De­fen­sive stal­warts pre­sent­ing a stronger-than-usual case to cap­ture the league’s award for most out­stand­ing player this sea­son

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS -

If it’s ever go­ing to hap­pen again, this is the kind of sea­son that should see the Cana­dian Foot­ball League’s most out­stand­ing player award go to a star on de­fence.

Wil­lie Jef­fer­son of Win­nipeg, for in­stance. How about Cal­gary’s Tre Rober­son? Hamil­ton’s Ja’gared Davis?

Or maybe the Foot­ball Re­porters of Canada should skip the vote and just give the award to Roughrid­ers’ star de­fen­sive end Charleston Hughes, whose Twit­ter han­dle is @sack­atchewan.

“I’m the real MOP,” Hughes claimed in a tweet last week.

At age 35, in his 12th sea­son, Hughes leads the league with 15 sacks. He has 41 tack­les, four forced fum­bles, two re­cov­er­ies and a TD, and isn’t afraid to stress his can­di­dacy for MOP.

“I feel great about my chances. I knew early in the sea­son, within the first half of the sea­son, you know what, this is prob­a­bly my year to win a lot of awards I haven’t won be­fore,” he said Tues­day from Regina.

“With the way I’m play­ing, the way I feel, the dy­namic of how the league is work­ing out

right now, I just see my­self as be­ing one of those play­ers.”

That’s too much con­fi­dence for some ob­servers, who have been crit­i­cal of Hughes on so­cial me­dia.

“That doesn’t bother me. You’ve got to have con­fi­dence in your abil­ity. I know what I’m ca­pa­ble of and I’ve been prov­ing it. I’ve shown it week in and week out.”

With Cal­gary and now Saskatchew­an, Hughes has been a West Di­vi­sion all-star seven times, a CFL all-star five times, but he has never been named most out­stand­ing de­fen­sive player.

His cur­rent team­mate, line­backer Solomon Elim­imian, is the only CFLER to take home both the MOP and out­stand­ing de­fen­sive player awards when he dou­ble-dipped in 2014 for the B.C. Lions. He had an amaz­ing sea­son, with 143 tack­les, five sacks, a pick and two forced fum­bles.

But even a great cam­paign like that would nor­mally fetch only the most out­stand­ing de­fen­sive player award. To scoop both in the same cam­paign is to take ad­van­tage of a rare, league-wide of­fen­sive lull that es­sen­tially re­moves all QBS from the hunt. It’s the de­fault MOP po­si­tion.

Since the MOP was first awarded in 1953, it has gone to a QB 39 times, 16 to a run­ning back and 10 to a re­ceiver.

In 2014, when Elim­imian won, not a sin­gle CFL pivot man­aged 5,000 pass­ing yards, as Ricky Ray led all QBS with just 4,595. It was the low­est to­tal from a cat­e­gory leader

since 2001, and re­mains the fifth-low­est by a yearly leader since the CFL went to an 18-game sched­ule in 1986.

So the stars aligned for Elim­imian, and it’s hap­pen­ing again.

There is vir­tu­ally no chance any CFL quar­ter­back will reach 5,000 yards this sea­son. Ed­mon­ton’s Trevor Har­ris leads the pack at 3,706, and would have been a likely MOP, but he’s on the shelf with a fore­arm in­jury, and won’t be adding to his to­tal any time soon.

If he doesn’t re­turn at all, the best bet to top the pass­ing yards chart would be B.C.’S Mike Reilly. The Lions QB is at 3,615 now, av­er­ag­ing 258 yards per game. At that rate, he would fin­ish with 4,644.

That could be enough to win if he’d also filled the end zone, as Dave Dick­en­son did in 2000 for Cal­gary. Dick­en­son won the MOP award on the strength of 36 TD passes and only six picks, de­spite throw­ing for only 4,636 yards.

But Reilly has 15 TD passes and 15 in­ter­cep­tions, so it’s not look­ing good. In 2014, Ray was the leader in TD passes as well with 28, which didn’t look im­pres­sive against 15 picks.

So the MOP prob­a­bly shouldn’t be a quar­ter­back this year, and there aren’t many com­pelling ar­gu­ments to be made for re­ceivers, other than Hamil­ton’s Bran­don Banks. He has eight re­ceiv­ing TDS, a rush­ing ma­jor and two more on missed field goal re­turns, so he’ll be a con­tender.

That leaves the run­ning backs, specif­i­cally rush­ing leader Andrew Har­ris of Win­nipeg.

Let me join the chorus of those who be­lieve he sim­ply should not be a con­tender for any league-sanc­tioned award in the same year that he served a two-game sus­pen­sion for per­for­mance en­hanc­ing drugs. It sends a ter­ri­ble mes­sage to have him on the bal­lot dur­ing Grey Cup week. End of ar­gu­ment.

All that said, it could well come down to Banks ver­sus a de­fen­sive player for MOP.

“It’s an of­fen­sive driven league,” said Hughes. “When you come across spe­cial guys who can re­ally have an im­pact on the de­fence, they’ve got to be rec­og­nized.”

TROY FLEECE/POST­MEDIA

Roughrid­ers’ star rush end Charleston Hughes is one of sev­eral play­ers on the de­fen­sive side of the ball who could lay claim to the CFL’S Most Out­stand­ing Player award. Hughes wouldn’t dis­agree with that.

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