Overview: Even though The Grey Cup Champs came out of The East last year the status quo has not changed and likely won't for sometime to come. The West remains the stronger of the two divisions and with two potential bottom feeding East teams this year we could see The West crossover in the playoffs yet again this year. But lets see how they stack up.
West Division (Going 4th to 1st)
4. Calgary Stampeders 6-12
Key Additions: I'm not sure if Calgary fans know what they are getting in P.K. Sam. Infact I don't know if anyone truly knows as Sams talents have been largely wasted in Argoland the last couple of years with Kerry Joseph and Cody Picket chucking the ball. I'm expecting big things out of Sam this year. The other big signing is Dan Comiskey and while it could be said that Dan's best years are behind him. The fact that he's there and healthy is nothing short of enormous for this battered O-line.
Key Deletions: There are seven major losses in Calgary's offense three WR's Jemaine Copeland, Markus Howell and Brett Ralph, three O-linemen Jeff Pilon, Jesse Newman and Dimitri Tsoumpas, and perhaps none larger than OC mainstay George Cortez. Which of these three catergories will stall Calgary's offense the most? For me that's easy, it's the O-line crew. Oh and don't forget they seemingly tossed DeAngelis out like yesterdays trash.
Analysis: Too many changes at all the wrong postions for this team will have them spending the majority of the year searching for rythym and consistency instead of the endzone. Losing the guys of the O-line will be the largest cause of this but don't overlook the loss of OC George Cortez. Dave Dickenson may or may not turn out to be a brilliant offensive mind but as it stands right now there is no way this guy will step in and run the O half as well as Cortez and I'd be saying the same thing he had last last years personnel. At WR I kind of think the changes are a wash you lose a few and bring a few more in so there may not be as large a drop off there but Burris may not have the time to get anyone the ball anyway. Which of course then puts the onus on RB Joffery Reynolds. Reynolds should still have some carries left in the tank but an increased workload with a makeshift O-line at an accelerated age will likely have Joffery gasping for air down the stretch. And we all know what happens when an offence struggles the Defence spends too much time on the field. This unit is a lot more intact than the offence but they will be stretched thin no doubt. As for DeAngelis count me as one of the confused on this move. With all those big contract on the way out there should have been more than enough dough sitting around to sign their premier kicker but instead Hufnagel lets him walk. So you can bet even if The Stampeders are in a couple of close games they won't be eeking out wins on the strength of their special teams.
Continuity Rating: 3 out of 10 Can you tell I don't like Calgary's offseason? Hufnagel had better have found some good talent or The Stamps are in severe trouble.
3. B.C. Lions 9-9
Key Additions: DL Keron Williams and RB Jamal Lee are the two biggest aquisitions for Wally Buono and The B.C. Lions. Both are solid additions but as far as individual contributions go I would think that Williams will have a larger impact for two reasons. Firstly I think the traditional running game will be aided more by Printers than Lee. Jamal will get his touches but with Printers being a running QB he will steal some carries from the RB position. And secondly with the departure of Rickey Foley Keron will be expected to fill his shoes and his tackles
Key Deletions: The Lions Defence has had a pretty significant makeover this offseason losing no less than four starters and no bigger move than the loss of DL Ricky Foley. That marks the second time in as many years that D-Line has lost their stud sacking machine. Can Brent Johnson mentor another pass rusher, we'll see. The other two noteable exits were from QB Buck Pierce who was nothing more than the odd man out in Musical Quaterbacks that landed on returnee Casey Printers. And lastly they lost The 2009 ROTY Martell Mallett who was able to parlay his award winning season into a contract with The Phillidelphia Eagles.
Analysis: I think the revamped Defence will hold them back early but I believe they will gel and have a strong back half. And most of that will be due to Brent Johnson. Johnson is one of two things, either the best Defensive Line mentor or one of the most underrated D-men in the league drawing double teams to helping both Cameron Wake and Ricky Foley to NFL contracts. On The Offensive side of the ball Buono will have Printers ready to go and I fully expect Casey to reignite the air show he had with Geroy Simon and Paris Jackson before his head got too big for The CFL. Speaking of his head by all accounts Casey has got himself right and is looking to prove that to the rest of the league.
Continuity Rating: 6 out of 10 if while I realize that losing two premier D-lineman to The NFL is nothing that The Lions have control over there's just no ignoring the impact that will have in back to back years. I say most of the other moves were good moves in and out. So this rating might have been higher but they have to find some consistency in the front 4.
2. Saskatchewan Roughriders 12-6
Key Addtions: Doug Berry is officially back in The CFL as OC for The Riders which should keep the loss of Paul LaPolice felt to a minimum. They also brought in WR Prechae Rodriguez. This is another good move for the green and white as I think we have yet to see Rodiguez's full upside
Key Deletions: There were a number of notables such as the GM and OC but the two I would be most concerned with as a Rider fan would be the double drop off of Defensive Lineman in Stevie Baggs and John Chick. The abscence of these two in the Rider front four will be the most difficult to replace even though they spent their first overall selection on Shomari Williams. Oh and let's hope for the Riders sake they've also cut that 13th man. (Sorry had to do it)
Analysis: I think we will see a determined football team out of Saskatchewan this year. They will most definitely be looking to avenge their Grey Cup loss while simultaneously trying to repeat as Western Division Champs. But I think there will be few bumps in the road as Durrant tries to grasp Berry's new offensive scheme. And while The Roughriders probably play a better team there is just no denying that at best Durrant is the third best QB in The West. Defensively we'll have to see how and if Shomari Williams can adjust to a pushing bigger O-linemen around for 18 games. His apprenticeship will likely be longer than one season but he looks to be a stud down the road. Most of the rest of the D is intact and DC Gary Etchevary will help get them all running down hill.
Continuity Rating: 7 out of 10 Most of The Rider changes are evolutionary and good for their room and the on field product but losing your two key pass rushers and your OC on the other side of the ball are going to cause some hiccups but with two Grey Cup appearances in three seasons I find that Ken Miller is a very competent coach and even if they skip a few beats early on he'll have them motivated and focused by Labour Day.
1. Edmonton Eskimos 13-5
Key Additions: Kelly Campbell is back in Edmonton and as long as he's healthy that means good things for The Eskimos long ball hopes and bad things for opposing secondaries. The are two other new guys one on each side of the ball that will likely contribute big plays for The Green and Gold. SB Andre Talbot an and fellow Canadian LB Javier Glatt both bring depth to The Eskimos import depth.
Key Deletions: Edmonton was unable to convince DB Byron Parker to stay West and that doesn't help since they also cut with DB's Kelly Malveax, Anthony Malbrough and Lenny Williams add to that S Scott Gordon calling it career and Edmonton's revolving door in the secondary continues. This issue needs to fixed before this team will achieve greatness. Also OL John Comiskey has moved along but it may not be as devasting as The Esks have decent depth along the O-line. The WRs also lost their stat leader in Maurice Mann, but I'm not sure how much they'll miss his prescence as I feel he lacked a bit in that department.
Analysis: Between some subpar personnel and inconsistent Defensive philsophies it didn't take Ritchie Hall long to clean house and get back to doing what got him the HC job in the first place that being designing and calling a top ranked defence. Now we'll just have to see if GM Macocia and the scouts have found him the horses to get the job done. With The Eskimos's offence still basically running on auto pilot at a high clip with Ricky Ray at the helm (regardless of what one of my cousins thinks) the playoffs and hopes of hosting their own Grey Cup rest squarely on the defenses shoulders. But I think this will be the year that The Double E finally make it over the crest and make some serious noise in the post season.
Continuity Rating: Most positions were stable in the offseason including the management and in few cases where there were departures the filled the holes straight across or upgraded. However when you don't return any of your starting secondary that is a definite red flag. 7 out of 10.
Final Note: This is not any easy task to complete especially when a guy can't actually view league wide training camps as well as pre-season games but I love doing it so we'll see how I do. Buckle those chin straps folks the season starts Thursday!
Yours on the sidelines Darryl