The 2011 CFL regular season kicks off Thursday night. Here’s a look at the league’s eight teams:
Montreal has represented the East in the last three Grey Cups, winning the last two. After undergoing throat surgery this off-season after the discovery of a lesion, quarterback Anthony Calvillo returns with a clean bill of health. The CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2009 and runner-up in 2010, Calvillo needs 4,221 yards to surpass Damon Allen as the most prolific passer in pro football history.
Calvillo also needs nine TD passes, 119 completions and 1,107 pass attempts to move past Allen as the league leader in those categories as well. Montreal will be minus such stalwarts as tailback Avon Cobourne (Hamilton, free agent), slotback Ben Cahoon (retired) and kicker Damon Duval (not re-signed) but still remains the team to beat under head coach Marc Trestman.
Much is expected of a Hamilton team that’s posted consecutive records of 9-9 and first-round playoff exits under head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. Cobourne isn’t only expected to upgrade the Ticats’
run game, but also provide the leadership required to take the club to the next level. Quarterback Kevin Glenn was the CFL’s second-leading passer and will again have all-star slotback Arland Bruce III at his disposal.
Rush end Stevie Baggs is expected to be a force defensively while the linebacking corps of Jamall Johnson and Markeith Knowlton should become better with the addition of Renaud Williams, who replaces veteran Otis Floyd. A concern could be the secondary although a fierce pass rush could help remedy that.
Toronto was the CFL’s biggest surprise last year under head coach Jim Barker, posting nine wins after registering a combined seven the two previous seasons combined. Barker was named the CFL’s top coach in the off-season and also added the GM’s duties after Adam Rita wasn’t re-signed.
Cleo Lemon returns as the club’s starter after enduring a roller-coaster rookie 2010 campaign. Stephen Jyles, acquired in the off-season from Winnipeg to challenge Lemon, re-aggravated a shoulder injury and wasn’t a threat during camp.
Tailback Cory Boyd anchors a solid run game while kick-returner Chad Owens, the CFL’s top special-teams player last year, is a threat every time he touches the ball and will also see action as a receiver.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The Bombers posted a league-worst 4-14 record under rookie head coach Paul LaPolice to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. But nine of those losses were by four or less points.
Quarterback Buck Pierce battled knee and elbow injuries and started just five games last season, finishing two. With the departure of Jyles, Pierce’s health takes on added importance. Tailback Fred Reid ran for a league-high 1,396 yards last year while veteran Terrence Edwards was second among CFL receivers with 78 catches for a career-high 1,372 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, stalwart tackle Doug Brown returns for an 11th season but CFL sacks leader Phillip Hunt signed with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in the off-season.
Travis Lulay is firmly entrenched as the starter after opening last season as a backup and the Lions look to be more consistent from the start. After winning its opener in 2010, B.C. then lost seven straight before rallying to capture seven of their final 10 games to clinch a playoff berth.
The Lions also bolstered their offensive line with the addition of tackle Ben Archibald from Calgary and re-signed defensive end Keron Williams, defensive backs Davis Sanchez, Stanley Franks and Korey Banks as well as veteran all-star slotback Geroy Simon. Defensively, middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian returns amid much expectation after capturing the CFL’s top rookie honour last season.
Quarterback Henry Burris returns as the reigning CFL MOP but Calgary has endured a lack of playoff success since winning the ’08 Grey Cup. The last two years, the Stampeders have either finished atop or tied for first in the West, only to lose to the Saskatchewan Roughriders with a Grey Cup berth on the line both times.
Burris finished third among CFL passers with 4,945 yards but had a league-high 38 TD strikes in leading the Stamps to a league-best 13-5 record. Nik Lewis had a career-high 90 catches for 1,262 yards and nine TDs while tailback Joffrey Reynolds was third overall in rushing with 1,200 yards. Defensively, the club must replace cornerbacks Brandon Browner (NFL) and Dwight Anderson (Montreal, free agent).
After watching his team miss the playoffs last year, GM Eric Tillman changed coaches, replacing Richie Hall with head-coaching rookie Kavis Reed. Reed, who served as Winnipeg’s defensive co-ordinator last season, takes over an Eskimos club that posted a 7-11 record in 2010.
A plus for Reed is the return of veteran quarterback Ricky Ray, who despite throwing more interceptions (16) than TDs (11) last year, remains one of the CFL’s most accurate passers.
And Fred Stamps anchors a receiving corps that Tillman shored up with the off-season additions of Chris Bauman and Adarius Bowman. Reed’s defensive acumen will be put the test as Edmonton ranked last in yards allowed (388.2 per game) and points allowed.
Greg Marshall finally gets his chance to be a CFL head coach. After being bypassed for numerous jobs during 17 seasons as a defensive co-ordinator, Marshall takes over a Riders team that’s been to the last two Grey Cups. Quarterback Darian Durant was the league’s passing leader last season with 5,542 yards and did throw 25 TD strikes but also surrendered a league-high 22 interceptions.
What’s more, Durant will be minus stalwart Canadian receivers Andy Fantuz (NFL) and Robbie Bagg (knee) but still has dangerous Weston Dressler, who had 81 catches for 1,189 yards and six TDs. Richie Hall returns as defensive co-ordinator, good news for a unit that despite the team’s success was second-last in points allowed (27.1 points per game).