CFL Season Preview: Setting the stage for 2009 Staff

6/17/2009 11:36:27 AM

It seems like only yesterday that CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon was presenting the Grey Cup to the Calgary Stampeders at a jam-packed Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Yet, here we are on the eve of another CFL season, that magical time of year when every team is undefeated with dreams that this could be the year.

Three new head coaches will make their CFL debuts this year, secure in the knowledge that last year's Grey Cup teams were led by rookie head coaches. Calgary's John Hufnagel and Montreal's Marc Trestman silenced all the critics that put a premium on experience as they led their teams to the ultimate game.

After years as the defensive architect in Regina, Richie Hall finally gets his chance as a head coach with the Edmonton Eskimos. With Ricky Ray at quarterback, free agent signing Jesse Lumsden at running back and Hall's proven defensive scheme, there is reason for optimism in the City of Champions.

Mike Kelly returns from Edmonton to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, where he has completely dismantled a team that disappointed many last year. Coming off a Grey Cup loss in 2007, much was expected but little was delivered last season. As a result, the Bombers offensive coordinator from 1992-96 was brought back to make changes and, needless to say, program sales should be brisk as Winnipeg fans get to know all the new faces.

And Bart Andrus heads north from the Tennessee Titans with great expectations in Toronto. Last season was a nightmare for the Argonauts as head coach Rich Stubler created a quarterback controversy and the defence got old real quick. But Andrus has been compared to Trestman, which bodes well in the Ontario capital.

Free agency allows teams to make instant upgrades and this offseason was no different for many teams that struggled in 2008. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts, who missed the playoffs last season, took the opportunity to make a splash. The Tiger-Cats signed blue-chippers OL Alexandre Gauthier and DL Brandon Guillory while the Argonauts landed offensive linemen Rob Murphy and Dominic Picard.

Other high-priced free agents that changed locations include Lumsden and LB Maurice Lloyd moving on to Edmonton and LB Anton McKenzie heading west to the B.C. Lions.

The old-fashioned trade also played a role in teams looking to shake things up heading into training camp. The Tiger-Cats acquired OL Dan Goodspeed from the Blue Bombers, who traded for QB Stefan LeFors, LB Siddeeq Shabazz as well as DBs James Johnson and Anthony Malbrough. The Eskimos acquired LB Kitwana Jones from the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Argonauts picked up LB Jason Pottinger from the Lions.

While some teams made significant gains, some took some hits to their rosters from players who took advantage of their option year to sign with NFL teams. The Lions lost two-time Most Outstanding Defensive Player DE Cameron Wake, RB Stefan Logan and LB Jamall Johnson to various teams, the Stampeders lost DE Charlseton Hughes to the Eagles, WR Kelly Campbell left the Eskimos for the Buccaneersand kick returner Dominique Dorsey signed with the Redskins.

Every team feels they are better prepared for this season but time will tell which ones made the right decisions and which ones will be watching the playoffs on TSN.

The season kicks off on TSN and TSN HD with a Canada Day doubleheader as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Toronto Argonauts at Ivor Wynne Stadium and the Calgary Stampeders hook up with the Montreal Alouettes in a rematch of last year's Grey Cup Game. All the action gets under way at 7pm et/4pm pt.

And don't forget to tune into the CFL on TSN Preview Show on Sunday, June 28 at 7pm et/4pm pt.