Brandon Bridge isn’t playing football for Canada.
He’s playing in the Canadian Football League for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That’s an important distinction.
But the very existence of a Canadian quarterback produces such widespread elation (We can do it!) and despair (Why is Bridge the only one?) that the significance of his performance, or lack thereof, can transcend Regina and the Riders roster. And he feels the spotlight and the responsibility to pave the way for more Canadians.
The focus on the 26-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., intensified just before CFL training camps opened when Calgary native Andrew Buckley chose medical school over the No. 2 spot on the Stampeders’ depth chart.
That left Bridge alone to carry the Canadian flag.
He did so inconspicuously on the sidelines until a concussion in Week 2 put Riders starter Zach Collaros on the six-game injured list. Bridge then carried the flag into battle against Montreal on Saturday night, making just his third start in four years.
It was a brief and unsuccessful appearance. Some observers, such as TSN broadcaster and former Canadian Football League safety Glen Suitor, said it was too brief.
“Because it’s a Canadian quarterback, there is less patience,” Suitor said as Bridge’s replacement David Watford struggled through the second half and the Riders lost to the Alouettes.
Because Bridge is a Canadian quarterback, there is certainly more attention from fans, pundits and the league itself. And something might just come from it.
“One of the things we have not done a lot of as a league is we have not had a comprehensive football development strategy for the nation,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie told Postmedia during a pre-season interview.
“I think we’ve got to sit down with all of our partners. We just sit down with Football Canada and have a conversation. How do we grow the game? How do we get more kids playing? You’ve got to get massive participation in the game because that’s going to get your best athlete.
“Your best athletes are going to choose to play this sport and what will emerge out of that is going to be a slew of people who might be that next superstar quarterback.”
History shows that athlete is more likely to be an offensive lineman.
“We’ve got to find a way to get more athletes to choose football who are good athletes with a different profile,” Ambrosie said. “We’ve got to work hard with junior. I think we are under appreciating how powerful junior can be. We’ve got to work at the university system more than we have.”
A mandatory internship program that started in 2012 brings nine U Sports quarterbacks to CFL training camps. B.C. starter Jonathon Jennings is a big fan.
“I think they have a really cool process with the interns coming in. I thought that was outstanding. First time I saw it in my rookie year I thought, ‘this would be cool if they did it in the NFL,’” Jennings said.
“I think they’re grooming those guys in a really good manner. I’m not sure what more you could do, unless you considered the quarterback a ratio player.”
Ratio rules demand that teams include 20 Canadians on their roster, including at least seven starters, but do not affect the quarterback position. The ratio argument has been raised, debated, discounted and debated some more. It was raised by Bridge in an off-season chat with Ambrosie. It was raised again on Twitter even as Bridge was struggling against Montreal.
In the absence of administrative advantage, the alternative is more and better development at the grassroots level to ensure an increase in numbers at the pro level. Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell notices a huge skills deficit at the youth camps he works in Calgary.
“They’re very behind at the ages we’re coaching them at,” Mitchell said. “In the south, there are football camps, quarterback camps, one-on-ones with quarterback coaches. There is no shortage of ex-NFL and college quarterbacks, Heisman winners or national championship winners to learn from. We can go anywhere in every state and find a guy. That’s just not the case up here.”
That part of the numbers game will always favour the development of Americans. But Ambrosie isn’t prepared to accept defeat.
He said the league needs to invest more thought and resources before reaching any conclusions on the long-term fate of the Canadian quarterback.
“We have to set some big, hairy, audacious targets for participation and we have to invest in that as a country and as a football ecosystem,” he said.
“I think then and only then can we ever know just how many Canadian quarterbacks we can ultimately see starting and contributing to the CFL, because we just haven’t done enough at this stage.”
The power ranking
D’haquille Williams wins respect, recognition
When trying to defend against D’haquille (Duke) Williams, it may be a poor choice to offend him.
That’s apparently what B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian did when he told the Eskimos receiver that Williams didn’t even show up in the Lions’ scouting report prior to last week’s game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Perhaps Elimimian was just messing with him.
“I think he was serious. I took offence to that,” said Williams.
Did he ever. He took 129 yards of offence and scored a 64-yard touchdown and a pair of two-point converts.
“I had to make them respect me one way or another,” said Williams, a 25-year-old from Los Angeles. “We’re grown men. We came out with the victory. So I know he knows who I am now.”
If not, Elimimian need only consult the CFL statistics. Williams now leads the league with 308 receiving yards on 14 catches in three games, while teammate Derel Walker is on his heels at 299. Throw in Kenny Stafford at 196 and the Eskimos have the most productive trio, with a combined 803 yards.
Hamilton’s top three pass-catchers Jalen Saunders (248), Brandon Banks (247) and Luke Tasker (230) have produced a total of 725 yards. The only other CFL team with three receivers in the top 11 is Calgary, but their corps of Eric Rogers (201), Kamar Jorden (192) and Davaris Daniels (187) lags behind at 580 combined yards.
“Duke is a challenge for any defence to cover in this league,” said Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly. “Time and time again he continues to step up and make big plays. He still has the ability he had last year to hit the home run down the sideline, but he’s also shown a lot more to his repertoire catching balls across the middle.”
At six-foot-three and 225 pounds, the Auburn alum is up to the challenge.
“I’m prepared for everything,” said Williams. “I’m willing to take on anybody, from D-linemen to linebackers to DBs. I’m built for it. I’m here to make them respect me.”
He had to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches first. As a rookie in 2017, Williams. He went over 100 yards receiving in four of his 13 games, en route to 715 total. But he had to become more than just a one-dimensional deep threat.
“Trust, that’s the difference,” he said. “Last year I was just a vertical guy. Now I’m all around. I’m just trying to work, stay in my lane and play my role. That’s all it’s about, playing my part for this team.
“Whenever the ball comes my way, I’m trying to make the play.”
He presents a big target for Reilly and can often turn a 50-50 ball in the Eskimos’ favour.
“The ball doesn’t always have to be perfect,” said head coach Jason Maas. “He can go up and elevate as good as anybody in our league.”
39 League-leading number of points scored off turnovers by the Calgary Stampeders in three games. The Toronto Argonauts have scored just 26 points total in two games.
4,563 Days between the last two wins of Mike Sherman’s professional coaching career. He guided the Green Bay Packers to a 23-17 victory over Seattle on Jan. 1, 2006 and his Alouettes beat Saskatchewan on Saturday, also 23-17.
1 Number of games decided by four points or less this year. If that meagre pace is maintained, there will be just seven through all 81 games, down from 25 in 2017, 22 in 2016 and 28 in 2015.
“Sometimes he doesn’t have the best eyes as a corner. Sometimes he gets lost back there.” — Montreal receiver Chris Williams on Saskatchewan’s Duron Carter, during a halftime conversation with TSN’s Farhan Lalji on Saturday.
Hamilton (2-1) at Saskatchewan (1-2)
Thursday – 9 p.m. ET
The Tabbies are a legit contender, the Riders are in troubling disarray on offence. That smells like another road win for a team that boasts the CFL’s leading passer in Jeremiah Masoli, the deepest corps of receivers and a strong Canadian running attack. The Ticats lead the league in passing yards, completions, percentage and average gain per pass. The Rider defence is only so-so against the pass, and yes, some of that has to do with the trials and tribulations of erstwhile cornerback Duron Carter. Hamilton’s chances of success will go up if Riders head coach Chris Jones doesn’t read the tea leaves and move Carter back on offence full-time. Hamilton by seven.
Ottawa (1-1) at Montreal (1-2)
Friday – 7:30 p.m. ET
The Redblacks stumbled mightily in Calgary by repeatedly giving the ball away to a team that capitalizes more than any other on turnovers. The Alouettes’ offence likely won’t be nearly that dangerous or opportunistic, particularly if QB Drew Willy doesn’t come back from a helmet-to-helmet hit in Regina. Jeff Mathews cleaned up in the win over the Riders but didn’t look particularly efficient. Ottawa’s stout defence, which has given up an average of 348 yards of offence per game, will present a serious challenge to whomever gets the ball for Montreal. The Alouettes won’t have to wait another 323 days for a win, but they’ll probably have to wait at least another two weeks, as they have the bye next week. Ottawa by 10.
Edmonton (2-1) at Toronto (0-2)
Saturday – 5:30 p.m. ET
Coming off the bye, the Argos are rested but their new starting quarterback is largely untested. James Franklin goes head to head with his old teammates, including QB Mike Reilly, and the experience deficit might be a costly one. Even in the hands of the now-injured Hall of Famer Ricky Ray, the Argos were producing a measly 13 points per game, worst in the CFL. While the Eskimos’ rebuilt defence is very much a work in progress, in the hands of Reilly the offence is always a dangerous machine and should be the difference. Edmonton by 10.
B.C. (1-1) at Winnipeg (1-2)
Saturday – 8:30 p.m. ET
Another battle of one-win teams shapes up as a narrow victory for the home squad, but only if the Blue Bomber defence tightens up, particularly in the secondary. Winnipeg’s tendency toward zone defence has yielded an average of 302 passing yards to each of three opponents, better only than the Lions’ defence, which gives up 303.5 passing yards per game. Winnipeg’s rookie QB Chris Streveler likes to run and throw, and he has also handed the ball off more than any other pivot. The Lions aren’t good against the run, as evidenced by C.J. Gable’s romp last week. Winnipeg by three.
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