We have a new defending Grey Cup champion for the first time since 2019. We’ve had blockbuster trades and all kinds of free agent movement. And now a brand-new season is upon us.
Welcome to 2023 training camp! Let’s get you set with everything you need to know.
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|BC | CALGARY | EDMONTON | SASKATCHEWAN | WINNIPEG | HAMILTON | TORONTO | OTTAWA | MONTREAL
Biggest off-season storyline: Going out on top
It took McLeod Bethel-Thompson years in multiple leagues to land a bona fide number one role. He finally found just that in Toronto and it all culminated in 2022 with a career season and a Grey Cup championship. But that climb to the top demanded family sacrifices, which is why Bethel-Thompson made the hard decision to sign with USFL New Orleans for this season.
With that departure comes a huge opportunity for Chad Kelly. Last year’s backup got thrown into the fire late in Toronto’s 109th Grey Cup victory and delivered with a huge drive setting up a game winning touchdown. And now, for the first time as a pro, Kelly will enter a season with a starting job to lose. I’ve liked Kelly’s work in limited action so far, so I’m excited to see what a full season has in store.
New face to watch: Jordan Williams, linebacker
One of the previously mentioned blockbuster trades went down in February when the Argos sent this year’s ninth overall selection (Francis Bemiy) to the BC Lions for Williams, the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2021. The former first overall selection had a strong sophomore season and should be a great weak side partner for the returning Henoc Muamba in the middle.
Flying under the radar: A.J. Ouellette, running back
I love watching Ouellette carry the ball because all he does is run people over. Even with future Hall of Famer Andrew Harris returning for a final CFL season, I think we’ll see Ouellette heavily integrated in Toronto’s offence this year. He and Harris are different backs, which presents some fun options in the Argos’ backfield.
Biggest off-season storyline: Running it back
They may have had their dynasty bid denied by Toronto at the 109th Grey Cup, but that doesn’t mean the Bombers are interested in changing course in 2023. Winnipeg has eyes on one thing and one thing only and that’s a third title in four years. Their off-season approach made that abundantly clear.
The Blue Bombers spent most of the winter retaining their most important pieces, with head coach Mike O’Shea leading the way. Willie Jefferson, Nic Demski, Adam Bighill, Stanley Bryant, Jackson Jeffcoat, and many (many) other core players signed back with Winnipeg. And with the likes of Zach Collaros, Dalton Schoen, and Brady Oliveira already under contract, you can understand why the Bombers enter this season thinking championship or bust…again.
New face to watch: Kenny Lawler, receiver
Because Winnipeg retained so many key pieces, adding new faces wasn’t a priority…with one exception. After one season in Edmonton, Lawler signed back with the Bombers in free agency, returning to the spot where he led the league in receiving yards in 2021. Adding the explosive Lawler to an already stacked group of receivers almost doesn’t seem fair.
Flying under the radar: Desmond Lawrence, defensive back
I’ve been a huge fan of Lawrence since he burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2021 with Hamilton. The Ticats opted to release Lawrence in October of last year, though, which opened the door for Winnipeg a few days later. Lawrence excels as both a boundary and field corner and will likely slot in as the latter to open the season.
Biggest off-season storyline: Bringing in Bo
Maier’s emergence in Calgary put Mitchell on the trade block and the Tiger-Cats jumped on the opportunity. Hamilton acquired the two-time Most Outstanding Player for a pair of picks and future considerations in December and then signed him to a three-year contract a couple months later.
I know Mitchell’s numbers have dropped in recent years, but I still find it hard to bet against one of the most successful quarterbacks in league history. Mitchell will be fiery and motivated this season and the Ticats have surrounded him with a solid group of playmakers. Bo in black and yellow is going to be one of the big stories of 2023.
New face to watch: Jameer Thurman, linebacker
Mitchell wasn’t the only Calgary standout heading east this winter. Hamilton signed Thurman in free agency, bringing in perhaps the league’s most complete linebacker. No one at his position combines speed, power, tackling, and the ability to drop into coverage like Thurman does.
Flying under the radar: Casey Sayles, defensive tackle
Winnipeg retained most of their key free agents…but not all of them. The Bombers weren’t able to retain Sayles, which is nothing but good news for Hamilton. Sayles has established himself as one of the league’s most disruptive tackles over the last couple years and he’ll join Dylan Wynn and Ted Laurent in what looks like a formidable interior.
Biggest off-season storyline: The quarterback swap
While the aforementioned free agent swap of Harris and Fajardo was a big deal in Montreal, it feels even bigger for the Riders. That’s because Fajardo led Saskatchewan to two Western Finals as a starter before things fell off last season. The Roughriders opted not to retain Fajardo, which paved the way for Harris’s return to the West Division.
Parts of two seasons with the Als helped Harris get his career back on track, with 2022 really returning him to one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Harris finished third overall with 4,157 passing yards last year while his 20 touchdown passes ranked him fourth. Saskatchewan is counting on that trend to continue with Harris this year.
New face to watch: Jake Wieneke, receiver
Wieneke follows Harris from Montreal to Regina where he’ll look to bounce back from a statistically down season. But when talking about the 28-year-old Wieneke, it’s important to remember how dangerous he was the two years prior. 2019 and 2021 saw Wieneke haul in eight and 11 touchdown passes, respectively, and a return to numbers like that this season wouldn’t be a shock.
Flying under the radar: Pete Robertson, defensive end
Because guys like Lemon and Ottawa’s Laurenzo Mauldin IV were piling up huge sack numbers, Robertson’s breakout season probably didn’t get the love it deserved. In his second year with the Riders, Robertson recorded nine sacks, one interception, and a league leading five forced fumbles in 2022.
Biggest off-season storyline: A stable future
Montreal’s winter checklist wasn’t easy to execute due to an uncertain ownership picture. Positively, the situation was resolved in early March when Quebec businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau acquired the team. Péladeau’s backing returns Montreal to solid ground and secures the future.
The timing of Péladeau’s acquisition made off-season business difficult to execute in the early stages, but I give general manager Danny Maciocia credit for how he mitigated a tough situation. The Als hired a new head coach In Jason Maas and made a number of important free agent acquisitions, which should keep them competitive in 2023.
New face to watch: Cody Fajardo, quarterback
It wasn’t technically a trade, but it might as well have been. Montreal signed Fajardo at the beginning of free agency, the same day that Trevor Harris signed on with Saskatchewan. Fajardo joins the Alouettes after three eventful seasons with the Riders and will enter this year with a lot to prove.
Flying under the radar: Jumal Rolle, defensive back
Boundary corner is one of the most challenging and thankless defensive positions in this league and no one has done it better than Rolle over the last half decade. Rolle joins Montreal after four stellar seasons with the Tiger-Cats and was one of Maciocia’s savvy signings this winter.
Biggest off-season storyline: A new Maier
While the passing of the torch physically happened last year, it was sealed into place over the winter. The Stamps sent franchise quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to Hamilton in a December blockbuster, which officially put the team’s offence in Maier’s hands to start the 2023 campaign.
The decision makes sense for Calgary. Maier is seven years younger than the outgoing Mitchell and proved he was ready for primetime upon taking over as starter midway through last season. In nine regular season starts, Maier threw for 2,150 yards and 14 touchdowns and looked more and more comfortable. It’s Maier’s time now.
New face to watch: Julian Howsare, defensive end
The Stampeders haven’t typically been big players in free agent bidding wars, but they made a big splash by signing Howsare. The versatile end is coming off a career season in Hamilton where he racked up seven sacks and three interceptions. Howsare is a great pass rusher, is strong against the run, and can drop effectively into coverage. Those traits make him a perfect fit in Calgary’s defensive scheme.
Flying under the radar: Tre Roberson, defensive back
When healthy, Roberson holds the crown as the league’s most dominant shutdown corner. Unfortunately, a knee injury limited him to just five games last season, but all signs point to a healthy Roberson in 2023. As such, he should slide right back into his boundary corner slot and I’m expecting a return of Roberson Island.
Biggest off-season storyline: The next step
Head coach and general manager Chris Jones has a track record of getting his teams to take big steps in year two at the helm. It happened in his first stint with Edmonton and then again with Saskatchewan. With what the Elks have done this winter, there’s hope that trend continues.
Edmonton was busy in free agency and specifically targeted receiver by signing Eugene Lewis, Kyran Moore, and Steven Dunbar Jr. to deals. Those three additions, along with returnees Dillon Mitchell and Emmanuel Arceneaux, will give quarterback Taylor Cornelius some viable options.
New face to watch: Eugene Lewis, receiver
All Lewis has done since his debut in 2017 is get better each and every year and establish himself as one of the CFL’s elite receivers. As such, last season saw him set new career highs in yards (1,303), receptions (91), and touchdowns (10) to set himself up for a monster off-season. The Elks stepped up to the plate with a huge deal and I can’t imagine they’ll be disappointed.
Flying under the radar: Kevin Brown, running back
Brown didn’t even debut for the Elks until Week 13 last year. Once in the fold, though, he gave Edmonton their most dangerous running threat and finished with 486 yards and one touchdown in seven appearances. Brown enters 2023 on top of the running back depth chart and don’t be surprised if we see him near the top of the yardage table come November.
Biggest off-season storyline: Taking shape
In his second offseason at the helm, general manager Shawn Burke continued to put his stamp on the REDBLACKS with some big-time additions. Cariel Brooks, Jovan Santos-Knox, Michael Wakefield, and Shaq Evans are among the new faces joining Ottawa as they look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
Part of Burke’s vision is his first head coaching hire. After Paul LaPolice was fired in early October, Bob Dyce took over on an interim basis and was installed as the full-time guy during the off-season. Highly respected by his players, Dyce has a talented group to lead in his second CFL coaching opportunity.
New face to watch: Jovan Santos-Knox, linebacker
It’s been a bit of a middle linebacker shuffle this winter and part of that saw Santos-Knox land in Ottawa. The REDBLACKS targeted Santos-Knox right from the beginning of free agency and for good reason. Santos-Knox finished second overall with 105 defensive tackles last season with Hamilton and added one sack and one interception.
Flying under the radar: Jeremiah Masoli, quarterback
It’s hard to believe the 2019 East Division Most Outstanding Player could find himself here, but that’s what happens after a season-ending injury last year. Masoli had looked strong prior to going down in Week 5, so I’m excited to see a fully healthy version of him to start this season.
Biggest off-season storyline: Rourke no more
Nathan Rourke was the story of 2022 and his ascension to superstar status helped the Lions earn a home playoff date for the first time since 2016. Had it not been for a foot injury sustained in August, Rourke would have finished number one in every meaningful quarterback statistic. Rourke’s standout season caught the eye of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, and that’s where the Oakville product will spend this season.
Fortunately, the Lions put a solid contingency plan in place last year. While Rourke was on the shelf, BC traded for Vernon Adams Jr. and he performed well in six starts. The dynamic and explosive Adams will enter 2023 as the favourite to win the starting job with support from CFL veterans Dane Evans and Dominique Davis.
New face to watch: Shawn Lemon, defensive line
Lemon is no stranger to Vancouver and this year will serve as his third stint on the west coast. With 14 sacks with Calgary in 2022, the 34-year-old Lemon proved he’s still got plenty left in the tank. That’s why the Lions pursued him aggressively in free agency and Lemon will help form a formidable edge tandem with the returning Mathieu Betts.
Flying under the radar: Bo Lokombo, linebacker
A July injury shuffled Lokombo to the sidelines and forced BC to juggle up their linebacker look. That injury allowed for the emergence of Ben Hladik and upon his return, Lokombo entered into a timeshare with the now departed Jordan Williams at WILL. But let’s not forget Lokombo was 2021’s Most Outstanding Canadian and I expect him back to his havoc-wreaking best this year.