Their roster is getting stronger. Their schedule is getting weaker. And over the last seven weeks of the Canadian Football League's regular season, those factors should help the San Antonio Texans solidify their position as the team best-equipped to block Baltimore's return to the Grey Cup championship game.
The Texans, tied with the Birmingham Barracudas for second place in the Southern Division, play five of their final seven games at the Alamodome. Four of those seven are against Ottawa, Toronto and Shreveport -- a combined 8-29. The Texans get treated twice to 2-10 Ottawa, the CFL's worst team.
San Antonio's playoff fortunes largely will be decided by how it fares against the Barracudas in two games next month.
A beefed-up roster should help.
Since returning to the Texans after NFL tryouts with San Francisco and Atlanta, running back Troy Mills has picked up where he left off in Sacramento -- San Antonio's old home -- in 1994, when he gained 2,004 yards from the line of scrimmage. Baltimore fans might recall Mills' 187-yard rushing effort in Sacramento's 18-0 victory that denied Baltimore the regular-season divisional title.
In three games since his return, Mills has rushed for 232 yards and five touchdowns, chipping in 138 yards receiving. That has taken pressure off running back Mike Saunders (711 yards rushing).
Quarterback David Archer finally appears healthy after two groin-muscle pulls. He returned two weeks ago to throw for 382 yards and three scores in a victory over Toronto.
The Texans also are getting healthier on defense, especially at linebacker. Maurice Miller, last year's MVP in Sacramento, returned after getting cut by the Atlanta Falcons and has played a big part in victories over Memphis and Toronto. He recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Memphis and had a game-high 10 tackles against the Argonauts.
Two more linebackers, Tommie Smith and Hurlie Brown, are ready to return from knee injuries.
Don't be surprised if Baltimore and San Antoino play for the Southern Division crown at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 12.
Small crowd in Memphis
Last Sunday, the Memphis Mad Dogs edged Shreveport, 22-21, but hardly anyone came to the Liberty Bowl to see it. Only 4,371 showed up, by far the lowest attendance reported this season, and it dropped the Memphis average to 15,142, second worst in the CFL.
"I hope the town begins to like their football team, but you know you can't make them," Memphis coach Pepper Rodgers said.
Team owner Fred Smith was more pointed in his observations. He told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, "We probably haven't done the best job of marketing, but the apathy we've received from the business community and the hostility we've received from the media haven't helped."
Neither has the quality of football the 6-6 Mad Dogs have produced. With the league's most ineffective offense, not to mention its unusually small end zones, Memphis hasn't been much fun to watch. Only two teams have scored more than two touchdowns at the Liberty Bowl -- British Columbia and Shreveport.
"I don't know how anyone scores points here," Baltimore quarterback Tracy Ham said after the Stallions' 16-13 victory there last month. "You can't throw in those end zones."
On top of that, the Mad Dogs' road games are not televised, which doesn't help cultivate a fan base. And last Sunday, the team moved the game's starting time from 7 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., putting the contest in direct competition with the Dallas Cowboys, whose game against visiting Denver was televised.
Mad Dogs release Brooks
Memphis lost another former Baltimore player last week, when free safety Michael Brooks was released after refusing to accept a new contract that Brooks said would have resulted in a 30 percent pay cut.
Brooks, signed originally by Memphis for $38,000 this year, had spent three games on the practice roster and had played in three games on special teams, where he was second on the team with seven tackles.
"I was willing to take a pay cut, as long as it was reasonable," said Brooks, an all-CFL safety last year before getting released by the Stallions at the end of training camp three months ago. "They wanted to pay me half of what I made in Baltimore last year, and I said forget it."
American teams are 21-16 against Canadian teams this season. Only Shreveport (4-5) owns a losing record against them. . . . Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Mike Shad signed with Ottawa last week, and he'll make $32,000 (Canadian) this season. Last year in Philadelphia, Shad earned nearly $32,000 a game.
After today, Gary Lambrecht's column on the Canadian Football League will move to Friday's paper.