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Johnny Football, coaching changes and injuries: A look ahead at the 2018 CFL season

Johnny Football

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Johnny Manziel looks to throw the ball during a preseason matchup against the Montreal Alouettes in Montreal on June 9, 2018.

Peter Mccabe/The Canadian Press

Johnny Manziel made headlines last month when he signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and the CFL club had plenty of American reporters attending training camp to speak with the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and former Cleveland Browns first-round pick. Jeremiah Masoli is bona fide starter, but if Hamilton falters coming out of the gate – the club opens with five straight games against West Division opponents – there could be calls for a quarterback change. Manziel, a six-foot, 210-pound Texan, was 21-of-32 passing for 168 yards and a TD, along with 29 yards rushing on six carries in Hamilton’s two exhibition games, but did show flashes of brilliance, especially when using his mobility to extend plays.

The Trestman effect

Toronto Argonauts head coach Marc Trestman, recipient of the CFL Coach of the Year award, poses backstage at the CFL awards in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017.

The Canadian Press

The Toronto Argonauts captured last year’s CFL title in their first season with Marc Trestman on the sidelines. They enter the season looking to become the first back-to-back Grey Cup champions since the Montreal Alouettes, who won in 2009 and 2010 with Trestman calling the shots. After mulling his football future this off-season, quarterback Ricky Ray returns to lead Trestman’s pass-happy offence.

Sherman on the sidelines

Montreal Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman oversees a practice during training camp in Montreal on Friday, May 25, 2018.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The Mike Sherman era in Montreal officially kicks off Saturday night when the Alouettes visit the B.C. Lions. Sherman has previous pro head-coaching experience with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (2000-05) and served as the club’s GM from 2001-04. The Packers were 57-39 over Sherman’s tenure and won three division titles (2002-04). He takes over an Alouettes squad that lost its last 11 regular-season games in 2017 en route to a league-worst 3-15 record and missed the CFL playoffs for a third straight year.

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Bomber down

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols looks for a receiver against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Winnipeg on Friday, October 6, 2017. Nichols went down with an undisclosed injury to his right knee during practice last week.

John Woods/The Canadian Press

Rookie Chris Streveler will start at quarterback Thursday night when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the Edmonton Eskimos. The six-foot-one, 211-pound Streveler replaces veteran Matt Nichols, who’s out four-to-six weeks with a knee injury suffered last week in training camp. Streveler played in both of Winnipeg’s exhibition games, completing 13-of-19 passes for 184 yards and two TDs with an interception. The Bombers also have quarterbacks Alex Ross and Bryan Bennett on their roster. Ross appeared in four games last year with B.C., completing 5-of-12 passes for 82 yards.

QB controversy

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros looks to pass against the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Friday, June 8, 2018.

Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press

Head coach and general manager Chris Jones still hasn’t said whether Zach Collaros or Canadian Brandon Bridge will be the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ starter when they host the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. The Riders acquired Collaros from Hamilton in the off-season after he’d been supplanted by Jeremiah Masoli as the Ticats’ starter. Collaros was the front-runner for the CFL’s outstanding player award before suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2015. But he’s struggled since returning, tying the league record for most consecutive losses by a starter at 12. Bridge, of Mississauga, was effective coming off the bench last year for the Riders and Jones hasn’t been afraid to use two quarterbacks in a contest. Stay tuned.

Dynamic duo

Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris takes hand off against the BC Lions in Winnipeg on October 28, 2017.

The Canadian Press

Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris came close to becoming the first player in CFL history to register 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. The Winnipeg native led the league in rushing (1,035 yards) and catches (105) while adding 857 receiving yards. Toronto running back James Wilder Jr. was the top rookie in 2017 with 872 yards rushing and 51 catches for 533 yards as a part-time starter. Fully entrenched as the Argonauts’ No. 1 running back, Wilder has said one of his goals this season was the reach the 1,000-1,000 plateau.

Receivers gone

Winnipeg Blue Bomber Adarius Bowman celebrates a touchdown with fans during the a preseason game against the Edmonton Eskimos in Winnipeg on Friday, June 1, 2018.

John Woods/The Canadian Press

Mike Reilly was the CFL’s outstanding player last year after passing for a league-high 5,830 yards. But the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback will be minus Brandon Zylstra (Minnesota, NFL) and Adarius Bowman (Winnipeg) this year. Zylstra had 100 catches for a league-best 1,687 yards and five TDs last year. Bowman had 45 catches for 534 yards and five TDs, but in 2016 registered 120 receptions for 1,761 yards and nine TDs. Derel Walker, the league’s top rookie in 2015, will anchor the receiving corps after registering 198 catches for 2,699 yards and 16 TDs his first two CFL seasons. He returned to Edmonton last season after a stint with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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