Ferguson: One training camp wish for every team

What a rush, eh?

From little news and discussion to an avalanche of both in the snap of a finger. Welcome to CFL training camp in 2021, a fitting beginning to a season unlike any other.

The last time we played football, Toronto’s logo was a shield, Edmonton wasn’t the Elks, QB Matt Nichols and offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice were Blue Bombers, while QB Nick Arbuckle and new Argos head coach Ryan Dinwiddie were Stampeders.

Needless to say the changes have been endless and we’re all sorting through what they mean through the first couple days of training camp overload.

Every year when training camp opens up I think back to how much has changed since we last hit the field, but two draft classes, two free agency periods and so many unknowns about player evolution has this set to be the wildest season of CFL football in a long time.

With that in mind, here is my one big wish for each CFL team as we thunder through training camps and head for the first live reps on national television Aug. 5.

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Playing behind Michael Reilly has historically been a prolonged look at the game from the sidelines. The Lions will have to get creative if they want to see Nathan Rourke work his way into games this season (Photo: BCLions.com)

BC: Rourke run game package?

A quote from Lions offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic jumped out to me on Monday. He was discussing rookie Canadian rookie QB Nathan Rourke’s skill set and stated, “He has exceptional arm talent. The athleticism and ability to run just adds more to his game. It would be beneficial to try to get him on the field when we can.”

That made me wonder when, where and how you could ever get Nathan Rourke on the field when Michael Reilly is the face of the franchise and can still make every throw on the field. Aside from useless short yardage and body bruising third-down snaps, the only solution I could come up with was a limited but effective run game package for Rourke out of the gun. An unlikely dream, but a wishful thought to fit the Canadian on field a couple snaps a game with hope for more in the future when Reilly completes his CFL journey.

Edmonton: Send a message

The Elks are a funny case of hype awakening. At the start of the off-season we were all a bit lukewarm on Edmonton’s rebranded club battling through the West to reach the playoffs or more, but as the spring turned to summer, I became more aware of the Elks’ roster composition and have really enjoyed listening to a spiritually-free Trevor Harris explain his process in media availabilities.

My wish for the Elks is to set the tone, show you they belong and strike fear in the hearts of CFL opponents everywhere. It could be a monster Ellingson game, a terrifyingly efficient performance from Trevor Harris or a jaw dropping workload for James Wilder Jr. Whatever shape it takes, it’s time for the Elks to make some new memories and it starts Week 1 against Ottawa.

Calgary: Make Bo the best point guard on the planet

In his preseason call with the media, QB Bo Levi Mitchell was asked about the exodus of pass catching talent from Calgary and his response was perfect. He said he wants to spread the ball evenly over the field to a plethora of targets and be the best QB he’s ever been.

I for one would love to see Mitchell’s game evolve to take on veteran status with a knowledge of progressions and pre-snap reads years in the making applied to getting everyone involved at the right time. It might be Calgary’s best shot to keep pace in the West.

Saskatchewan: Please, make it stop

Seriously, it doesn’t matter what team you play, coach or cheer for, Larry Dean and three more Riders falling to season ending Achilles injuries was awful. I wish nothing but health on the Riders for the next three weeks.

One of the many things we have forgotten since Canadian football disappeared in March of 2020 is just how unfair the game can be with injuries. It would be a shame if the Riders failed to reach their pre-season potential due to a training session gone wrong and I think we all want to see what Cody Fajardo and Jason Maas can create together with a full choice of skill position options.

Winnipeg: Trust Liegghio

Justin Medlock got the utmost respect on everything from long field goals to coffin corner punts and rightfully so. One of the greatest kickers we’ve ever seen demanded that respect from head coach Mike O’Shea, who knew what he had in Medlock every time he called for a special team.

Right now Winnipeg has just one kicker in camp with Western’s Marc Liegghio, one of U SPORTS’ most accomplished kickers of the century. I’d love to see O’Shea and the Bombers show Liegghio the same respect. While it might not be earned yet, Liegghio is being treated as the man through camp; don’t stop once the lights come on.

Hamilton: Mix and Match: Burt and Kalinic

Hamilton has a million ways to move the football, including several more explosive than this duo, but I’m a nerd for counter culture football and would love nothing more than to see offensive coordinator Tommy Condell put six-foot-five, 255-pound fullback Nicola Kalinic on the field in a package with 2021 first overall pick Jake Burt in weird and wacky formations to make big man Black and Gold magic.

The thought of a fully fresh Charleston Hughes getting after quarterbacks in the fourth quarter is a scary one, but it’s something teams across the league might face in 2021 (Adam Krueger/Argonauts.ca)

Toronto: Roll through defensive packages

In his preseason conference call, head coach Ryan Dinwiddie discussed wanting to keep veterans fresh and roll through plenty of bodies along the Argos’ front 7. With numerous body types and skill sets, I’ve started to wonder if the Double Blue plan on defence isn’t to keep and dress enough bodies to send a fresh pass rush late into the fourth quarter. I’d love to see it as a counter to Hamilton’s aerial assault and Montreal’s Stanback revolution.

Ottawa: Find work for Auclair

I’m not sure if the talented Laval product is a weak side linebacker or a free safety as I projected in draft coverage, but I do love his physicality and can’t wait to see how Ottawa defensive coordinator Mike Benevides uses him. Whatever they decide to do with his assigned position I’d love to see it on the field ASAP.

Montreal: Ignore the analytics

I say this as someone who wholeheartedly loves the numbers and finds them valuable. The CFL numbers say passing, and passing aggressively downhill is king, but William Stanback is a dominant downhill rusher uncommon to many across the league and he gets better with an increased number of touches. I’d love to see Stanback get all the touches he wants and for Montreal to mix their vertical passing game with an above average number of carries for the dominant tendency breaking back Stanback.

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