May 15, 2023

Steinberg’s MMQB: East Division training camp questions

The Canadian Press

It sure was cool to see on-field pictures this weekend as training camps opened around the league. Now we’re exactly one week from the 2023 preseason opener, as Calgary takes on Edmonton next Monday afternoon.

There are some obvious storylines to watch as camps get underway with all that went down this winter, and we outlined a number of them in our Training Camp Primer over the weekend. Now here are a few more questions I’m curious to see answered entering the season, starting with the East Division.

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Toronto Argonauts: What does Andrew Harris’s last ride look like?

When Harris won his third consecutive Grey Cup in November, many wondered if the future Hall of Fame running back was ready to call it a career. After all, there’s not much more for Harris to accomplish and going out on top is an alluring option for many pro athletes. For a guy like Harris, though, the allure of continuing to compete is also a powerful motivator.

Harris lives and breathes for competition and that itch hasn’t been scratched anywhere near enough the last couple seasons. 2021 saw Harris miss seven games while still with Winnipeg and he missed 10 last year in his first season with the Argos. When you attempt to put yourself in Harris’s shoes, you can understand where he’s coming from.

It’s also important to point out that, when healthy, Harris was effective last season. In his eight regular season starts, Harris racked up 670 yards of total offence before returning to the lineup with a pair of strong outings in the playoffs. Paired with A.J. Ouellette in Toronto’s backfield, Harris is poised to go out with a bang.

Jason Maas returns as a head coach for the first time since he left Edmonton after the 2019 season (Brett Holmes/

Montreal Alouettes: How does Jason Maas fare in his second go-around as head coach?

I’m always interested anytime someone gets a second shot as a head coach in pro sports. That’s exactly what we’re seeing in Montreal as Maas was hired in December to take over from Danny Maciocia, who had been coaching on an interim basis. Maas joins the Als after two seasons as offensive coordinator in Saskatchewan and returns to a head coach role for the first time since 2019.

In four seasons with Maas at the helm, Edmonton went 39-33 between 2016 and 2019. That included a pair of appearances in the Western Final and three playoff berths. Now I’m curious to see what Maas has learned since his first time in the big chair. There’s no doubt Maas made mistakes with the Elks, as any first-time head coach would. But it’s what’s done because of those missteps that makes a second stint more successful.

Maas comes to Montreal with quarterback Cody Fajardo after a couple seasons together with the Riders. That allows for continuity right from the get-go and they’ll be an interesting duo knowing how motivated Fajardo should be in 2023.

Orlondo Steinauer and the Ticats emerge from an off-season of heavy change with a new-look defence (The Canadian Press)

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: How does a new-look defence perform?

One of the Hamilton staples in recent years has been a lot of defensive continuity. But after a disappointing 8-10 season and a loss to Montreal in the Eastern Semi-Final, the Tiger-Cats got to work reshaping things on both sides of the ball. We all know about what Hamilton did on offence, led by the acquisition of Bo Levi Mitchell. But they were arguably busier defensively.

The Ticats said goodbye to defensive mainstays Julian Howsare, Jumal Rolle, and Ciante Evans, while Micah Johnson and Jovan Santos-Knox also signed elsewhere. On the flip side, Hamilton welcomed difference makers like Jameer Thurman, Ja’Gared Davis, Kwaku Boateng, and Chris Edwards.

Change is inevitable in the CFL, especially after having a defensive group together for so long. The Tiger-Cats have added some high-end talent and I’m excited to see how quickly things can gel with so many long-time defensive leaders departing.

Ottawa REDBLACKS: Can Ottawa perform better in close games?

Ottawa’s 4-14 record last season was disappointing but not fully indicative of how competitive they were. Of their 14 losses, the REDBLACKS lost nine of them by one possession or less. Ottawa was in close games all season long and the East Division could have looked much different had they found a way in a few more of those contests.

Based on some of their off-season work, I think the REDBLACKS have a chance to take another competitive step this year. I really like Ottawa’s additions of Santos-Knox, Michael Wakefield, Cariel Brooks, Shaq Evans, and most recently Bralon Addison over the weekend. With 2022 standouts Jaelon Acklin and Laurenzo Mauldin IV back for another year, the personnel exists for a much-improved team.

Finally, with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli healthy after having last season ended prematurely, I’m liking how things are trending as the REDBLACKS look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

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