Saturday, August 23, 2008

CIS Countdown #15: Windsor Lancers

Fast facts: Fifth-year tailback Daryl Stephenson needs 337 yards to become the all-time leading rusher in CIS history, but who's going to be handing off to him remains to be seen, as the Lancers brought seven quarterbacks to camp, none of whom has taken an OUA game, in a real game with refs and a scoreboard and everything. Bill McConkey Jr., who played with the B.C. junior powerhouse, the Okanagan Sun, would seem to be the de facto betting favourite to be under centre on Labour Day in the opener vs. York.

Field turf has been installed at the U of W stadium, but Windsor's problem wasn't on the ground last year -- it was in the air. Windsor was outgained by almost a factor of three in the passing game (2,310 to 787), which is impossible to get away with. Along with a consistent track, Stephenson and the QB will also have some new blockers. Brandon Yohnicki, a 315-lb. guard from London, has transferred in from Wayne State and Kyle Sleightholm has come over from the dark side, the defence, to play offensive line. Tackle Matt Morencie is already decent earth-mover.

Coach: Mike Morencie (11th season).

Co-ordinators: unavailable at press time. Morencie has typically served as his own defensive co-ordinator.

Enrolment: 12,291

Alumni in the CFL: Eskimos G Dan Comiskey, Blue Bombers SB Arjei Franklin, Tiger-Cats DB Sasha Glavic

Famous non-football alumni: Anna Maria Tremonti, journalist and CBC radio host; long-time Leafs play-by-play man and satisfied Harvey's customer Joe Bowen.

Three-year record: 12-12

2007 units ranking: 20th on offence, 20th on defence

Key losses: G Anthony Rimac, K Kevin Reider, QB-P Dan Lumley, QB Bryce LeBlanc and -- potentially -- DB Kyle Boutette, the 2007 Lancers MVP. Talk among dot-orgers was that he might be an academic casualty.

Returning starters: 18 in total

Players to watch: The aforementioned Stephenson, who came back after attending the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' training camp, and WR Glenn (Big Play) MacKay were each hit by a vicious cycle in '07. Injuries, their own and others', and inexperience around them meant paring down the playbook, which in turn made it harder to get skill players into space. Stephenson, despite a nagging injury, still managed to gut out 764 yards. When it's going well, he and MacKay are up there with the OUA best's at their position.

No one else who's back this season had more than 200 yards rushing or 150 receiving last season.

Defensively, mainstays such as LB John Celestino, DBs Matt Bucknor and Colin Doyle, DL Chad Cossette (team-high four sacks) return. Windsor has typically been a read-and-react defensive team -- rush four guys, drop eight, try to get the quarterback to put the ball in a bad spot -- but last season it was read and react too late, as opponents completed 60% of their passes.

Former McGill kicker-punter Robert Eeuwes has committed to the Lancers. It remains to be seen what capacity he'll be called on to perform in more this season -- punting or kicking for points.

For future reference: Quarterback Ryley Wright, a summer-league standout who attended St. Thomas Aquinas in Oakville, is considered one of the Lancers' key recruits. Windsor did do a lot of recruiting in Thunder Bay, a wise move since not every team in the OUA and Can West spends a lot time recruiting in northwestern Ontario. Layson also has a note that running back Daryl Townsend, who set rushing and scoring records with the Essex Ravens junior team, has joined the Lancers.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Sept. 1 @ York
Sept. 6 Toronto
Sept 13 Guelph
Sept. 20 @ Laurier
Sept. 27 Ottawa
Oct. 4 @ Western (The Score University Rush)
Oct. 10 Waterloo
Oct. 18 @ McMaster

Sorry, no Golden Bucket bowl -- the Lancers miss Queen's, the only other team in the OUA which wears yellow gold helmets.

Final analysis: Some dim bulb said at the outset of last season that the Lancers' 6-2 record in 2006, "was not an anomaly," and they promptly suffered a complete reversal to 2-6. Injuries to the Triplets -- Stephenson, who manfully played hurt for a few games, MacKay and the since-departed Lumley, were a major downer.

Windsor -- maybe it's the proximity to Big Ten country -- has typically been a conservative, vanilla team on offence, which is hard to change when there's a lack of continuity in the coaching and the offensive personnel. This edition of the Lancers probably aren't going to fool many teams and they might have trouble outmuscling them.

In the long run,Windsor, which is marking 40 years of football this football, is trying to drum up support among the alumni and beef up its corporate sponsorship. That would help contribute to a more stable program where success wouldn't be a once-a-blue-moon thing. That safety net has helped the Lancers basketball teams rise up in the OUA West.

(Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece.)

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