One of this offseason's most intruiging moves was running back Avon Cobourne leaving the Montreal Alouettes to head to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. His arrival in Hamilton spelled the end of DeAndra Cobb's time there. Cobb (pictured above trying to evade B.C.'s Stanley Franks last September) has now found a new team of his own, and interestingly enough, he's going to be trying to fill Cobourne's shoes in Montreal.
Even in an eight-team league like the CFL, it's quite rare to see two franchises swap running backs between seasons. Of course, it isn't a straight player-for-player trade; the Alouettes didn't want to meet Cobourne's salary demands, so he signed in Hamilton as a free agent, and that made Cobb expendable, leading to his release. Montreal then signed Cobb as a free agent, and given that most other teams seem to have pretty stable running back situations at the moment, it's likely they picked him up at a reasonable discount. That seems like a potentially good deal for them, as Cobb was about as productive as Cobourne last season; both averaged 5.2 yards per carry, but Cobb racked up 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground against Cobourne's 956 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Cobourne saw greater action as a receiving threat, though, catching 64 passes for 556 yards and a touchdown against Cobb's 38 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns.
Those similarities might be the most interesting part of this move. There's always been a debate about how much of a running back's performance is based on his own skill and how much is based on his teammates, particularly his blockers up front. If either Cobb or Cobourne's performance declines or improves substantially this year, that could suggest a fair bit about the relative quality of the Tiger-Cats' and Alouettes' offensive lines. Of course, it's not a perfect comparison, as both teams' 2011 lines are likely to be at least slightly different than their 2010 ones, each offensive lineman might have a better or worse year, and either running back could suffer age-related decline (or form- or experience-related improvement). Running back performance also can depend on a number of other factors, including the running plays called, the danger posed by the passing game, the use of play-fakes and deception and the opponents faced. Still, the Cobb-Cobourne exchange should provide an intriguing look at how much of Montreal and Hamilton's running success last year was based on the back and how much was the system.
Of course, that assumes that Cobb takes on the bulk of the carries in Montreal, and that's not a certainty. The Alouettes have a variety of other promising backs on the roster, including former NFL star Ahman Green and former Winnipeg RB Yvenson Bernard. They also have some guys who haven't seen many CFL carries yet but might impress in camp or pre-season play including Remene Alston, Brandon Whitaker, Mike Giffin, Emmanuel Marc and Dahrran Diedrick. Still, this looks like a great signing for Montreal; if Cobb does well, they've got an experienced CFL back who's been quite productive before, but if he doesn't, they've got plenty of alternative options. If Cobb does wind up coming out on top of the competition, CFL fans and observers will also get the chance to see how his play in Montreal and Hamilton compares.