Breaking down the CFL

Ah! Football season! Finally! I’m in desperate need of a sports fix right now, and training camp is just in time. This is my first crack at breaking down the CFL team by team, so just bear with me. I’ll start with the East because I don’t like it. That way I can end with the Riders…

Montreal: First of all, I love how the Alouettes have a “Countdown to Training Camp” ticker on their website. As I’m writing this, it’s 1 day, 12 hours, 1o minutes and 6 seconds ’til training camp. As usual, the Als return solidly in most offensive positions. The bolting of Jermaine Copeland to the Stamps (why??) is pretty much nullified by the addition of Terry Vaughan. Adding Michael Jenkins to the backfield is good as well. But the Als have never been the same since The Pringle left. Defensively, the Als have a few holes to fill. Barron Miles and Davis Sanchez are big shoes to fill. But GM Jim Popp always finds guys. Don Matthews won’t let his guys forget how the Argos went to the Grey Cup last year instead of them. And one last note: isn’t it about time the Als found a decent backup QB? Cavillo isn’t going to last forever…

Toronto: I still boggles my mind that these guys won the Grey Cup last year. And I still don’t think Pinball is a great coach. He’s just one lucky man. There have been very few, almost none at all, changes to their roster. Kudos to Adam Rita. Not that the Argos had a whole lot of people anybody wanted. Anybody up for a 41 year old QB whose knee is going to implode any second? I don’t see them winning the Grey Cup again. Not with the cannon arms out West…

Hamilton: Oh, if the Ti-Cats had just been able to get Ricky Ray! Danny McManus’ TD to interception ratio is way worse tan Smilin’ Hank’s ever was – and that’s not too good. Danny Mac is the key to the Cats’ fortunes this year. He does have former Lions receiver Chris Brazzell to throw to now, and the ever trustworthy Troy Davis in the backfield. But that’s about it. Their defence? Joe Montford. Gone. Tim Cheatwood. Gone. The Ti-Cats are going to have to put a lot of points on the board to make up for a porous defence. Read: they wil have no pass rush.

Ottawa: Oh dear. Poor Joe Paopao. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but what did he ever do to deserve being a coach AND GM? Sure sounds like “Matt Dunigan Syndrome” to me. There are some postivie things here. Kerry Joseph is a great QB. Pat Woodcock should be a consistent receiver. Josh Ranek is a good ball carrier, except for the fact that he’s on steroids (have you SEEN his biceps?!?!). It’s hard to say what will happen here. Oh, and did I mention that the Renegades have new owners? I think it’ll be another year of growing pains…

And now to the West…

B.C.: Oh how I hate the Lions. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them. They didn’t change a whole lot over the off-season, but the additions of Barron Miles on defence and Moe Elewonibi on the O-line make the Lions even better than they were. Crap. Dave Ritchie as Defensive Coordinator will help make the Lions’ secondary better than it was. Running against them will still suck, though. Crap again. I think the interesting thing here is, as usual, the Dickenson/Printers saga. Printers has not been happy this off-season with the lack of a long-term deal with the Lions. Add to that his much maligned toe problem and not being started in the Grey Cup (dumbest decision ever by the usually bright Wally Buono) and I think all the elements of a Divo-tantrum (the male version of a Diva-tantrum) are there. Dickenson is close to being finished. One more hit and he can join Damon Allen in the QB Veteran’s Club. Chris Brazzell moving to the Ti-Cats is a bit of a loss, but there’s still Geroy Simon, Jason Clermont, Ryan Thelwell, and, oh, crap again…

Edmonton: Danny Maciocia must be thanking his lucky stars. He signs Khari Jones in a desperate attempt to get some half-decent QBing, and then comes along the man of his dreams – Ricky Ray! I had the Esks somewhere in the middle of the pack this year and then Frito-Lay boy decides to come back. Is there ANY fairness in this world? Add to that the addition of Kelly Wiltshire, Davis Sanchez AND Joe Montford to the defense and these Eskimos are going to suck to play against…

Winnipeg: The Blue Bombers are going to be so-so again this year. They’ll probably thump the Riders at Labor Day, but they’ll be mediocre the rest of the season. Kevin Glenn vs. Spurgeon Wynn for the best backup QB award might be slightly more entertaining than watching Troy Westwood shoot his mouth off for the 2343532nd time. Whoops, I put those things in the wrong order. Oh, well. The Bombers’ defence isn’t terribly reliable, and with Dave Ritchie in BC, it probably will be even less so. The addition of Wayne McGarity as a complement to Milt Stegall is a step up, and the always tricky Charles Roberts makes things interesting. But that’s it. Just interesting.

Calgary: I have always hated the Stamps, ever since they were the QB factory of the ’90s. And now I don’t like them even more. They stole Henry Burris. But they can have him. Have him and his cowboy hat. Have him and his butterfingers. Him and his bad TD to interception ratio. Take him! Having Jermain Copeland to throw to is going to make his job a little easier, too. Defensively, the Stamps were not to shabby last year. Adding Anthony Malborough makes it even better. If the Stamps make the playoffs I will cry…

Saskatchewan: Not a lot of changeover here. This is good. The loss of Mr. Burris sucks, and Marcus Crandell will hopefully be more than just a Band-Aid solution. If Nealon Green can remain healthy and throw for MORE than 200 yards a game, things will be okay. He’s got great receivers to throw to, even if Travis Moore is getting a little old. Resigning Matt Dominguez and Kenton Keith: priceless. Hopefully Kenton can hang on to the ball a little more this year. The O-line look pretty solid, except for the hole left by Charles Thomas. But the other boys are so solid, I think they’ll be okay. On the defensive side of the ball, the boys are all back! Woo hoo! The secondary has got to learn how to stop 2nd and long though, otherwise the Riders will never make the Grey Cup. Remember the West final? Remember 3rd and 19? Remember how Jason Clermont was wide open? Remember the tying field goal following that? And the ensuing win by the Lions in OT? Yeah. Stop 2nd and long boys. Paul McCallum is the X factor. Will he be able to shake off the memory of that horrifyingly bad 17 yard mis-kick? Je ne sais pas. Let’s hope so. As long as Danny Barrett keeps reminding his boys of how close they were to going to the big game, they’ll be fine.

So, now it’s time to make my division pick:
East: 1. Montreal 2. Toronto 3. Hamiton 4. Ottawa
Not terribly brave – I know.
West: 1. BC 2. Edmonton 3. Saskatchewan 4. Calgary 5. Winnipeg
This is freakishly difficult. I think Edmonton and BC will fight for the top all year long, and SK and Calgary will fight for the final playoff spot. Unless Nealon Green grows Henry Burris-sized cannon arm overnight.

Drum roll please…
Grey Cup contenders: Montreal vs. Saskatchewan
Grey Cup Winner: Saskatchewan
Yeah, I know I’m biased. This is the year the Riders have to do this. The way they’ve signed their players, they’re betting on this to be it. They’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle. The QB is the only thing that’s questionable. But I think there’s enough of a chip on their shoulder after last year to get over the mountain that is the BC Lions.

That’s it. Thanks to TSN’s website for helping me remember a few details that were a little blurry in my mind after a long off-season. GO RIDERS GO!!!!

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