May 6, 2024

MMQB: West Division training camp questions

May is underway!

That means we’re knocking on the door to the start of training camps around the league. In fact, we’re less than a week away from camps opening and exactly two weeks away from our first preseason game of 2024.

Let’s get you set for camps by identifying one question for each team, starting in the West Division.

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Saskatchewan Roughriders: Is Corey Mace ready?

It has been a meteoric rise for the new head coach of the Riders. Only eight years ago, Mace was getting his feet wet as a defensive line coach for the Calgary Stampeders. Now, after two highly successful seasons as defensive coordinator in Toronto, Mace is a head coach for the first time. So, is he ready for this next challenge?

It’s hard to argue for anything other than the answer being yes. Mace’s resume speaks loudly. In five seasons with the Stamps, Mace’s defensive line led the CFL in sacks three times. And we all know the stellar work he did as coordinator with the Argos. From their masterful game plan against Winnipeg at the 109th Grey Cup to a banner 2023 regular season, Mace was a huge reason for Toronto’s success the last two years.

Don’t underestimate Mace’s ability to connect with his players. He’s less than a decade removed from his playing career and knows what it takes to succeed in pro football on both sides of the border. Mace hasn’t risen the ranks by fluke. On merit, Mace is as ready as he’ll ever be to coach the CFL’s most popular team.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Does this core have another Grey Cup run in it?

Despite some free agency departures, the Bombers still boast a talented core, led by two-time MOP Zach Collaros (Jason Halstead/

After four straight Grey Cup appearances, a good number of Blue Bombers have become CFL household names and this core group has its eyes set on making it five straight trips. That core consists of names like Zach Collaros, Brady Oliveira, Willie Jefferson, Stanley Bryant, Dalton Schoen, Jake Thomas, Nic Demski and Brandon Alexander, among others. Can they do it again?

General manager Kyle Walters has done a nice job keeping this group together, despite the annual “cost of winning” salary cap sacrifices. While the Bombers are used to big name departures, it feels like this winter has seen a lot of them. Jackson Jeffcoat has retired. Demerio Houston, Jermarcus Hardrick, and Dakota Prukop, among others, have signed elsewhere or remain unsigned.

But Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea have shown unwavering belief in this core, for good reason. In many cases we’re talking about the cream of the crop at their positions. Winnipeg has absorbed lots of departures over the years, which is why counting out this impressive group of holdovers in 2024 would be a little silly.

Calgary Stampeders: Can Jake Maier take the next step?


Maier’s first full year as a No. 1 quarterback had some difficulties. While he led the league with 363 completions and 578 passing attempts in 2023, Maier’s completion percentage (62.8 per cent) and efficiency rating (85.2) had him in the bottom half among regular starters. Still just 27 years old, though, I think Maier has room to grow.

First and foremost, Maier and the Stampeders will need to take a large step forward in finishing drives. Calgary scored just 33 offensive touchdowns in 2023, the league’s second lowest total. That’s not all on the quarterback, but Maier’s touchdown passes (19) relative to attempts and completions is something he’ll need to improve on.

There were encouraging signs last year, though, including what we saw down the stretch between Maier and ace receiver Reggie Begelton. While it took some time for the duo to develop a consistent rhythm, Begelton averaged more than nine targets per game over Calgary’s final six regular season contests. That’s something to watch for starting in Week 1.

Edmonton Elks: Is McLeod Bethel-Thompson the answer?

Bethel-Thompson led the league in passing in 2022 and will try to steer the Elks back into the postseason in 2024 (The Canadian Press)

Even with the success of Tre Ford in the second half of 2023, head coach and general manager Chris Jones felt Edmonton needed a veteran quarterback with a proven, winning track record to get his team back to the playoffs. So, when Bethel-Thompson became available after a year away from the league, Jones and the Elks made sure to get their guy.

Bethel-Thompson has almost 50 CFL starts under his belt. He’s a Grey Cup champion and has gone over 4,000 passing yards twice in his career. In 2022, his most recent season north of the border, Bethel-Thompson led the league with 4,731 passing yards, 387 completions and 579 attempts.

As much as Ford is, and should be, a big part of this Elks offence going forward, the team’s top priority is returning to the postseason. In a proud CFL market like Edmonton, a three-year drought is more than long enough.

BC Lions: Can they still get pressure on the quarterback?

Linebacker Bo Lokombo will look to help keep the Lions’ defence on track and focused on quarterbacks in 2024 (Steven Chang/

The Lions possessed one of the league’s most terrifying pass rushes last season. In fact, only Toronto’s 68 sacks ended up higher than BC’s 55 in 2023. A big part of that was star defensive end Mathieu Betts, who led the CFL with 18 sacks en route to being named the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

Betts has signed in the NFL, though. Defensive tackle Woody Baron, who finished second to Betts on the team with eight sacks, was released in February. That’s a lot of pressure to subtract up front. And that’s the biggest area I’m fascinated to watch play out in training camp and the early stages of the season.

New defensive end Christian Covington, who was ranked first overall by the CFL Scouting Bureau in 2015, is a captivating signing. A veteran of eight NFL seasons, Covington should help make up for the departure of Betts. Defensive line returnees Sione Teuhema and Josh Banks, along with linebackers Ben Hladik and Boseko Lokombo, will also be key pieces in keeping the Lions a significant pass rush factor.

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