Welcome to the 2023 preseason!
The Calgary Stampeders host the Edmonton Elks in a preseason Battle of Alberta later today to open the exhibition schedule with four more games this weekend.
Now just over two weeks from the start of the regular season, we’re getting you set with a slightly more under the radar question for each team. Last week we focused on the East Division, so this week we’re turning our focus to the West.
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» Cutdown Tracker: Second round of roster moves
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» Top of the Depth Chart: View who’s set to start in 2023 for every team
» Season Previews: Get up to date on all nine teams
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Can they get to the quarterback at a higher rate?
There weren’t many clear areas in need of improvement for Winnipeg en route to another dominant regular season in 2022. One of the only spots you could identify was the pass rush, which wasn’t as strong year-over-year.
The Blue Bombers finished eighth overall with 36 sacks last season, which was down from 39 in 14 games the year prior. Now, sacks aren’t the only statistical category that matters when evaluating a team’s pass rush, but Winnipeg fell almost one full sack per game last season. I’m curious if we see an uptick.
A healthy Jackson Jeffcoat all year, who missed six games in 2022, should help considerably and will help offset the departure of interior force Casey Sayles. And Willie Jefferson is still an absolute force; he finished 2022 with a career high 10 pass knockdowns to go along with seven sacks and two forced fumbles.
BC Lions: How will they perform without Bryan Burnham?
The biggest off-season story for the Lions was Nathan Rourke’s decision to join the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. As a result, Burnham’s decision to retire after nine seasons in Vancouver probably wasn’t talked about as much as it would have been under other circumstances.
Saying goodbye to a lifetime Lion in Burnham is significant, though. Over the last decade Burnham’s automatic hands and razor-sharp route running turned him into one of the league’s most consistent receivers, which included four straight 1,000-yard seasons between 2016 and 2019.
Fortunately, BC’s strong depth at receiver will help absorb a departure like Burnham’s. The Lions got used to playing without Burnham in 2022 when he missed nine games due to injury. And with Lucky Whitehead, Dominique Rhymes and budding superstar Keon Hatcher in the mix, BC’s pass game should still be very dangerous this season.
Calgary Stampeders: What’s next for Ka’Deem Carey?
With a healthy William Stanback in Montreal, James Butler joining Hamilton, sneaky Kevin Brown in Edmonton and Brady Oliveira with Winnipeg, the league has some strong running backs right now. After his 2022 campaign with Calgary, though, Carey enters a new season on top of that mountain.
Carey won the league’s rushing title last year with 1,088 yards in 14 games and led the league with 10 rushing touchdowns. With quarterback Jake Maier entering 2023 on top of a depth chart for the first time as a pro, having a strong run game will be important for the Stampeders, especially early on.
The battle for this year’s rushing crown feels like it’ll be heated, but it’s going to be hard to bet against Carey. It feels like he’s just getting started, so I’m curious what additional steps he has in store.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: How do they protect Trevor Harris?
We know Cody Fajardo had a rough final season with the Riders, which is why they went out and signed Harris to a big money deal in free agency. But whether it’s Harris, Fajardo, or anyone else, Saskatchewan is going to struggle if they fail to protect their quarterback like they did last year.
The Roughriders allowed a whopping 77 sacks in 2022, which was 24 more than the next highest total surrendered by Edmonton (53). To put that into context, Saskatchewan allowed almost 1.5 sacks more per game than the next closest team. That’s not a recipe for success and general manager Jeremy O’Day, a former offensive lineman himself, knew it.
Outside of signing Harris, the biggest off-season addition for the Riders could very well be Philip Blake. The National lineman is coming off an East Division All-Star nod with Toronto in 2022 and could start in multiple different spots this year. With the addition of Blake and former Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth-round pick Jerald Hawkins, Saskatchewan’s offensive line already feels stronger.
Edmonton Elks: Can they make Commonwealth Stadium home sweet home?
The Elks had an exciting off-season and early reports from training camp are promising. Now fans in Edmonton are hoping a strong winter can translate to the team’s first home win since October 2019. Yep, the Elks have gone almost three calendar years without picking up a win at Commonwealth Stadium. It feels like a foregone conclusion that’ll change this season.
Edmonton’s additions of receivers Eugene Lewis, Steven Dunbar Jr. and Kyran Moore gives them a dangerous looking offence. Standout defensive lineman Jake Ceresna’s decision to sign back with the Elks and forego free agency was a strong show of confidence and another massive off-season move.
There are still important things to be figured out in Edmonton, starting with the types of steps Taylor Cornelius can make at quarterback. But there are plenty of signs pointing to a much better season, which should almost certainly lead to a better home record.
And to return to the playoffs, the Elks will need to make Commonwealth a tough place to play once again.