We're hopping around Ontario to preview the 2007 CIS football season. Presenting: the Queen's Golden Gaels.
In '06: 5-5, lost 23-10 to Ottawa in OUA semi-final
Players to watch: DB Jimmy Allin, QB Dan Brannagan, WR Rob Bagg, RB Mike Giffin (pictured), LB D.J. Mulholland, WR Scott Valberg, DB Matt Vickers
Head coach: Pat Sheahan (8th season)
Co-ordinators: Warren Goldie (offensive), Pat Tracey (defensive and special teams)
Last league title: 1997 (Ontario-Quebec conference)
Big ones: Sept. 3 at Western, Sept. 15 vs. McMaster, Oct. 5 at Ottawa
On the web: queensfootball.com, goldengaels.com
Strengths: Brannagan has potential to become one of the OUA's best passers and he has good backs and receivers, many of whom hail from right in Kingston. The defence punched above its weight last season.
Mountains to climb, rivers to cross... Having some newbies among the offensive linemen and receivers might make for a peaks-and-valleys offence again. The defence lost all-star linebackers Ian Hazlett and Adam Ross. A team which struggled to finish drives in '06 also has rookie kicker, albeit a talented one.
The best news to come out of the Gaels' pre-season game vs. McGill on Aug. 26 was the offence connected on a couple long touchdown passes, suggesting last season's dink-and-dunk approach has been junked. Last season, Queen's threw a lot of 30-yard passes, only they went across the field. It seemed like confidence was an issue for Brannagan.
That can change depending on how quickly the young O-line, under a new coach in one-time Ottawa Gee-Gees standout Chris Green, comes around with a new centre replacing graduated OUA all-star Sean O'Donnell and only one senior starter, Cody Kennedy.
The dual MGs, running backs Marty Gordon and Mike Giffin, are reunited. Gordon, who's back from a knee injury suffered in last season's opener, is a smart runner who can change his pace and follow blocks, ideal for an offence which uses a lot of screen passes. Giffin does best when he's a change-up runner and he should be better late in games after coming in at 235 lbs., down from about 250 in past seasons.
Bagg is a burner and the Gaels have some younger receivers with some size as the 6-foot-3 Valberg, 6-4 Chris Ioannides, 6-3 Devan Sheahan to run shorter routes.
You know how the Blue Jays were projected as an offensive team with suspect pitching and defence and it turned out to be the other way around? That was the Gaels last season. Tracey's defence, which was coming off a few 40-point games in '05, kept Queen's in games where the offence backfired. Despite injuries that led to a lot of guys playing significant minutes, Queen's was No. 2 in Canada in in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt (6.35), next to Ottawa (6.17). They were first in lowest completion percentage.
Allin and Vickers anchor the secondary, while Kingston natives Mulholland and Tim Poffley lead the linebackers. The Gaels' line is undersized, which is makes 280-lb. tackle Kyle McCabe is an intriguing if raw prospect. Neil Puffer is the team's best pass rusher.
Dan Village, who helped Canada win the NFL Global Futures Championship held last winter during Super Bowl week, will take over the kicking from the departed Ryan Elgar. Bagg, who returned after making it to the last cut of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will likely be Queen's primary punt returner again. Tracey's coverage units often seem to be high-risk, high-reward -- they have a knack for causing fumbles, but have been known to give up the big return.
The schedule is tough, with trips to Western, Ottawa and Windsor in the first six weeks. The Gaels might have to do a repeat of '06, where they needed to win the last two games to get in the playoffs after starting 2-4, but at least such a start would come against much better competition.
Queen's just completed a sweeping review of its athletics program -- the gist of which was "let's not be afraid to try to win," and its facilities are being upgraded. That should help restore the Gaels to a modicum of their one-time glory, in good time.
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Chan.)
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