Canadian Football League (CFL) East Division Preview:
By Scott Rickenbach
Hamilton Tiger-Cats – 10 wins projected. 6-12 last season. The big splash in the off-season just recently occurred with Johnny Manziel being signed by Hamilton. The Ticats should prove to be set at the pivot position since they already have Jeremiah Masoli under center. In addition to Manziel bringing some NFL skill sets to the CFL game, the coaching of the Tiger-Cats certainly has influence from south of the border as well. Head coach June Jones is a top offensive mind and now don’t be surprised if the defense shows vast improvement too. The new defensive coordinator, Jerry Glanville, has an NFL coaching pedigree and will bring improvement on that side of the ball for Hamilton. On the offensive side of the ball coach Jones will have more weapons as Terrence Toliver was lost to injury in the season-opener last year and the Ticats have added through the draft plus were able to get valuable experience with Toliver sitting out last season. This team might start a little slow but once Glanville has the defense rolling and as long as the offensive line jells (guard Ryan Bomben was traded), the Ticats are likely to be the top team in the East.
Montreal Alouettes – 6 wins projected. 3-15 last season. Quarterback duel in Montreal. Veteran Drew Lilly, inexperienced but talented Matt Shiltz, and former NFL QB Josh Freeman means there will be quite a battle at the pivot position for the Alouettes. The concern is that the pivot is literally the “pivotal” position that is so critical in CFL that Montreal is unlikely to do any better than doubling their win total from last season. Of course, that would be an improvement, but this team still has a long way to go. Also, will the late change (just prior to the season) in defensive coordinators hurt the Alouettes? Montreal has a veteran DC now in Rich Stubler and their defense has talent but underperforms. That said, the late change from Khalil Carter to Stubler does create some concern about a unit that struggled last season. More NFL connections here as Mike Sherman is the new head coach. Of course, he had a lengthy career south of the border but there will be a transition period for certain as he absorbs as much as he can as quick as he can in the CFL game. Long-term things should get better but, barring a miracle, this is most certainly a transitional year for Montreal.
Ottawa RedBlacks – 8 wins projected. 8-9-1 last season. Just as in College Football and the NFL, I like teams that are strong in the trenches. The RedBlacks have a lot of depth on both lines and this is particularly true on the offensive line. The concern for Ottawa is that even though their offense was very productive last season, they are relying on a lot of new incoming personnel at receiver this season. There are most certainly going to be some growing pains. Those growing pains aren’t exclusive to just one side of the ball either. On the other side, the defense is putting in a new system and has a lot of new personnel. Though the system will likely prove to be a good one for this unit, it will take time for everyone to get on the same page. If the defense jells quickly and the receivers are better than expected, the RedBlacks could challenge Hamilton for top spot in the East. However, if the transition takes longer than expected and there are struggles, Ottawa maybe in a battle just to stay one step ahead of Montreal in the East.
Toronto Argonauts – 9 wins projected. 9-9 last season. Give the Argos credit for finding a way last season but it is still hard to believe they won the Grey Cup after just a 9-9 regular season. Just as last year’s Cinderalla run was highly unlikely, a repeat is even more unlikely as there has only been one of those in the past 20 seasons! Big chances for the coaching staff as Marc Trestman (in just his 2nd year as head coach) has a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator. This is particularly concerning on the defensive side of the ball because the now-departed Corey Chamblin was regarded as one the top DCs in the league. Don’t be surprised if Toronto’s offense also loses a step (literally) with the departure of speedy receiver DeVier Posey. The Argonauts will struggle to match last season’s 9 win total and I expect little to no post-season noise for them even though they play in the weaker East Division.
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