As the 2013 CFL season is set to begin on Thursday with the Alouettes playing the Blue Bombers at brand new Investors Group Field, here is a preview of each team for the upcoming season.
Eastern Conference Western Conference
1) Toronto Argonauts 1) BC Lions
2) Montreal Alouettes 2) Calgary Stampeders
3) Hamilton Tiger-Cats 3) Saskatchewan Roughriders
4) Winnipeg Blue Bombers 4) Edmonton Eskimos
1) Toronto Argonauts: The Argos went from being one of the worst teams in the league to becoming a champion. This improvement was largely thanks to the outstanding play of QB Ricky Ray, SB Chad Owens and RB Chad Kackert. In order to repeat last season's success, Head Coach Scott Milanovich is going to have to rely on them to perform for the offense to succeed. Toronto's defense which was one of the best last year will look a lot different than it did a year ago. Gone are starters such as DE Ricky Foley (Saskatchewan), DT Armond Armstead (New England Patriots), DB Evan McCollough (Hamilton) and DB Jordan Younger and Ahmad Carroll to retirement. On the other hand, they managed to acquire big yet controversial DT Khalif Mitchell from BC. His addition is huge due to his size and the presence he brings. The linebacking corps is still there with hard hitting Brandon Isaac, Marcus Ball and Robert McCune. The Argos still have the pieces to remain at the summit of the CFL. It will be up to the players involved to rise to the challenge of staying there.
2) Montreal Alouettes: After losing another playoff game on home soil last season, the Als made big changes. The coaching staff will see a new look as Dan Hawkins replaces Marc Trestman (Chicago Bears) as Head Coach. Like his predecessor, the Hawk has no previous CFL experience and will have to heavily rely on the skills of QB Anthony Cavillo. Cavillo will be behind center in a revamped offense featuring RB Jerome Messam and SB Arland Bruce joining the likes of Brandon Whitaker, Jamel Richardson, S.J Green and Brandon London. The secondary will be different as well as Byron Parker and Geoff Tisdale join the fold. Theses signings are great but if the Als want to return to the big game, there going to have to hope that these guys are able to play to their full potential for the whole season.
3) Hamilton Tiger-Cats: A season that was expected to see the Tiger-Cats compete for top spot in the East ended up being a dispointment because they failed to make the playoffs. The major consequence of last season's disapointment was seeing George Cortez fired as Head Coach and replaced by Kent Austin. He has only one year of CFL experience but has a Grey Cup ring. The Tabbies have great talent on offense with QB Henry Burris and a good receiving corps with Andy Fantuz, Bakari Grant and Onrea Jones but those guys are going to have to step it up big time due to Dave Stala being injured and Chris Williams who dreams of playing in the NFL. The defense will have a new look for the upcoming season as Evan McCollough and James Patrick join a new look secondary while Jamall Johnson and Markeith Knowlton have a new member with them on the linebacker corps with Marcellus Bowman. If Hamilton wants to avoid what happened last season, there going to have to play much tighter on defense and hope their offense production results in wins rather than losing in high scoring affairs.
4) Winnipeg Blue Bombers: After spending an extra year at Canad Inns Stadium, the Bombers will finally begin life at Investors Group Field. On the field well that's a different story. Last season, the Bombers went from going to the Grey Cup to finishing dead last in the East. That can primarily be thanks to QB Buck Pierce missing a good chunk of the season due to various injuries. Apart from that, the Bombers still have the same core on offense with guys like Terrence Edwards and Chris Matthews. The defense will look slightly different as Safety Ian Logan retired while DB Jonathan Hefney was released due to poor play. The team does have potential but the only way the Bombers can make their first season at Investors be a success is if Buck Pierce can avoid injury for an entire season. He gives them a chance to win game in and game out.
1) BC Lions: Everything seemed to go as planned for the Leos last season. They managed to earn a first round bye and host the West Final but lost to the Stampeders in a very close game. GM Wally Buono made changes to avoid a repeat of last season. He cut SB Arland Bruce and DB Byron Parker and traded DT Khalif Mitchell and QB Mike Reilly. The biggest change however was trading all time leading receiver Geroy Simon to the Riders for receiver Justin Harper. He brought leadership to the team and it will be up to reacquired WR Emmanuel Arceneaux to step up and fill the big shoes Simon left behind. Apart from that, the offense is still stacked with QB Travis Lulay, RB Andrew Harris and WR's Marco Iannuzzi, Akeem Foster and Shawn Gore who can play at the CFL level. As mentioned earlier, the defense is still solid minus Mitchell with guys such hard hitting linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill along with a ferocious secondary with Dante Marsh, Korey Banks and Lin-J Shell. The Lions have what it takes. The only thing they have to do to avoid another playoff disappointment is to stay focused and use last year's lose as motivation to play in the Grey Cup.
2) Calgary Stampeders: The Stamps want to erase the disappointment of losing the Grey Cup last year. While QB Kevin Glenn played terrific for an injured Drew Tate for the majority of the year, Tate will be the starter for Week 1 and will want to start off on the right foot. He still has his weapons on offense lead by All Pro Canadian RB Jon Cornish, SB's Nik Lewis and Johnny Forzani along with WR Marquay McDaniel and Terence Jeffers-Harris as a potential deep threat. The defense is still a strong point with eleven starters returning including DB Keon Raymond and the leader of the linebackers Juwan Simpson. The only addition they made was acquiring DB Jonathan Hefney who was cut during training camp in Winnipeg. The Stamps have what it takes to make a second consecutive appearance
3) Saskatchewan Roughriders: There is a ton of pressure on the Riders this year. They happen to be hosting the Grey Cup this year and if they want to become the third team in a row to host the big game, there going to hope that there new big name players step up. The Riders acquired the talented yet aging SB Geroy Simon in a trade with the Lions to join Weston Dressler, Chris Getzlaf, and the often injured Robb Bagg on an already talented receiving corps. The Riders even added more talent on defense adding DB Dwight Anderson, DT Ricky Foley and the return of DT John Chick who spent a few years in the NFL to join forces with DT Keith Shologan, Safety Craig Butler and LB Diamond Ferri. Add all these guys along with QB Darian Durant, the Riders have a team to compete. If they can handle the added pressure of hosting the big game in November, they should be fine. If they cannot, it will simply be a long offseason in Ridernation.
4) Edmonton Eskimos: Although the Eskimos found a way to participate in the playoffs, the 2012 season was a disappointment. This was based on the instability at QB with Steven Jyles, Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols. Joseph and Nichols showed some brilliance but they were not able to maintain that throughout the entire season. To fix this issue, new GM Ed Hervey acquired Mike Reilly from the Lions to compete with Nicholls for the starting job. However after Nicholls suffered a season ending injury in preseason, it is up to Reilly to carry the load for the Esks offence. The offense apart from QB has great potential with go to receivers Fred Stamps and Cary Koch along with speedy RB Hugh Charles. The defense got a huge boost with the signing of DE Odell Willis who will fit in nicely on the d-line with Marcus Howard and Ted Laurent. Add ballhawk DB Chris Thompson along with MLB J C Sherritt, the Esks have a defense to compete but there hopes of making the playoffs remain if they can maintain consistency at the QB position.