Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CFL Preview: The big shuffle

CFL clubs betting new cards make a winning hand

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If the past winter provided a hint of what we should expect in the 2012 CFL regular season, then hang onto the railing directly in front of you.

Roller-coasters tend to be a tad unpredictable when they get going.

Ricky Ray was traded. Henry Burris was traded, too. After leading his B.C. Lions to the championship, Wally Buono retired from coaching. And four teams -- four teams in an eight-club membership -- have new head coaches. The change business, as football coaches like to call it, was very busy this off-season.

Oh yeah, one more thing: The CFL is celebrating the 100th Grey Cup this year, in case you haven't heard about that 100 times already.

But that's a long way off. There are 72 regular-season games to go before the big one comes into focus, so everyone just settle in and enjoy the ride.

The season starts Friday.

Please remember to keep your hands inside the cart at all times.

Hold on tight.

Three storylines to keep an eye on this season:

1. Unrest in Edmonton -- already

Knock-knock. Armed with sharp knives and torches, the wolves are at Eric Tillman's door. Trading QB Ricky Ray, a future hall of famer, to Toronto in the off-season wasn't a popular move. Selling the locals on Steven Jyles is only making matters worse. Here's the thing, though: The former Rider-Bomber-Argo won't be called on the carpet if he struggles out of the gate. Tillman will be. Did we mention Ray opens the season at Commonwealth this weekend?

 

2. Oh Hamilton, Oh Henry

A new coach, a new quarterback and a new slate of games have the Tiger-Cats as the trendy pick to come out of the East once again, and the arrival of Henry Burris has everything to do with it. Burris fell out of favour in Calgary last season -- he struggled and lost his job to Drew Tate -- so the jury is still out on the Ticats. Can Smilin' Hank keep everyone in Steeltown happy for a full season?

 

3. Kings of the jungle

An 18-game season is an eternity, so if you choose to put the B.C. Lions back in the Grey Cup game, you do so at your peril. That said, it's easy to look at the CFL and count the Leos as the team to beat. B.C. made few on-field changes this winter, and word out of the Left Coast says they might be better than they were last season. They are the prohibitive favourites, and everyone else is on the hunt. How will the Lions react as the prey this time around?

 

Three games of interest (that don't include Ricky Ray returning to Edmonton):

1. Eskimos at Bombers, July 26

Winnipeg's home opener was supposed to be the unveiling of Investors Group Field. Those plans got caught up in the wind and blew away. The return of former Bombers (Greg Carr, Clint Kent, Don Oramasionwu, Aaron Hargreaves, Steven Jyles) will draw attention, but it will be overshadowed by memories of Richard Harris, who died on this date one year ago.

2. Tiger-Cats at Alouettes, Aug. 23

The venue is different (the game will be at Molson Stadium and not the Big Owe), but who cares? It's the rematch of the craziest game of the 2011 season. Hamilton's insane 52-44 win in the Eastern semifinal forced the Alouettes to address their defensive shortcomings this off-season.

3. Roughriders at Lions Nov. 3

What makes the final game of the regular season notable? This one could mean everything for the Riders, who may find themselves in a battle for a playoff spot down the stretch. Not in the West, mind you, but in the division crossover. Put some coffee on. We suspect the East will stay up late to watch.

 

EAST DIVISION

1. Montreal Alouettes

2011 record: 10-8, lost in the East semifinal

Head coach: Marc Trestman, fifth season

Key additions: LB Rod Davis, DT Aaron Hunt, S Kyries Hebert; former Bombers coach Jeff Reinebold was brought in as the defensive co-ordinator.

Major losses: DT Eric Wilson, DE Anwar Stewart, LB Diamond Ferri, S Étienne Boulay (released); offensive co-ordinator Scott Milanovich

Projected record: 11-7

Odds to win it all (via bodog.ca): 11/2

 

2. Hamilton Tiger-Cats

2011 record: 8-10, lost in the East final

Head coach: George Cortez, first season.

Key additions: QB Henry Burris and SB Andy Fantuz give the Ticats a whole new offensive outlook.

Major losses: Speedster Marcus Thigpen, a top return man the last two seasons, bolted to Miami; DB Justin Hickman left for Indianapolis.

Projected record: 11-7

Odds to win it all: 9/2

 

3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

2011 record: 10-8, East Division champs, lost in the Grey Cup

Head coach: Paul LaPolice, third season

Key additions: Once again, GM Joe Mack has not added any CFL experience. Rookies WR Chris Matthews and KR Chad Simpson are among the new faces.

Major losses: OL Brendon LaBatte and WR Greg Carr left via free agency; DE Odell Willis was traded to Saskatchewan; DB Doug Brown and C Obby Khan retired; LB Clint Kent was released.

Projected record: 9-9

Odds to win it all: 6/1

 

4. Toronto Argonauts

2011 record: 6-12, out of playoffs

Head coach: Scott Milanovich, first season

Key additions: QB Ricky Ray was brought in from Edmonton.

Major losses: DBs Byron Parker and Lin-J Shell went to B.C. (free agency); DT Claude Wroten was released.

Projected record: 9-9

Odds to win it all: 6/1

 

WEST DIVISION

1. B.C. Lions

 

2011 record: 11-7, Grey Cup champions

Head coach: Mike Benevides, first season

Key additions: Only three rookies -- WR Courtney Taylor, DB Josh Bell, OL Matt Norman -- cracked the 46-man roster. Why mess with a good thing?

Major losses: Hall of fame coach Wally Buono retired from the sidelines after winning the Grey Cup; LB Solomon Elimimian signed with Minnesota; DT Aaron Hunt signed with Montreal.

Projected record: 12-6

Odds to win it all: 7/2

 

2. Calgary Stampeders

2011 record: 11-7, lost in the West semifinal

Head coach: John Hufnagel, fifth season

Key addition: Backup QB Kevin Glenn was acquired from Hamilton; LB Joe Lobendahn was picked up as a free agent.

Major losses: QB Henry Burris and DB Geoff Tisdale were both dealt to the Ticats; SB Ken-Yon Rambo and DB Johnnie Dixon were released.

Projected record: 9-9

Odds to win it all: 5/1

 

3. Saskatchewan Roughriders

 

2011 record: 5-13, out of playoffs

Head coach: Corey Chamblin, first season

Key additions: OL Brendon LaBatte and Dominic Picard; DE Odell Willis; KR Sinorice Moss; QB J.T. O'Sullivan.

Major losses: LB Jerrell Freeman signed with Indianapolis; SB Andy Fantuz went to Hamilton; OL Dan Goodspeed and DB Lance Frazier were released; over half the roster from 2011 has been flipped.

Projected record: 8-10

Odds to win it all: 9/1

 

4. Edmonton Eskimos

2011 record: 11-7, lost in the West final

Head coach: Kavis Reed, 2nd season

Key additions: QB Steven Jyles; WR Greg Carr, LB Clint Kent.

Major losses: Ray, obviously; Jerome Messam (Miami); LB Rod Davis and DE Greg Peach (free agency).

Projected record: 5-13

Odds to win it all: 9/1

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @wazoowazny

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2012 D3

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