By Mitchell Blair
The 2009 CFL season begins Wednesday. All eight teams hope to be playing at Calgary’s MacMahon Stadium Sunday, November 29 with the hometown Stampeders trying to make it back-to-back championships. If they could do that, they would do something that hasn’t been done since the Toronto Argonauts did it in 1996 and 97. We all know how the Riders look going into Friday’s season opener, but what about the other seven teams. Here you go starting with the teams in the West…
If the Riders were considered the team that lost many key players going into the 2008 season, the Lions can take that distinction going into 2009. Gone are CFL defensive player of the year Cameron Wake, offensive linemen Rob Murphy and Kelly Bates, receiver Jason Clermont, linebacker Otis Floyd and running back Stefan Logan. It is safe to say the Lions have started a rebuilding phase. They still have players like Buck Pierce, Paris Jackson, Brent Johnson and Geroy Simon. They have added former Rider Anton McKenzie and they still have the dean of CFL coaches in Wally Buono. It will be interesting to see how this team holds up as they try and find players to fill the voids left by players like Wake, Murphy and Logan. Receiver Emanuel Arceneaux and first round draft pick, linebacker James Yurichuk turned heads in the pre-season. They are still a very strong football team, but not as strong as in years past.
The key players are back as the Stamps look to keep the Grey Cup in Calgary. Henry Burris shows no signs of slowing down and he once again has weapons like Joffrey Reynolds, Nik Lewis and Jermaine Copeland to work with. Defensively, the league’s number one unit last year when it came to points allowed have lost linebacker Ja Juan Armour, but they still have a young, aggressive secondary led by Brandon Browner and they have a star in the making in Mike Labinjo. It will be hard preventing the Stamps from not only having homefield advantage in the Western final, but the Grey Cup as well.
If Rider fans are going to watch another team closely this year, the Eskimos will be the one. Former defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall takes over as head coach and he has three members of his defence last year with him in Edmonton as Maurice Lloyd and Scott Gordon joined the club via free agency with Kitwana Jones coming on board after a trade just before the pre-season started.
Ricky Ray is still Ricky Ray and shows no signs of slowing down. He is helped in the ground game as Jesse Lumsden comes over from Hamilton, but the oft-injured Lumsden still has a durability problem meaning Ray may have to win games with his arm again this year. Kamau Petersen had a break out season last year and was named the league’s top Canadian. He will have to have another big year as he is probably Ray’s main target seeing Kelly Campbell decided to check out life in the NFL.
It’s a new look defensively with guys like Jones, Lloyd and Gordon coming on board. Former Rider coach Jim Daley comes out of the league office to assume the role of defensive co-ordinator. Tristan Jackson is the best returner in the game and should provide the team with some game-changing plays throughout the season. The Eskimos will be a better team in 2009 than what they have been the last couple of years. How much better is the question?
That is how the Rider foes in the West stack up. Here’s what the Eastern Conference teams look like
The Tiger-Cats have been the league’s doormat for the past number of seasons, but one has to think those days might be over. Marcel Bellefeuille took over midway through last season and he comes back with a team that still has some question marks, but has some talent as well.
Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter are having a battle to determine who will be the starting quarterback. Glenn provides experience, but Porter has shown flashes of brilliance. Jesse Lumsden is gone and Kenton Keith is on the nine game injured list meaning Terry Caulley will likely run the football for the first half of the year. The receiving corp is led by East rookie of the year Prechae Rodriguez.
The offensive line is also better with the addition of Dan Goodspeed and 2009 number one pick overall Simeon Rottier.
It’s a no-name unit on defence, but Hamilton fans will finally get a chance to see 2008 number one pick overall Dylan Barker play. The U of S grad didn’t get an opportunity to hit the field in his first pro season after he broke his leg during the exhibition season last year.
The Tiger-Cats on paper appear to be moving in the right direction. What remains to be seen now is how much of a move are they making.
The Alouettes failed to win the Grey Cup in front of their home fans last year, but they remain perhaps the best franchise of the decade having been in the championship game six times—albeit winning just once.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo was the 2008 MVP and make no doubt about it, the Alouettes will need another big season from him. Calvillo arguably might have the best receiving unit in the league to work with as Jamel Richardson, Ben Cahoon, Kerry Watkins and Brian Bratton are all capable of having one thousand yard seasons. With teams looking to stop the pass, the big beneficiary could very well be running back Avon Cobourne.
On the defensive side of the ball, there has not been many changes from the team that left the field on Grey Cup Sunday. They will be led by defensive linemen Anwar Stewart and Keron Williams and cornerback Davis Sanchez.
The Alouettes are likely still barring an injury of significance to Calvillo, the cream of the crop in the East.
The team with the biggest question mark behind it is the team that wears double blue. The Argos hope to do what Montreal did in 2008 and that is have great success under a head coach that has lots of NFL experience, but no CFL experience. Bart Andrus is the new head coach after serving as the offensive assistant coach for the Tennessee Titans of the NFL.
Andrus’ first job might be his biggest and that is getting quarterback Kerry Joseph to show the form that made him the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2007. Having Rob Murphy to anchor that offensive line will certainly help. Joseph has two legitimate targets in Arland Bruce and Andre Talbot to throw to while Walter Payton’s son Jarrett moves over from Montreal to run the football.
The Argos were a wreck on the defensive side of the ball in 2008, but they hope a guy like Zeke Moreno can change that. Jonathan Brown is expected to have another banner season. The secondary will be young and may be exploited by arms like Calvillo, Burris and Ray when given the chance.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
A new coach and a new look team. Mike Kelly inherits a team that had to go down as the biggest disappointment of 2008 as the Bombers didn’t look close to the team beaten by the Riders in the 2007 Grey Cup. Kelly overhauled this squad as vets like Kevin Glenn, Dan Goodspeed, Tom Canada and Cam Hall are gone. Don’t forget about the retired Milt Stegall either. However, the cupboard has been filled as players like Adarius Bowman, Brock Ralph, Fred Perry and Tyrone Williams are now wearing blue and gold. Stefan Lefors has been given the keys to the engine and he has very limited CFL experience. With a defence that has been changed around, it will take a while for this team to get on the same page. It could be a long year in the Manitoba capital.
That’s a look at the other seven teams that will compete for the Grey C
up along with the Riders. All teams have strengths and all teams have weaknesses and questions going into the campaign. It should be a very exciting and competitive year with it being anyone’s guess as to who Commissioner Marc Cohon presents the Cup to on that last Sunday in November at MacMahon Stadium. Rider fans wouldn’t mind one bit if Gene Makowsky and company were standing beside the commissioner on the podium. Enjoy the season!!!