by Staff Writer – Jason Langvee
Okay, so the obvious and glaring change this season is the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement between us and the CFL. Without boring you with the details, a deal got done, and now we can resume enjoying Canadian Football right through November! Here is a team-by-team breakdown of notable changes that have occurred since the 101st Grey Cup was played in Regina last November.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Not many would argue that one of the biggest face-lifts occurring between 2013 and 2014 has been the Winnipeg Blue Bomber organization. Commencing at the tail-end of last season, the Bombers opted to move forward with Kyle Walters as the team’s GM. As 2013 rang out with but 3 wins, management decided that a more drastic change was necessary. After several weeks of interviews, Winnipeg selected a new head coach in Mike O’Shea, who came to the Bombers from Toronto where he was in charge of special teams. With a new head coach in place, the team shaped up much differently than in the past. The first major change was the signing of a new #1 QB in Drew Willy. One of two young-guns giving the starter’s nod early, Willy looks to re-invigorate the lackluster 2013 Bomber offense. Other notable additions to the Bombers’ roster include former All-Star defensive back Korey Banks, Canadian DB Graig Newman, the former slot back from BC Nick Moore, and former Argonaut and CFL veteran Ejiro Kuale. Look for the revitalized Bombers squad to field a very competitive team in 2014. Coach O’Shea tends to hold aggression in high regards, which just may mean a new, hungrier Winnipeg team.
Saskatchewan Roughriders – Fielding a championship team typically comes with a lot of positives, but we rarely think of what drawbacks there may be following a season of success. For Saskatchewan, the depth that they worked over the past 3 seasons to hone paid off for several key components of the squad. The 2013 Grey Cup MVP; Kory Sheets, was touted from early 2013 to have a viable shot at cracking the NFL. His Grey Cup performance earned him a shot with Oakland, and thus the Riders will need to replace the talented tailback to remain a threat on the ground for 2014. The Riders’ offense also lost the versatile slotback/kick-returner Weston Dressler, who also caught attention from the NFL in his 2013 campaign. Look for Taj Smith to help fill the void (who enjoyed a breakout 2013) as the team steps up his role in the Saskatchewan offense. Chris Getzlaf remains on the Saskatchewan offense, and thus will continue to provide clutch catches to support the team when needed. Another positive for the Riders heading into 2014, is the relative stability in their defense squad. The only notable change on Saskatchewan’s defense was the dispersal draft loss of Keith Shologan to the Ottawa REDBLACKS. The Roughriders will be a tough opponent through 2014, and Corey Chamblin will have no problem doing what he does best; motivating his squad.
Calgary Stampeders – The team that may have been touted as the strongest team in the league last year, has a lot to prove in 2014. Despite leading the regular season last year, the Stampeders failed to subdue the eventual Grey Cup champions in the Western final. Calgary was in an interesting position by the time the 2013 dispersal draft came along, due to the fact that they had 3 quarterbacks with starting experience, but only one option to protect. Ottawa ultimately selected Kevin Glenn from Calgary, leaving Drew Tate, and Bo Levi Mitchell in a fight for the first slot. With either behind center, Calgary will remain potent on offense (a fact that can be attributed to John Hufnagel’s keen eye for quarterbacks). On both sides of the ball, Calgary looks to be relatively stable when looking at their 2013 and 2014 rosters. The winning formula from last year looks to be very much in place for the current season. One relatively notable change for Calgary comes with a new defensive coordinator in Rich Stubler, who comes in after Rick Campbell left the Stamps to take on the head coach position for the Ottawa REDBLACKS. With the return of the likes of Nik Lewis, Corey Mace, most of the offensive line with the fewest sacks in 2013, and all of the defensive line that led the CFL in sacks in 2013, the Stampeders will be a Grey Cup contender this season.
Edmonton Eskimos – Much of what was said about Winnipeg can be said of the Eskimos. Although Ed Hervey retained his role as GM of the Esks for 2014, 2013 head coach Kavis Reed has since been replaced by Toronto’s ex-defensive coordinator Chris Jones. It would appear that Toronto instilled a culture of aggression and love for the game in its coaches, as both Mike O’Shea and Chris Jones look to lead their respective teams in a similar manner. Both can be quoted on any given day in saying quips such as ‘We love players who love football’, or ‘the best players play’. To that end, much is still unknown in terms of how the Eskimos will look on the field in 2014. While Mike Reilly seems to be the first choice for a starting quarterback, Mat Nichols is only a year removed from contention of that position. Look for Nichols to fill in as a reliable and necessary part of the quarterback rotation. Reilly will continue to impress, and with a strengthened offensive line with the additions of veterans; Tony Washington, and Andrew Jones, he should have more time to make informed reads. The Edmonton defense will look to build off of the development of 2nd-year linebacker Rennie Curran, as he stands beside J.C. Sherritt who comes back from an injury-riddled 2013. Edmonton is yet another example of why the CFL west will be as competitive a division as ever.
BC Lions – With other teams in the league looking to change the faces of their organizations, the Lions dealt a great deal of their players. In doing so, head coach Mike Benevides believes that he has built a stronger squad. The most notable change though, was not the departure of any player, but rather, the addition of veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn. With Travis Lulay still on the mend from an off-season surgery, and Thomas Demarco being selected by Ottawa in the 2013 dispersal draft, BC was lacking depth behind center. Glenn adds a great deal of experience, and the freedom for Travis Lulay to rehab as much as he needs into the regular season. Andrew Harris returns as the starting tailback for the Lions, although you just may see some split reps between he, and Stefan Logan (who joined the team late last season). The Lions defense should look different this season for a few reasons. Rich Stubler, BC’s defensive coordinator for the past 2 seasons has since moved on to Calgary, leaving the position open for Mark Washington, who has been with BC for 6 years as a coach. Although there were some notable departures from the Leos defense, the additions of players like Jamall Johnson, and the return of defensive tackle Khalif Mitchell should positively impact the tackle count for the Lions. BC will need to prove a lot in 2014, as this year’s Grey Cup is hosted in their home venue.