Sunday, June 21, 2015
RALPH PICKS RIDERS FOR SECOND
The Ticats have reached the Grey Cup the last two seasons and 22 of 24 starters are back from last year. Quarterback Zach Collaros begins his second season as Hamilton's starter with an offence missing only slotback Sam Gigurere (Montreal, free agent). While 11 starters return on defence, the club has a hole to fill with the absence of all-star cornerback Delvin Breaux (New Orleans, NFL). Veteran kicker Justin Medlock is among the league's best while Brandon Banks is a dangerous special-teams performer.
Jonathan Crompton begins his first full season as Montreal's starter after coming on last year to lead the club to the East Division final. Duron Carter, the Alouettes' top receiver last year, is now with the Indianapolis Colts but veteran slotback S.J. Green re-signed in the off-season. Defensive end John Bowman and linebacker Chip Cox anchor a solid defence but rookie lineman Michael Sam, the CFL's first openly gay player, has left the team and it's unclear whether he'll return.
Toronto starts the season as Trevor Harris's team. The fourth-year quarterback opens 2015 as the starter with incumbent Ricky Ray (shoulder) on the six-game injured list. Ray was the CFL's passing leader and East Division's top player last season. Slotback Andre Durie returns after missing much of last season with separate collarbone injuries. Defensive end Ricky Foley, the top Canadian in Toronto's 2012 Grey Cup win, was re-acquired from Saskatchewan but with many new faces expected early questions remain about the unit.
GM Marcel Desjardins shored up the CFL's worst offence this off-season after Ottawa won just two games in its inaugural season. The Redblacks acquired Mo Price from Grey Cup-champion Calgary then dipped into free agency for receiver/returner Chris Williams, receivers Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers. But the key to success will be 40-year-old quarterback Henry Burris, who had more interceptions (14) than TDs (11).
The Stampeders look to become just the third team since 1996-'97 to repeat as Grey Cup champions. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the Grey Cup MVP, headlines a potent offence that also includes Canadian Jon Cornish, who ran for a league-best 1,082 yards last season despite making just nine starts. Centre Brett Jones, the CFL's top lineman last year, and defensive linemen Shawn Lemon (team-high 12 sacks) are both with NFL clubs but Calgary is still more than deep enough to contend for another title.
Last year was a tale of two seasons for Saskatchewan, which was 8-2 with quarterback Darian Durant but dropped seven-of-nine games _ including an 18-10 playoff loss to Edmonton _ after his season-ending elbow injury. A healthy Durant is crucial to the Riders' success. His absence put a lot of pressure on a stalwart defence that had a league-best 61 sacks but was tied with Winnipeg in allowing a CFL-worst 5.9 yards per rush.
Edmonton became a playoff team under first-year head coach Chris Jones but went 0-4 versus Calgary, losing 43-18 in the West final. Quarterback Mike Reilly completed 64.6 per cent of his passes and was the league's top-rushing quarterback with 616 yards but a foot injury prevented him from finishing the conference finale. Under Jones, Edmonton's defence allowed a league-low 18.9 points was second in sacks (55).
Rookie CFL head coach Jeff Tedford takes over a team that was fourth in the West before an embarrassing 50-17 playoff loss to Montreal. Quarterback Travis Lulay made just one start, re-injuring his surgically repaired shoulder. B.C. granted veteran kicker Paul McCallum his release shortly after asking the 45-year-old to retire. Solomon Elimimian - the first full-time defensive player to be named the CFL's outstanding player - and Adam Bighill form one of the CFL's top linebacking tandems.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Consistency will be the goal for Winnipeg, which hosts the Grey Cup in November. The Bombers opened the 2014 campaign 5-1 under rookie head coach Mike O'Shea but went 2-10 the rest of the way to finish last in the West. Quarterback Drew Willy finished third among CFL passers in his first full season as a starter. Defensively the Bombers were last overall in points allowed (26.7 points per game) and rushing yards (135.9).