Plenty of Rebuilding in the West (2013 West Division Preview)

CFL West

The Western Division will get the Grey Cup back this year as one of the loudest and most loyal fan bases will get their chance to welcome the CFL once again. Regina will host another Grey Cup as some of the best fans will welcome fans from across the country for another celebration of a great Canadian game. Last year the West would travel to the East for a legendary Grey Cup but they would come up short in the 100th Grey Cup. Now they are looking to get back on the winning track and will try to prove that the best teams are in the West. It was a struggle for many of the teams last year as they took some time to get going. The Roughriders and the Eskimos would fight all season to try to stay relevant in the playoff race. Not every team would struggle though as BC and Calgary remained the strongest teams in the division and will look to do the same this year. It won’t be easy to remain the dominant teams as everyone else has reworked themselves to try to unseat the western powers. Nobody would make more impactful moves than the team that will be hosting as they are hoping to try to continue the trend of home team Grey Cups. The Saskatchewan Roughriders will play host to the CFL for the Grey Cup and like many other teams in the west they would go all out to try to ensure their spot in a home field Grey Cup. The theme of the offseason for the West was changes as players would change teams and move out while new players would come in to try to help their teams to the Championship. There is a simple reason for this as the same theme would occur in 2012 with the Eastern division. When the Grey Cup in the West this year every team in the division is looking to get into the finals to have a close game. For their fans it means that travel time will be much less and for the players it means a longer time at home before having to go to a new city to prepare. Last year the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats would do everything in their power to try to win the Grey Cup, with the Argos achieving that goal. The Western teams would do the same this offseason and although the available players may have been limited the look of every team is very different. This year there are legends who will wear different colours and new hopes trying to turn a team around. This year has a lot in the air as these rebuilt teams can look to a team like the 2013 Toronto Argonauts to see what rebuilding a team can do. Those teams that made some small changes and tweaks can also look to a team like the 2013 Hamilton Tiger Cats to show that rebuilding doesn’t always work. It is a matter of the players they have added and the players they kept around getting along and geling to find the right chemistry. If these new rebuilt teams can find that team chemistry at some point this year they will have the chance to win the Grey Cup. If teams cannot find this chemistry the trouble will start and a Grey Cup will slip out of their hands. There is only one way to find out though as the games need to be played. New faces will have their shot at winning the hearts of their new fans while replacements on other teams will have to live up to the holes. As these new players work their way through the season the old standards will be there to help guide them and hope that they can continue their strong play to help their team win the Cup. In the end that will always be the goal as the Western Division looks to win the Grey Cup in Regina this year and show that they are the division to beat for 2013.

 

B.C. Lions

bc_lions

The BC Lions were on the fast track to becoming the most dominant team in the West and essentially seemed to be becoming the Montreal Alouettes of the West. They had won the 2011 Grey Cup in front of a home crowd and were considered favorites to repeat as champions in 2012. They wouldn’t do a whole lot to buck that thought in 2012 as they remained one of the best teams in the CFL. Travis Lulay would remain steady while the defence would be the best in the CFL and would help lead the Lions to the top spot in the division. That dominance would not translate to the playoffs though as the Lions would exit in the Conference Finals when the Calgary Stampeders would beat them in a very close game. It wasn’t good enough for GM Wally Buono though as he would go into the offseason with the mindset of change. He would keep most of his core players on offence and would leave the defence almost untouched but the moves were big regardless. On the offence the Lions will go with a younger squad as Arland Bruce III and Geroy Simon are gone. In their place will be players like Marco Ianuzzi, Courtney Taylor, Nick Moore, and Emmanuel Arceneaux who has returned from the NFL to rejoin the Lions. On the defence the Lions lost Khalif Mitchell, who was a constant headache but a great defensive tackle, and Byron Parker. It was a long offseason of change for the Lions but the key in this offseason was always the fact that they would keep the most important players. Travis Lulay, Shawn Gore, Lin-J Shell, and Solomon Elimimian are all back and most teams would love to have just one player like this. The Lions may have lost some great players but the fact is the core remains and with a younger team the Lions will have what they need to continue to be great. The Lions may not be as strong out of the gate this year but challenging for the top spot in the West is definitely a possibility.

 

Strength:
Defence
– Led by Solomon Elimimian the Lions defence is one of the hardest hitting defences in the league and even without Byron Parker and Khalif Mitchell the Lions defence is still one of the best in the league

Weakness:
Inexperience out wide
– The loss of Geroy Simon was bad enough but letting Arland Bruce go as well means that the wideouts will be essentially brand new with Emmanuel Arceneaux the most experienced receiver and he hasn’t been in the CFL since 2010

Biggest Addition:
Emmanuel Arceneaux, WO (Free Agent)
– With such a young and inexperienced receiving corps some experience is always good and Emmanuel Arceneaux can provide that even if he hasn’t been on a CFL field for two years with the other receivers having even less experience

Biggest Loss:
Geroy Simon, WO (Trade)
– The heart of the team is gone as the legend known affectionately as Superman will no longer be wearing the burnt orange of the BC Lions and that means there will be a big hole in the locker room that needs to be filled

 

Calgary Stampeders

1853_CSFC-HorseLogo-4C

The Stampeders have been a good team in the last few years but they have seemingly always taken a back seat to the BC Lions. Last year was no different as they would have a good season but would end up in second place. It wasn’t an easy road for the Stamps as they would lose their QB of the present and the future early in the season. With Henry Burris traded to Hamilton before the 2012 season the Stamps would be giving the team to Drew Tate and it looked to be working at the start of the season. Then Tate would go down in week 2 with a dislocated shoulder that would put Kevin Glenn into the starter’s role. Glenn would do a good enough job to guide the Stamps to the second place spot in the west division but would be unseated by Tate at the end of the season. Tate would come back and lead the Stamps into the playoffs and into the Conference Finals before sufferance a broken forearm and forcing Glenn into the spotlight once again. Glenn would win the Conference Finals but would be shut down in the Grey Cup leaving the Stampeders to wonder what might have been if Tate was under centre. This year the Stampeders would go into the offseason with the opinion that they are ready to win a Grey Cup if things can go right. There would be limited change for the team instead focusing on getting their team ready for the regular season. The biggest part of this would be making sure Drew Tate was ready to take control once again and help lead the Stampeders. Some of his targets are gone but Maurice Price and Nik Lewis have proven to be great targets for Tate and will help him lead the Stamps back to the top. If Tate can stay healthy this year and the defence can play as good as last year there is no doubt that the Stamps will be challenging for the 1st place spot in the West.

 

Strength:
Running Game
– Jon Cornish earned the Outstanding Canadian award last year after having the best season of his career and if he can continue to be the best running back in the CFL he will be able to provide a perfect balance to the offence

Weakness:
Durability of the Pivot
– Drew Tate suffered two bad injuries last year and that does not mean great things as Kevin Glenn is good but not good enough to help the Stamps to the Grey Cup as Drew Tate is the key to this offence

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Stampeders decided that their team was ready to win a Grey Cup as long as they could get their QB back to bring them over the top and win a Grey Cup and so they would stay pat in the offseason limiting their moves

Biggest Loss:
Arjei Franklin, WO (Retirement)
– Along with Romby Bryant the Stamps would lose Arjei Franklin but out of the two Franklin might be the biggest loss as he was a solid veteran receiver who would retire leaving a group of receivers to find a new leader

 

Edmonton Eskimos

edm_eskimos

The Edmonton Eskimos moved their franchise QB before the 2012 season as they would trade Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts. It was a risky move for Eric Tillman as the face of the franchise was now gone. The Argos would find their QB that they had been looking for since Damon Allen retired while the Eskimos were left without a solid option. They would look to Kerry Joseph, Stephen Jyles, and Matt Nichols to fill in the big hole left by Ray. None of them would be able to fill that role though as all three failed to take control and become the #1 QB. The Eskimos would make the playoffs but not because of their play as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats were just that bad in the East. The Eskimos lost in the first round and were left with a very disappointing season despite making the playoffs. There was no question that 2012 was defined by the QB situation in Edmonton and in the offseason they would look to stabilize the position. The first move was not made on the field as the Eskies would fire Eric Tillman and bring in Ed Hervey who would have the chance to turn the team around. His first move would be to trade with the BC Lions to pick up backup QB Mike Reilly who showed his ability near the end of the season with the Lions when Travis Lulay was given a rest. With Stephen Jyles and Kerry Joseph gone the QB position would come down to last year’s backup, Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly. Then Nichols would go down with a knee injury in the first week of preseason leaving the position to Mike Reilly. Reilly will lead the offence this year while last year’s defensive player of the year JC Sherritt is back and will be joined by newcomer O’Dell Willis to make a solid defence. The question has never been the defence as the QB will mean the difference between making the playoffs again this year or missing them entirely.

 

Strength:
Receiving Corps
– Mike Reilly is new to the starting role but he will have plenty of options on the field as Fred Stamps, Cary Koch, Shamawd Chambers, Nate Coehoorn, and Adarius Bowman will all be there to help Reilly along

Weakness:
Inexperience under centre
– Mike Reilly has won the QB competition by default after Matt Nichols went down with a knee injury in the preseason and now he will get his first shot at the starting QB spot as the Eskimos hope he doesn’t falter with the new responsibility

Biggest Addition:
Mike Reilly, QB (Trade)
– After trading Ricky Ray to Toronto before the 2012 season the Eskimos were lost without that steady base behind centre and the acquisition of the Reilly was their attempt to do so as they hope he can prove that his two starts in BC were a sign of the future of their team

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Eskimos were not very good last year so any losses they did have were nothing that big especially after resigning JC Sherritt and keeping the majority of their receiving corps to ensure the players they do have are back in the green and yellow

 

Saskatchewan Roughriders

ssk_riders

Last year the Riders were good but not good enough as they would stumble out of the gate. They would come back to finish third in the West but would lose in the conference semi-finals falling short of their goal. Now the Roughriders are in a unique position as they have the opportunity to continue a trend in the CFL. The Rider fans are hoping that they can see their team win the Grey Cup at home this year like the Argonauts did in 2012 and the Lions did in 2011. To do this the Riders are taking a page out of the Argos book from 2012 when they would load up on talent to make a run. The Argos would trade for Ricky Ray and add as many weapons on both sides as they could to make a run at the Grey Cup. The Riders would do the same thing this offseason as they would try to add as many stars as they could to end up at home in November. On the offensive side the Riders will be sticking with Darian Durant at QB but they would bring in the best receiver to ever step on a CFL field to help him. Trading for Geroy Simon immediately adds a top receiver to an already good receiving corps. Simon will be the leader of a group that includes Weston Dressler, Rob Bagg, and Chris Getzlaf which should be everything that Durant needs to help the offence to the Grey Cup. The changes did not stop there though as the defence would receive a facelift as well. Last year the Riders would have a less than great defensive line but the additions of Jermain McElveen and Grey Cup Most Outstanding Canadian Ricky Foley the Riders have upgraded. Meanwhile folk hero Jon Chick is back from the NFL to help Foley and McElveen get in the face of opposing QBs. With these additions the Riders have turned into favorites in the West but additions don’t always work although making the playoffs seems like a good bet.

 

Strength:
Talent
– The additions of Jon Chick, Ricky Foley, and Geroy Simon have given the Riders significantly more talent than they have had in the past and that is trouble for any team facing them this year

Weakness:
The Pressure
– There is always a lot of pressure in Riderville but with the Grey Cup in Regina and the last two host cities raising the Cup along with the influx of talent there is no moral victory as it is Grey Cup or bust this year for the Riders

Biggest Addition:
Ricky Foley, DE (Free Agency)
– Foley would be named the Most Outstanding Canadian in the 100th Grey Cup and in the offseason would choose to try to win another team a Grey Cup as he will add a much-needed pass rush to the Riders

Biggest Loss:
O’Dell Willis, DE (Free Agency)
– As much as the Riders added on the line O’Dell Willis is a special player who not only can lead on the field but off of it as well and his absence may not be seen on the field but off of it may be missed

 

Prediction:
1. BC Lions*
2. Calgary Stampeders*
3. Saskatchewan Roughriders*
4. Edmonton Eskimos

*Playoff Berth

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