back-up plan if Crompton stumbles.

“Right now I’m pretty confident that Jonathan is our quarterback,” said coach Tom Higgins.

Zach Collaros is back in Hamilton for a second year as the starter after leading the Tiger-Cats to the Grey Cup game. The former Argonaut missed five games early in 2014 but returned to win eight of 11 down the stretch.

In Winnipeg, Drew Willy looks forward to his second year as the starter behind a beefed up offensive line. He took a pounding in 2014, and looked to be banged up late in the season, but the Blue Bombers rewarded him with a contract extension through 2017.

The Redblacks hope a new set of receivers, including Maurice Price and Chris Williams, will spark 40-year-old Henry Burris in his 16th CFL campaign.

All is rosy in Calgary, where Bo Levi Mitchell will gun for a second straight Grey Cup. And if he gets hurt, the Stampeders have perhaps the league’s top backup in Drew Tate.

Drew Edwards is the founder of 3DownNation but has since wandered off. Beard in the photo not exactly as shown.