With CFL training camps set to open Sunday, here’s a look at some of the storylines for each team before the 2016 regular season kicks off June 23.
What’s old is new again for the Lions. Wally Buono, the CFL’s all-time leader in coaching wins, returns to the sidelines for the first time since 2011. Buono, also the team’s general manager and vice-president of football operations, inked quarterback Jonathon Jennings to a contract extension following a breakout rookie season. Veteran QB Travis Lulay also remains in the fold, but perhaps the most interesting battle in camp will be who the Lions choose to replace running back Andrew Harris after he signed with Winnipeg. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian’s health will also be something to watch. The league’s most outstanding player two years ago had his 2015 season cut short by a ruptured Achilles tendon as B.C. stumbled to a 7-11 record.
The Stampeders also have a familiar face taking over head coaching duties. Dave Dickenson will begin his first camp in charge after John Hufnagel, who remains the club’s president and GM, stepped aside. A former Stampeders quarterback, Dickenson was Calgary’s offensive co-ordinator the last five seasons after two as a position coach. The club finished 14-4 in 2015, but lost to Edmonton in the West Division final. Eric Rogers, last season’s leading receiver in the CFL, signed with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers so quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell needs a new No. 1 target.
The theme of a new coach continues with the reigning Grey Cup champions. Former Eskimos QB Jason Maas, the offensive co-ordinator in Ottawa last season, was hired after Chris Jones bolted to Saskatchewan. Under the leadership of quarterback and Grey Cup MVP Mike Reilly, the Eskimos finished 14-4 last season and are looking to become the CFL’s first repeat winners since Montreal won its second straight title in 2010.
Hamilton made it to last season’s East Division final despite losing star quarterback Zach Collaros to a serious knee injury. The Tiger-Cats, who finished 10-8 in 2015, will also have to do without Collaros to begin this season as he continues his recovery. The battle for the starting job in the interim should be the most interesting camp duel with either Jeremiah Masoli or Jeff Mathews likely getting the nod.
Quarterback will also be the focus for the Alouettes as Montreal looks to rebound from a dismal 6-12 mark. The club has a number of capable QBs on the roster, including veteran Kevin Glenn. Montreal signed Vernon Adams, a former star at the University of Oregon, to a three-year contract after acquiring his rights from the Lions last week. The Alouettes still have Rakeem Cato, who started four of the club’s six wins in 2015, as well as Jonathan Crompton, last year’s Week 1 starter.
The Redblacks shocked the CFL by making it all the way to the Grey Cup in just their second year of existence. Ottawa went from 2-16 in 2014 to 12-6 in 2015 thanks in large part to the resurgence of Henry Burris. The veteran quarterback was named the CFL’s most outstanding player after leading the league in passing yardage with a stellar group of receivers. Will he be able to keep it going? The Redblacks signed former Argos pivot Trevor Harris for insurance now and to be the club’s quarterback of the future.
The Riders finished a CFL-worst 3-15 in a 2015 season that seemed lost as soon quarterback Darian Durant went down in Week 1 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Durant is back healthy for a club that lured Chris Jones away from Edmonton to put his stamp on the franchise as its head coach, general manager and vice-president of football operations. Another intriguing storyline will be whether or not Saskatchewan comes to terms with former University of Oklahoma offensive lineman Josiah St. John, the first overall pick in the CFL draft.
The Argonauts are hopeful that quarterback Ricky Ray’s shoulder issues are behind him after he missed the first half of last season’s 10-8 campaign. Toronto upgraded its offensive line by signing Canadian tackle Josh Bourke from Montreal, but there will be a different look in the receiving corps and return game after Chad Owens left for Hamilton. The biggest news this season is the club’s move out of Rogers Centre to BMO Field. The Argonauts play their first pre-season game in their new digs on June 11.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Fans in Winnipeg were bitterly disappointed after the club stumbled to a 5-13 mark in 2015, missing the playoffs in a year when the city hosted the Grey Cup. The Bombers made a splash in the off-season by signing Winnipeg native Andrew Harris from B.C. to lead the team’s running attack. Winnipeg also added former Saskatchewan slotback Weston Dressler in free agency. But like all teams, quarterback health will be paramount to the Bombers’ success as Drew Willy returns from a broken leg and knee injury that cut last season short.