When you have everything from a Darian Durant autograph signing ceremony standing in as his farewell to Saskatchewan fans, to Brad Wall getting booed and defended by Anthony Calvillo to future CFL stars showing their stuff to future employers, the inaugural CFL Week had something for everyone.
The CFL decided to address the issue of a league that seems to go into suspended animation in the offseason by having CFL stars fly in for a week of interviews, meeting fans and taking part in in a festival designed to raise CFL awareness.
It was nice of the CFL to have the first one in Regina where the Riders reign supreme and where fan interest would ensure the event would be a success. The week started on Tuesday with a CFL quarterback panel with Kevin Glenn, Matt Nichols, Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell. Despite Mitchell’s reputation as a bit of a whiny Stampeder, he impressed with his wit and his ability to play the role.
Glenn was notable for not backing down from the challenge of Vince Young at some point in the future. Glenn showed he was planning to be a good teammate, but he was not going to concede the starting job to anyone in March.
During each day there was an autograph session and Wednesday saw Weston Dressler joining Naaman Roosevelt, Rob Bagg and Simoni Lawrence. For fans, it was a chance to say thanks to Dressler and he responded by saying how much he appreciated his time in Riderville. The closeness of Dressler with former teammates like Bagg was great to see and appreciated by fans.
On Thursday Warren Moon showed up with Anthony Calvillo and Mike Reilly and considering it was the day after the provincial budget, Brad Wall should not have been surprised to have heard boos for probably the first time in such a surrounding. What was interesting was how Calvillo stepped in to ask people to back off and leave it for when people hit the field.
It was the day after the CFL Hall of Fame class was announced and the three quarterbacks talked about adjusting to the Canadian game and how the rules and the shorter clock to get the ball into play meant quarterbacks had to to know their offenses and defenses well to make quick decisions. They also talked about the challenges of playing the Riders.
Interestingly enough, Moon, who had a stellar team in Edmonton, said the hardest part of playing in Regina was dealing with the wind and the fans. The fans were well educated in knowing when to make noise and when to back off and when the players were on the sideline, they heard it from Rider fans.
Reilly talked about playing against his former coach, Chris Jones, and how Jones was competitive even in practice situations. The various defensive formations he threw at his offense in practice Reilly felt helped him improve, and he also talked about learning from quarterbacks like Travis Lulay when both were in BC.
The CFL Combine started on Friday with the weightliftng session and Jean-Simon Roy rocked the house with 39 lifts of 220 pounds. The Combine was thrown open for spectators and some of the players played to the crowd, while others seems thrown by hearing the crowd cheer during the various events.
The 50 players, accompanied by mostly their family, were impressed with the setting and the enthusiasm of the crowd. Adam Adeboboye, a receiver from Toronto, was amazed by the enthusiasm of fans watching the Combine, especially those fans with no family members taking part.
The Combine continued on Saturday with the 40 yard dash and then the one on one drills pitting linemen against linemen and receivers and running backs against defensive backs and linebacker. While the weightlifting and the dashes provided some idea of strength and speed, the drills provided a better idea of how could do what as a football player.
Determining who would emerge as a high draft pick seemed a bit premature, considering the trade the BC Lions made with the Montreal Alouettes have officially acquired CFL All-Star and international offensive tackle Jovan Olafioye from the BC Lions and future considerations from BC in return for the rights to national offensive tackle David Foucault, as well as international offensive tackle Vincent Brown.
The addition of Foucault might give some idea of how BC might be planning their draft. Foucault might mean less of an emphasis on drafting offensive linement and perhaps BC might look to draft a defensive back or a linebacker to bolster their Canadian depth. Montreal seems to losing their veteran Canadian offensive line talent in perhaps a move to fit in the salary cap.
So with the end of the first CFL week, it appears the CFL is ready to make this an annual event and for fans elsewhere, it is definitely worth checking out. I’m not sure it will become a destination event like the Grey Cup, but with the format of the week and the various attractions designed for young people to get acquainted with football, the CFL is taking a first step towards being more than a boutique league.
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