The Canadian Press
Dang it sure was nice to see pre-season football back on the field this weekend. We are now less than two weeks away from the start of the regular season and rosters are starting to take shape across the league.
» Everything you need to know ahead of Training Camp
» Ferguson: A training camp wish for every team
» Steinberg’s MMQB: A question for every East Division team
» QB Tracker: Breaking down pre-season playing time
Last week’s column had one question for each East Division team, which means this week we turn our focus to the West Division.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: How dynamic will the run game be?
After six years with his hometown team, Andrew Harris and the Bombers parted ways following a second consecutive Grey Cup in 2021. Harris was one of Winnipeg’s salary cap casualties, which are part of the business when winning championships. Harris was one of the team’s most important offensive pieces and drove the running game during his tenure. He unquestionably leaves a void.
But the Blue Bombers weren’t unprepared for this eventuality. Brady Oliveira, a fellow Winnipeg product, and Johnny Augustine showed impressive flashes last season and look ready to step up in Harris’s absence. Oliveira racked up a pair of 100-yard games on the ground last year, while Augustine went for 148 in the final game of the regular season. Based on what we’ve seen, and their offensive line, I don’t expect the Bombers to miss a beat in the run game.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: How much will they stretch the field?
The Riders faced outside criticism at times last year for not being as explosive an offence as they could be. Knowing the playmakers they boasted on offence in 2021, the potential was always there to stretch the field in a big way. Well, the good news is Saskatchewan is bringing all those players back for another year, and we’ll actually get to see them all on the field at the same time.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo is back for another year. The Riders also have all of Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, and Duke Williams in the fold for 2022, which is something they only had on paper last year. With Williams signing late, and significant time missed for Moore and Evans, these three dynamic receivers barely played with one another. Once Moore is fully recovered from a torn ACL and back in the lineup, this could be the CFL’s most dangerous receiving trio.
Calgary Stampeders: Is it Thurman time?
Darnell Sankey led the league in defensive tackles last season, which is why his signing in Saskatchewan this winter made big news. Sankey’s departure opened a big spot in the middle of Calgary’s defence, which looks to have been surprisingly easy to fill. The Stampeders didn’t even have to look outside of the organization, in fact. That’s because Jameer Thurman was already ready to go.
Thurman returned to the CFL in 2021 after a couple years south of the border and enjoyed a great season at WILL linebacker. When Sankey left for the Riders, Calgary’s lean to replace him at middle linebacker seemed to be Thurman from the get-go. Their acquisition of Cameron Judge, a natural WILL, solidified that decision even more. Thurman is as rangy and athletic as anyone in the league and can drop into coverage at an elite level for his position. This could be an absolute monster year for him.
BC Lions: How quickly will it come for Nathan Rourke?
Deferring to a quarterback question can sometimes be lazy, but in this case, is there a bigger question surrounding the Lions than what we see from Rourke? BC tabbed Rourke as their No. 1 when Michael Reilly decided to retire in January. Since then, the anticipation has been growing for what Rourke’s first full season as a starter has in store.
Like many, I’m quite confident Rourke will eventually develop into a very good quarterback in this league. He combines a unique skillset that incorporates typical quarterback attributes with next level speed and athleticism. If Rourke, who’s just a sophomore pro, can settle in quickly, the Lions could be a real factor in the West Division.
Edmonton Elks: Is this finally Nick Arbuckle’s year?
It just hasn’t been a good run of luck for Arbuckle. After bursting onto the scene in seven impressive starts with Calgary in 2019, Arbuckle was a coveted asset eventually acquired, and signed, by Ottawa. But before playing a snap with the REDBLACKS, a worldwide pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 season. Arbuckle then signed with the Argos for 2021 but was limited by injury and eventually traded to Edmonton, where he didn’t see the field down the stretch. And now here we are.
Arbuckle finally got into game action with the Elks over the weekend, going 9/10 for 145 yards and two touchdowns in his pre-season debut. While his stops in between Alberta’s two CFL teams didn’t go as planned, let’s not forget Arbuckle was a sought-after player for a reason. Arbuckle is accurate and poised in the pocket and I think has an untapped explosive element to his game, too. After instability plagued the Elks last season, a healthy and steady Arbuckle has the potential to be exactly what this team is looking for.