finalists for the 2011 Gibson's Finest CFL Player Awards was announced. For the most part, I think the right choices we made, with one exception. Now let's take a look at who is up for what.
Most Outstanding Player
East: Anthony Calvillo (QB, Montreal Alouettes)
West: Travis Lulay (QB, BC Lions)
Leaving aside the whole Jamel Richardson controversy, these were the only two who could be named. These two, out of the eight men selected for consideration, were the two best players in 2011. Calvillo led the league in passing yards, was the only Quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards, tied for the league lead in passing touchdowns and threw the fewest interceptions. In every all those categories, Lulay finished second.
That would seem to make it a slam dunk for Calvillo since he led in every major statistical category. But the image of last Saturday night, when Calvillo and Lulay dueled will be hard to forget. Lulay outplayed Calvillo in every way imaginable, and while the award is for the season, it will be hard to look past what happened in the final game.
Calvillo has set the bar so high that he is his own worst enemy. Calvillo's 2011 season wasn good, but not as dominant as previous seasons. Lulay, however, got better as the season went on. He will also score points for leading the Lions from 1-6 to 11-7 and first in the West. I'm giving this one to Lulay.
Winner: Travis Lulay
Most Outstanding Defensive Player
East: Jovon Johnson (DB, Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
West: Jerrell Freeman (LB, Saskatchewan Roughriders)
This was probably the most difficult award to pick two nominees from. Keron Williams in BC, Justin Hickman in Hamilton and Chip Cox in Montreal could all have easily been their division's finalist and I doubt anyone would have complained. In fact, Hamilton's Rey Williams, Winnipeg's Odell Willis and BC's Solomon Elimimian were not even nominated and all could have won the award. It was a very good year for defensive players in the CFL.
Both Johnson and Freeman had great years. Johnson led the league in interceptions, while Freeman led the league in tackles and was the only player to break the 100-tackle mark. It will be tough to decide between these two as both are deserving. But Johnson was the best player in a very good Secondary on the better team. That swings it for me.
Winner: Jovon Johnson
Most Outstanding Canadian
East: Sean Whyte (K, Montreal Alouettes)
West: Jerome Messam (RB, Edmonton Eskimos)
This one is a no-brainer. I could justify Whyte's selection and debate his merits, but we all know this is going to Messam and rightly so. He was the first Canadian Running Back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Sean Millington in 2000. Messam deserves this award.
Winner: Jerome Messam
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player
East: Chad Owens (WR, Toronto Argonauts)
West: Paul McCallum (K, BC Lions)
This is the only award where I actually have a problem with who was selected. That problem is not with Paul McCallum. He is very deserving and should win the award. The problem here is Chad Owens.
This looks to be a case of the voters choosing style over substance. Don't give me the 3,000-plus combined yards because I don't happen to think that is a very significant feat. With the amount of points the Argos surrendered in 2011 – a league-high 498, to b exact – Owens had plenty of chances to get return yardage on kickoffs. He also played Receiver, ran back both punts and missed field goals, giving him ample opportunity to get to 3,000 combined yards. As long as Owens keeps all of those jobs, he should eclipse the 3,00-yard mark every season. If Owens can get recognized for this season, then he will pretty much have a stranglehold on the East nomination for the rest of his career.
Last year, Owens was 100 per cent deserving of the award. In 2011, he is not. This should have gone to either Sean Whyte or Justin Medlock. With Whyte getting the East nomination for top Canadian, Medlock should have received the Special Teams nomination. Last season, Special Teams was dominated by return men. This year, it's been the Kickers that have garnered the most headlines. Owens was the wrong choice. Hopefully, McCallum will win the award to somewhat right this wrong.
Winner: Paul McCallum
Most Outstanding Rookie
East: Chris Williams (WR, Hamilton Tiger-Cats)
West: JC Sherritt (LB, Edmonton Eskimos)
Sherritt had a very good first year in the CFL. He finished 13th in league in tackles, third on his own team. He made an impact in his first season that helped take Edmonton from last in the West in 2010 to second in 2011.
Despite that, Chris Williams is the winner and it's not even debatable. Williams finished he season seventh on yards (1,064), eighth in receptions (70) and tenth in touchdowns (6), leading all rookies in each of those categories. Williams also pitched in on Special Teams. Williams's impact was so great it allowed Hamilton to ship out veteran Receivers Arland Bruce and Maurice Mann.
As good as Sherritt was, Williams was better.
Winner: Chris Williams
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman
East: Josh Bourke (OT, Montreal Alouettes)
West: Jovan Olafioye (OT, BC Lions)
I've said it over and over, but picking the best O-Lineman is one of the hardest things to do. You only hear their names when they miss a block, give up a sack or take a penalty. Most people (and I would include myself in this as well), don't really pay attention all that much to the Offensive Line. I know both players have had great seasons, and anchored lines that gave up the least sacks in their respective divisions. Based on little more than he plays for the best team in the league, I'll give this one to Olafioye. But both deserve their nominations and either would deserve to win.
Winner: Jovan Olafioye
Aside from what I think is the ridiculous nomination of Chad Owens, these nominations are pretty solid. My picks are partly prognostication and partly who I would pick. I doubt I'll get all the winners right, but I think everyone I did pick deserves to win. We'll find out who takes home the hardware on November 24th.