With CFL rookie camps opening today all eyes will be on one name: Tre Ford.
The University of Waterloo quarterback did something we don’t normally see round these parts. He was taken in the first round of the CFL Draft. You have to go back to 1980 to find the last time a team selected a quarterback in the first round. That year, two passers by the names of Sheldon Paris (Calgary Stampeders, seventh overall) and Joe Hawco (Montreal Alouettes, eighth overall) were selected but neither one of them ended up playing their drafted position in the CFL and were soon out of the league.
Ford has one advantage that no rookie has been afforded the last couple seasons: Time. As a result of COVID there hasn’t been a proper rookie training camp since 2019. The 2021 Hec Crighton winner will have a chance to acclimatize himself to head coach Chris Jones and offensive coordinator Steven McAdoo and his offensive philosophy with the Edmonton Elks. Every CFL writer has done countless columns (myself included) about the allure of the Canadian starting quarterback that could become a star in this league, so I don’t need to go over the beats here.
The one interesting angle is the last Canadian to take significant starting reps was Brandon Bridge under coach Jones back in 2017 and 2018 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This year’s rookie training camp will be more fascinating as it’s been three years since we’ve really had one and adding this prolific collegiate passer with this specific coach will just add interest over the next several days. However, Ford certainly does not have a monopoly on first year stories to follow. Here are a couple others to keep on your football radar.
Let’s stay with Edmonton for a second and imagine the different ways Jones could utilize the fourth overall pick, defensive back Enock Makonzo from Coastal Carolina. I’m just as curious about where Makonzo lines up as I am interested in how he fares in individual drills.
As Pat Steinberg noted in his MMQB piece, Makonzo played all over the defence in college. So now you have this super talented, athletic player who can handle multiple defensive responsibilities and you give him a coach who once started star receiver Duron Carter at defensive back (AND who brought him back to try it again this year!). When I think of a Jones-coached defence adjectives like “aggressive” and “unorthodox” come to mind. I bet Jones and his entire coaching staff are looking at their top newcomer the same way I did with my new Transformers at Christmas: I couldn’t wait to see what I could with them.
Like bacon, you can never have enough pass rush. One goes great on everything from salads to sandwiches. The other is critical on second and long and trying to thwart a late game comeback from your opponent. A highly decorated player during his days on the Queen’s defensive line, Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ second round choice Anthony Federico tallied 20.5 sacks during his university days. Last season Hamilton’s pass rush was in the middle of the CFL pack with 31 sacks and they lost all-star Ja’Gared Davis to the Argonauts. It would be unrealistic to think any one player could replace what Davis means to a defence but with his age (24) and productivity as a member of the Golden Gales, Federico could be coached up to help players like Julian Howsare and Dylan Wynn pick up the slack.
Am I allowed to sneak in Cardale Jones, even though this former Buffalo Bills’ quarterback will not be at rookie camp but is technically a rookie? Every year there is that highly decorated NCAA quarterback who shows up on some CFL team’s roster and immediately garners more attention than they probably deserve. It’s an annual tradition. As someone who got sucked into the Chris Leak hype back in 2008, I know how this will probably turn out. That doesn’t mean Jones does not deserve a serious look. He came out of nowhere in 2015 to help guide Ohio State past Alabama and Oregon to capture the National Championship. Maybe he can surprise the football community again.
Every CFL franchise uses the draft to upgrade both lines of scrimmage while simultaneously bolstering their Canadian talent. I’m most curious to see how it all shakes out at rookie camp for the BC Lions. Rick Campbell’s squad finished dead last in sacks (23) in 2021 so they grabbed the first defensive linemen off the board with Nathan Cherry from the University of Saskatchewan.
What makes the Cherry story so interesting is this former first-team All-Canadian was not expected to go so high. Going into the draft the focus was on Western’s (now with the Argonauts) Deionte Knight. Marshall Ferguson had Cherry going at the top of the third round in his mock draft. There are two types of “chip on the shoulder” rookies: The ones that got picked far later than anyone expected and are out to prove the world wrong and the ones that feel the need to prove they did in fact deserve to be selected so high. Cherry falls in the later and I look forward to him doing so.
On the other side of the line, the Lions were last in rushing yards (74.4). No doubt that played a part in drafting Cherry’s college teammate, offensive linemen Noah Zerr. Noah though may not count for this list as he accepted an invite to the New York Giants rookie mini-camp which opens up in a couple days, so he falls in that morally questionable category of Canadian player you are wishing nothing but all the success for but part of you wants to see them blocking for James Butler and Nathan Rourke. I know, it’s sometimes hard to be a good person and a CFL fan.
“I’m physical. I love blocking and getting my nose dirty. I’m also able to catch the ball and I am tough to take down.” That from Connor Ross, the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ seventh round pick. I know you can easily accuse me of being a football hipster by including a pick so low in the draft, but this is all about position. Ross was an excellent tight end at St. Francis Xavier and I would love to see that position find at least some relevance in this game.
I’m still waiting for last year’s first overall pick Jake Burt to become a thing in Hamilton so here’s hoping we all get to read articles in the next week that Ross has been the “break out star” of the REDBLACKS’ rookie camp. Also, on a side note how much do you love a good “break out star” story a couple weeks before the start of the pre-season. We’re getting closer everyone!