© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Dan DePalma is tackled by Edmonton Eskimos' Brandon McRae during the fourth quarter of CFL pre-season football action at Mosaic Stadium on Friday, June 20, 2014 in Regina. The Eskimos defeated the Riders 19-14.
The 2014 CFL regular season kicks off Thursday night with the Toronto Argonauts visiting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Here’s a look at the league’s nine teams in predicted order of division finish:
Head coach: Kent Austin (second year)
Last year: 10-8, second in East Division. Beat Montreal 19-16 in East semifinal, beat Toronto 36-24 in conference final, lost 45-23 to Saskatchewan in Grey Cup.
New faces: Quarterback Zach Collaros, safety Craig Butler, defensive lineman Ted Laurent, receiver Cary Koch, kicker-punter Justin Medlock
Departures: Quarterback Henry Burris, linebacker Shomari Williams, punter Josh Bartel, kicker Luca Congi, centre Marwan Hage, slotback Dave Stala, linebacker Jamall Johnson
Key returnees: Running back C.J Gable, slotback Andy Fantuz, linebacker Simoni Lawrence
Analysis: Austin, also the Ticats’ GM and director of football operations, strengthening his club this season by adding the likes of Butler, Laurent and Medlock. There’s plenty to like about a Hamilton team moving into a new stadium in 2014.
Head coach: Scott Milanovich (third year)
Last year: 11-7, first in East Division. Lost 36-24 to Hamilton in conference final.
New faces: Linebacker Shea Emry, running backs Steve Slaton and Anthony Coombs, offensive lineman Matt Sewell, defensive back Matt Ware
Departures: Running backs Chad Kackert and Jerious Norwood, linebackers Marcus Ball and Robert McCune, cornerback Patrick Watkins, defensive back Neiko Thorpe, offensive lineman Joe Eppele, quarterback Zach Collaros, defensive linemen Khalif Mitchell and Aaron Maybin, punter-kicker Noel Prefontaine
Key returnees: Quarterback Ricky Ray, slotback/kick returner Chad Owens, kicker/punter Swayze Waters, slotback Andre Durie
Analysis: Toronto lost some significant players in the off-season but the club’s key to success is a healthy Ray, who missed eight starts last year. How Ray goes, so go the Argos.
Head coach: Tom Higgins (first year)
Last year: 8-10, third in East Division. Lost 19-16 to Hamilton in conference semifinal.
New faces: Receiver Chad Johnson, defensive lineman Jermaine McIlveen, receiver/kick-returner Larry Taylor
Departures: Quarterback Anthony Calvillo, running back Jerome Messam, offensive linemen Scott Flory and Michael Ola, linebacker Shea Emry, receivers Jamel Richardson and Arland Bruce III
Key returnees: Quarterback Troy Smith, running back Brandon Whitaker, linebacker Chip Cox, receiver S.J. Green, kicker Sean Whyte, defensive lineman Jonn Bowman
Analysis: Higgins becomes Montreal’s third head coach in less than a year following the fired Dan Hawkins and interim coach Jim Popp, the club’s GM. Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner, has the unenviable task of following Calvillo, who retired as pro football’s all-time passing leader. Johnson, 36, is back playing football after two-year hiatus.
Head coach: Rick Campbell (first year)
Last year: 2014 is club’s first year.
New faces: Quarterbacks Henry Burris and Thomas DeMarco, offensive lineman Jon Gott and Joe Eppele, defensive lineman Keith Shologan, running back Chevon Walker, defensive back Jovon Johnson, linebacker T.J. Hill, receiver Paris Jackson, linebacker Anton McKenzie
Departures: Quarterback Kevin Glenn
Key returness: None
Analysis: Ottawa returns to the CFL after the former Renegades ceased operations following the ’06 season. The Redblacks have a proven offensive leader in Burris but are still an expansion team and growing pains are expected.
Head coach: John Hugnagel (seventh year)
Last year: 14-4, first in West Division. Lost 35-13 to Saskatchewan in conference final.
New Faces: Defensive back Lin-J Shell, running back Jock Sanders
Departures: Quarterback Kevin Glenn, defensive back Jonathan Hefney, receiver/kick-returner Larry Taylor, slotback Chris Bauman, defensive linemen Cordarro Law and Justin Phillips, offensive linemen Jon Gott, J’Micheal Deane and Dimitri Tsoumpas, safety Eric Fraser
Key returnees: Quarterbacks Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell, slotback Nik Lewis, running back Jon Cornish, defensive lineman Charleston Hughes, defensive back Keon Raymond and kicker Rene Paredes
Analysis: Mitchell opens as Calgary’s starter ahead of the oft-injured Tate. The return of Lewis, coming off a broken ankle, will enhance an already potent offence led by Cornish, the CFL’s outstanding player last year. Stamps will enter season as solid Grey Cup favourites.
Head coach: Corey Chamblin (third year)
Last year: 11-7, second in West Division. Beat B.C. 29-25 in conference semifinal, beat Calgary 35-13 in division final, beat Hamilton 45-23 in Grey Cup.
New Faces: Linebacker Shomari Williams, punter Josh Bartel, defensive lineman David Lee
Departures: Running back Kory Sheets, slotbacks Weston Dressler and Geroy Simon, defensive linemen Keith Shologan and Jermaine McIlveen, linebackers Rey Williams and Craig Butler, punter Ricky Schmitt
Key returnees: Quarterback Darian Durant, slotback Chris Getzlaf, receiver Taj Smith, safety Tyron Brackenridge, defensive linemen John Chick and Tearrius George, kicker Chris Milo
Analysis: It will be tough for the Riders to duplicate a magical ’13 season that was capped with a Grey Cup win at Mosaic Stadium. The defending champions still boast a solid roster but the loss of Sheets, Dressler and Butler are big.
Head coach: Mike Benevides (third year)
Last year: 11-7, third in West Division, lost 29-25 to Saskatchewan in conference semifinal.
New Faces: Quarterback Kevin Glenn, defensive lineman Khalif Mitchell, linebacker Jamall Johnson, receiver Kito Poblah, punter Ricky Schmitt
Departures: Receiver Nick Moore, centre Angus Reid, defensive backs Lin-J Shell and Korey Banks, offensive linemen Patrick Kobongo and Ben Archibald, linebacker Anton McKenzie
Key returnees: Quarterback Travis Lulay, running backs Stefan Logan and Andrew Harris, linebackers Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill, defensive backs Ryan Phillips and Dante Marsh, kicker Paul McCallum.
Analysis: With Lulay still recovering from shoulder surgery, Glenn opens as the Lions starter, making the move to acquire him from Ottawa a very smart one. Glenn was 20-8 as a starter over two steasons with Calgary, leading the Stampeders to a Grey Cup berth in ’12 and the league’s best record last year. With Grey Cup at B.C. Place, Lions will try to become fourth straight team to win title at home.
Head coach: Chris Jones (first year)
Last year: 4-14, fourth in West Division
New Faces: Offensive lineman Justin Sorensen, cornerback Pat Watkins and receiver Akeem Foster
Departures: Quarterback Kerry Joseph, running back Hugh Charles, linebacker T.J. Hill, defensive backs Chris Thompson and Chris Josh Gatlin, defensive lineman Ted Laurent
Key returnees: Quarterback Mike Reilly, receivers Fred Stamps, Shamawd Chambers and Adarious Bowman, linebacker J.C. Sherritt and defensive linemen Marcus Howard and Almondo Sewell
Analysis: Defensive guru Jones gets his first CFL head-coaching gig with a team that allowed the second-most points last season (28.8 per game). The onus offensively this year will be to better protect Reilly, who was second overall in passing despite Edmonton allowing 60 sacks but was also the league’s top-rushing quarterback. Improvement expected here but still much work to do.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Head coach: Mike O’Shea (first year)
Last year: 3-13, last in East Division
New Faces: Quarterback Drew Willy, receiver Nick Moore, linebacker Ejiro Kuale, quarterbacks Drew Willy and Brian Brohm, defensive back Korey Banks, defensive lineman Jason Vega and defensive back Matt Bucknor
Departures: Linebacker Henoc Muamba, safety Cauchy Muamba, offensive lineman Justin Sorensen and receivers Akeem Foster, Chris Matthews and Terrence Ewards
Key returnees: Defensive backs Johnny Sears Jr. and Alex Suber, defensive lineman Greg Peach, receiver Cory Watson
Analysis: O’Shea’s first CFL head-coaching position is a major rebuild with a young but unproven quarterback. Bombers signed Willy as a free agent after Burris went to Ottawa. Last year, Winnipeg was last overall in scoring while allowing league-high 32.5 points per game. The loss of Canadian Henoc Muamba to the NFL is huge for a club in dire need of defensive stability although return of pass-rusher Jason Vega helps.