CFL Preview - Saskatchewan (0-0) at Hamilton (0-0)
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
DATE & TIME: Friday, June 29, 7:00 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: The action is now for real in the Canadian Football League, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats kick off the 2012 campaign on Friday night at Ivor Wynn Stadium.
Not only is this season leading up to the 100th Grey Cup Championship, but this year also marks the final campaign in which the Tiger-Cats are scheduled to play at Ivor Wynn as well.
While this might be the end of the historic venue, one that has been utilized since 1928, it is also a time for new beginnings for the Ticats as well, as Henry Burris assumes the role of starting quarterback.
A former league MVP who helped guide Calgary to postseason success just a few years ago, Burris endured a lackluster 2011 campaign as he threw for 3,687 yards and 20 touchdowns, against 12 interceptions. In the previous seven seasons, the signal-caller had thrown for no less than 4,200 yards each time out, so perhaps his best years are now behind him as he starts a new life in Hamilton.
Wide receiver Chris Williams will likely be a primary target down the field for Burris, after the New Mexico State import led the Ticats in receiving a year ago with 1,064 yards on 70 catches, leading to six majors. Dave Stala had just 59 receptions last season, yet he still managed to produce a career-best eight TDs, accounting for more than one-third of his career total in the process.
With the loss of Martell Mallett to injury, the running back position was reassigned to Avon Cobourne who not only ran for a team-best 961 yards and eight TDs, but he also placed fourth on the squad with 459 receiving yards, making him a dual-threat coming out of the backfield. Not to be left out of the equation is quarterback Quinton Porter, who is often put in on short-yardage situations near the goal line, resulting in nine rushing scores a year ago.
From a defensive standpoint, Hamilton is hoping to improve upon its numbers from 2011 that showed the squad intercepting a league-low 10 passes and ranking last in the league with just 81 total return yards on those picks.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Saskatchewan defense rose up to snag 21 interceptions, third-most in the CFL. However, these were the same Roughriders who managed to acquire a league-low five fumbles and also obtained the ball on turnovers a mere five times as well. Put it all together and Saskatchewan was tied with Toronto for the worst turnover margin in 2011 at minus-17.
The Riders were roughed up last season as they finished with just five wins and were the only team from the West Division to miss the postseason, which means new head coach Corey Chamblin has his work cut out for him.
Chamblin, who was most recently the Defensive Coordinator for Hamilton ironically enough, should be taking a special interest in improving the defensive unit for Saskatchewan for sure and may even have a slight advantage in this season opener due to his familiarity with the opposition.
The offense appears to be headed once again by Darian Durant, even though he had a less-than-spectacular 2011 campaign as he recorded almost as many INTs (14) as he did TDs (18). Among the starting QBs who were able to make it through the season mostly unscathed, Durant also had the lowest yards per attempt at 7.5, something that will need to be addressed in order to get this group back on the right track.
Providing Durant with his best options down the field will again be Chris Getzlaf and Weston Dressler, both of whom recorded 1,000-yard seasons through the air. The former was third on the team with 60 receptions, but was able to stretch those for an average of just under 18 yards per catch and a total of 10 TDs, the latter logging a team-high 79 grabs but landing in the end zone just five times.
One major difference in the receiving corps on both sides is Andy Fantuz, the former Roughrider receiver who is now wearing Hamilton colors. While he may not be the deciding factor in the meeting, his presence will certainly be a key storyline for sure.
With the Riders not offering a contract to Wes Cates (680 yards, four touchdowns), that leaves Durant as the top returning ground gainer for the squad after putting up 381 yards, but the fact that he fumbled the ball nine times and was forced to take all of those additional shots from the defense can't be something Saskatchewan wants to continue.
In terms of the series between these two clubs last season, they met only twice with drastically differing results. In the first meeting on July 16, the Tiger-Cats rattled Saskatchewan at home by a score of 33-3. In late October, the Riders returned the favor with a 19-3 rout.
Taking into account only regular season matchups, Saskatchewan has won three of the last four and 14 of 16 versus the 'Cats.
Durant is going to be asked yet again to do more than his share for the Roughriders and Hamilton will probably be ready for just such a game plan. As long as Burris can fit in comfortably and not try to do too much, this should be a win for the home team.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 27, Saskatchewan 18
06/27 11:05:12 ET