TORONTO -- Labour negotiations are finished, the Ottawa Redblacks have played a pre-season game and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are done until they begin the games that count for points.
The CFL will kickoff a season with nine teams this summer and this is our first instalment of Nine Across the Nation.
MONTREAL: The Great 85 strutting among the brick and ivy of McMaster University this weekend provided a glitzy, yet thin, cover of distraction, but a longer look at the Montreal Alouettes shows them to be a troubled organization.
The once wizardly Chad Ochocinco's gimpy sideline presence won't hide the obvious ailments of the Alouettes, such as the retirement of Anthony Calvillo, the league's most prolific passer ever, or the drop in Canadian talent. Nor will it mask the obvious dysfunction that saw ownership hire head coach Tom Higgins without the input of GM Jim Popp.
There have been no contract negotiations with Popp and his deal has just one year left. Maybe it's time for one of the most successful marriages in the CFL to end? Already there are whispers that Popp could be the next football boss of the Edmonton Eskimos.
EDMONTON: The Eskimos have a new coach in Chris Jones and his style was wildly successful as a co-ordinator but it remains to be seen how effective it will be as a head coach. Eskimos starting quarterback Mike Riley will look to build on a solid campaign last year, his first as a starter in the CFL, but the real questions in Green and Gold are higher up the ladder and this is make-it-happen time for GM Ed Hervey. If the Esks struggle again, the top football man will likely pay the price.
SASKATCHEWAN: Defending champs and still stacked on the Prairie. GM Brendan Taman did a little retooling, but mostly left his championship group together and they remain experienced with a lot of depth. The Riders are strong at the key positions of quarterback, offensive line and defensive secondary. Taman can add, if needed, as the season progresses to flesh out his group in a bid to repeat.
HAMILTON: The Tiger-Cats remain the best team in the East. Zach Collaros, Dan LeFevour and Jeremiah Masoli give head coach and GM Kent Austin a nice mix of playmaker, manager and project at quarterback. The Tiger-Cats improved their import content and have some of the best Canadians in the league.
WINNIPEG: Question city. Is Mike O'Shea ready? Is Drew Willy ready? Did Kyle Walters get enough done in his first off-season? The Bombers are in tough in the West and this is likely a rebuilding year.
CALGARY: Stampeders GM and coach John Hufnagel will go with quarterbacks Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell and no longer has the security blanket of Kevin Glenn. This could be Hufnagel's biggest challenge as a coach if Tate can't stay healthy and Mitchell struggles to settle in as a No. 1.
B.C.: With Travis Lulay and Kevin Glenn available to quarterback the Lions, they're already a scary offensive team. GM Wally Buono will have pressure from owner David Braley to make it to the Grey Cup hosted in Vancouver this season. How will this effect coach Mike Benevides and his staff? Fun story to keep an eye one.
TORONTO: Great quarterback in Ricky Ray and a fine coach in Scott Milanovich make the Argos automatic contenders. GM Jim Barker has proven to be an excellent team builder and he can find talent. Expect the Argos to figure out a way to be in the hunt.
OTTAWA: Henry Burris makes the Redblacks an immediate threat to score points. How will the rest of the package come together? The Redblacks are a fascinating team and no one should be surprised if they make the playoffs or if they find themselves in the basement. Unproven and a riddle to open the season.
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