Steinberg’s MMQB: A few burning questions

Plenty of questions have already been answered as we approach week three of 2022 free agency. We know Jeremiah Masoli landed in Ottawa. We found out Calgary was able to retain both Bo Levi Mitchell and Jake Maier. And Andrew Harris and Kenny Lawler have been Winnipeg’s salary cap casualties after two straight Grey Cup titles.

But, even with so many answers this winter, I still have a few off-season questions rattling around my brain.

Is this McBeth’s year?

It’s hard not to cheer for McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He’s paid his dues, he’s relatable, and he plays an exciting brand of football. And for the first time since entering the CFL in 2017, it looks like Bethel-Thompson will come to training camp pencilled in as Toronto’s starting quarterback. I’m excited to see what he’s got up his sleeve.

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In 2018 and 2019, Bethel-Thompson started the season behind James Franklin on the depth chart. Last year, he had Nick Arbuckle as competition. In every circumstance, Bethel-Thompson has stuck with it, persevered, and been the consummate professional. After leading the league with 26 passing touchdowns in 2019 and helping the Argos to the East Division’s top seed last season, I’d say he’s earned a shot to start the season on top of the depth chart.

Who patrols the middle of Calgary’s defence?

With Mike linebacker Darnell Sankey now a member of the archrival Riders, the Stampeders have a hole to fill in the middle of their defence. Sankey was one of 2021’s breakout stars and led the CFL with 97 tackles. Normally a loss like Sankey’s would be a tough one, but Calgary seems well-positioned to absorb it in stride.

The leading candidate to replace Sankey at middle linebacker is Jameer Thurman, who enjoyed a massively successful return to the league last year. Thurman is one of the CFL’s most versatile defenders; he has elite speed, which gives him great range and allows him to drop into coverage better than most linebackers. If Thurman slides to the middle, it opens the door for newly acquired Cameron Judge to move into his natural spot at WILL.

How do the Tiger-Cats do it?

Maybe it’s because head coach Orlondo Steinauer was a five-time CFL All-Star at defensive back, but Hamilton’s defensive backfield sets up to be an embarrassment of riches once again in 2022. With much of their elite secondary already coming back, the Tiger-Cats have added former All-Star Richard Leonard and 2021 All-Star Alden Darby to the mix for the coming season. It’s crazy.

Tunde Adeleke signed a two-year extension with the Ticats in January (Michael P. Hall/CFL.ca)

Desmond Lawrence turned into an emerging star at boundary corner last year…he’s back. Cariel Brooks is one of the league’s absolute best in coverage…he’s back. Jumal Rolle showed he can excel at corner on either the boundary or field side in 2021…he’s back. The versatile Tunde Adeleke? Back. Even with Frankie Williams unsigned, adding Leonard and Darby is the definition of the rich getting richer.

Is Nick Arbuckle Edmonton’s guy?

Arbuckle was supposed to be the answer in Ottawa, but then the 2020 season got cancelled. The excitement was high upon his arrival in Toronto for 2021, but a combination of factors, including injury, prevented that from working out as planned. Then Arbuckle was traded to Edmonton late last season…but never ended up taking a snap.

It’s been an odd few years for Arbuckle since bursting onto the scene with Calgary in 2019 as Bo Levi Mitchell’s injury replacement. And even though his contract has been restructured by new Elks general manager Chris Jones, we still don’t know if Arbuckle is the guy for the coming season. Jones hasn’t committed one way or the other, and Edmonton has other quarterbacks who will be vying for playing time at camp. I still see a lot of potential in Arbuckle, so I hope this is the year everything falls into place.

A job well done

On this February 28th, we celebrate the end of Black History Month 2022. I encourage you to check out CFL.ca’s Diversity is Strength landing page, because the storytelling that has been done is must watch/read/listen material. From Damon Allen to Khari Jones, Chuck Ealey, Duane Forde, and more, it has been enlightening, inspiring, and engrossing.

I wanted to give a hat tip from 2000 kilometres away to Donnovan Bennett. A colleague both here at CFL.ca and Sportsnet, DJ has been, and continues to be, an unflinching voice in this country amplifying Black athletes and their stories and triumphs. And it’s not just in the month of February. As important as BHM is every year, Donnovan has underlined the importance of highlighting crucial issues of inequality and celebrating achievements all year long.

DJ did one hell of a job this month, and that’s not changing when March starts tomorrow.

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