We’re now just a week away from the kickoff to the 2017 CFL season! Last week, I previewed the four teams from the CFL’s East Division – Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto; this week I’ll be bringing you a quick overview of each of the five West Division teams. Reminder as well to those who are interested – I’ve started a weekly pick ’em pool if you feel like predicting game matchups this season – check it out at the link below if you haven’t already entered into this yet!
British Columbia Lions
Home Stadium: BC Place, Vancouver, BC (54,500)
Grey Cups: 6 (1964, 1985, 1994, 2000, 2006, 2011)
2016 Record: 12-6, 2nd in West Division; lost to Calgary in West Final
GM: Wally Buono
Head Coach: Wally Buono
Starting QB: Jonathon Jennings
- John Beck, QB (yes, he of former Washington Redacteds starters – no, he wasn’t good up here, either)
- Austin Collie, WR (Peypey’s favourite GRIT target from his Indy days!)
- Jim “Dirty Thirty” Young, WR/RB (first Canadian Interuniversity Sport [CIS] player drafted to the NFL – Minnesota Vikings, 1965, from Queen’s University. Also a great nickname, though I don’t know where it comes from.)
- Cameron Wake, DE (now currently ripping it up as the leading pass rusher for the Miami Dolphins, as we’ve seen the past several seasons)
Fun Facts: One of the main rivals of the BC Lions is actually the Montreal Alouettes, clear across the other side of the country; the two teams have a long-running Labour Day series that is similar to the game traditionally played between Toronto and Hamilton that same weekend. The Lions are also the first team from Western Canada to win a Grey Cup at home, in 1994, and also the only team to beat an American-based team in a Grey Cup, also in 1994 against the Baltimore Stallions.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: When Wally Buono returned to the sidelines after former head coach Jeff Tedford resigned following a 7-11 2015 campaign, the Lions’ fortunes dramatically improved. The team finished with a 12-6 record, good enough for second overall in the league; not only that, but they were also responsible for one of just two total Calgary regular-season losses last year. Now entering his third season at the helm, starting QB Jonathon Jennings shows both a very strong arm as well as the ability to break free from the pocket and run with speed and dexterity, but in order to further take steps forward this year, he’ll need to cut down on his interceptions – he threw 15 last season, the most in the CFL – and show an ability to read defences more thoroughly than what he’s demonstrated to date. On the defensive side, Solomon Elimimian leads the way at linebacker, though he’s missing a longtime partner in Adam Bighill, who’s signed with the New Orleans Saints. Bo Lokombo left for the Ravens, while further up on the DL, longtime starter Alex Bazzie left for the Arizona Cardinals. The D will also be missing Jabar Westerman, who left for Montreal in free agency. With over half the 2016 defensive starters now gone in one way or another, DC Mark Washington will have a lot of work to do in order to see a unit as strong as last year’s was for the Lions.
Key Additions: WR Chris Williams (FA), DE DeQuin Evans (FA), DB Matt Bucknor, Buddy Jackson (FA)
Key Subtractions: LB Adam Bighill, Bo Lokombo (released to NFL), DT Alex Bazzie (released to NFL), DL Jabar Westerman (FA)
2017 Record Prediction: 11-7
Home Stadium: McMahon Stadium, Calgary, AB (35,400)
Grey Cups: 7 (1948, 1971, 1992, 1998, 2001, 2008, 2014)
2016 Record: 15-2-1, 1st in West Division; lost to Ottawa in Grey Cup
GM: John Hufnagel
Head Coach: Dave Dickenson
Starting QB: Bo Levi Mitchell
- Doug Flutie, QB (won the 1992 Grey Cup as the starter)
- Jeff Garcia, QB (played 1994-98, won the 1998 Grey Cup, and was a 4-time All-Star before jumping to the San Francisco 49ers)
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (was on the 1995 practise roster as a LB)
Fun Facts: The 1948 Stampeders are the only professional Canadian football team to ever have a perfect season, when they went 12-0 and won the Grey Cup in Toronto against the Ottawa Rough Riders; the celebrations were so epic that they had a giant pancake breakfast on the steps of Toronto’s City Hall and were even riding horses through the lobby of that city’s famous Royal York hotel.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: After one of the most impressive regular seasons in recent CFL history, Calgary went into the Grey Cup looking like runaway favourites; unfortunately, after going down by 17 points early and tying the game late in the 4th quarter, they couldn’t get the job done in overtime, allowing Ottawa to take home their first title in 40 years and leaving a lot of bitter tastes in fans’ mouths back home. Fortunately for the Stampeders, there’s a lot to be positive about for the coming season, as almost all of the key pieces from last season’s dominant team are back in place for 2017, including QB Bo Levi Mitchell, RB Jerome Messam, and receivers Marquay McDaniel and DaVaris Daniels. Even in a strong West Division, the first-round playoff bye remains the Stamps’ to lose this year. One of the only real questions facing the Stamps this season will be who ends up earning the backup QB slot behind Mitchell – Andrew Buckley, who saw a number of looks as the short-yardage and QB-sneak package guy last season, is a graduate of the University of Calgary and a very strong candidate, but Calgary also signed Mitchell Gale to compete for the job, and Gale, who saw some extended time as a starter last season in Saskatchewan when Darian Durant went down to injury, has also played very well to date in pre-season.
Key Additions: QB Mitchell Gale (FA), WR Rory Kohlert (FA), DT Bryan Hall (FA)
Key Subtractions: QB Drew Tate (trade), OL Derek Dennis (FA), Karl Lavoie (retired), DB Matt Bucknor, Adam Berger (FA), LB Glenn Love (FA), WR Bakari Grant (FA), DL Zach Minter (FA)
2017 Record Prediction: 13-5
Home Stadium: Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, AB (56,302)
Grey Cups: 14 (1954, 1955, 1956, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003, 2005, 2015)
2016 Record: 10-8, 4th in West Division, crossed over to East Division playoffs; lost to Ottawa in East Final
GM: Ed Hervey
Head Coach: Jason Maas
Starting QB: Mike Reilly
- Warren Moon, QB (longtime Houston Oilers QB and 5-time Grey Cup winner, 2-time Grey Cup MOP, 1983 CFL MOP)
- Henry “Gizmo” Williams, RB (5’6″, 185 lbs, a forerunner to Darren Sproles & Devin Hester – one of the greatest kick returners in CFL history with 31 kick return touchdowns – 26 punts, 2 kickoffs, and 3 on missed FGs)
- Chris Getzlaf, WR (currently on the roster; brother of NHL Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf)
Fun Facts: The Eskimos won 5 straight Grey Cups between 1978-82, and this streak of dominance is considered to be the best that the CFL and all of Canadian football has ever seen in its history. The team also made the playoffs in 34 consecutive years between 1972-2005, a feat no other team has equalled in any North American pro sports league. Commonwealth Stadium is the largest stadium in the CFL, and is also the traditional home of the Canadian national soccer teams due to its size and its use of a real grass field until 2009.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: Edmonton had one of the best offences in the league last season, but didn’t get their act together on D until rather late in the season; this year, the second under head coach Jason Maas’ command, the D will hopefully be able to have a stronger start, but the offence has taken a notable hit with the departure of one of the Esks’ top receivers, Derel Walker, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Esks have a few in-house candidates who they’re hoping will be able to step up to try and replaces Walker’s 1500+ total yards, but for now, that’s a notable hole at wideout for sure. Still, with Mike Reilly at quarterback, the Eskimos have the 2016 MOP, and that’s not nothing.
Key Additions: LB Corey Greenwood (FA), DT Euclid Cummings (FA), RB Travon Van, Kendial Lawrence (FA), DE Aston Whiteside (FA), DB Andrew Lue (FA)
Key Subtractions: WR Derel Walker (released to NFL), RB Shakir Bell, Aaron Milton (FA)
2017 Record Prediction: 10-8
Home Stadium: New Mosaic Stadium, Regina, SK (33,000, expandable to 40,000)
Grey Cups: 4 (1966, 1989, 2007, 2013)
2016 Record: 5-13, 5th in West Division; missed playoffs
GM: Chris Jones
Head Coach: Chris Jones
Starting QB: One of Kevin Glenn or Vince Young. I really, really really hope it’s VY just for nostalgia’s sake.
- Ron Lancaster, QB/DE (led Riders to the 1966 Grey Cup; 4 time CFL All-Star, 2-time CFL MOP)
- George Reed, RB (9-time CFL All-Star, 1965 CFL MOP, CFL record-holder for rushing TDs with 134)
Fun Facts: The Roughriders are one of only two CFL teams currently owned by community shareholders. They are the #3 overall sports team in Canada in merchandise sales, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians. Until 2013, you could joke about my alma mater, the Queen’s University Golden Gaels (Kingston, ON) having won the same number of Grey Cups (3) as the Roughriders, despite not playing for the trophy since the 1920s. Finally, it’s very easy to upset Ottawa fans about the Rough Riders/Roughriders controversy of the 20th century, especially since Saskatchewan lawyers blocked the new expansion team in Ottawa from taking their old name back (WE HAD IT FIRST DAMMIT!).
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: Last season was Chris Jones’ first as the head coach and GM of the Riders, and considering their overall record, it didn’t go exactly as planned… true, their was a lot of roster turnover that comes along with the usual changing of the guard in the football ops department, but a lack of defensive talent plus a variety of injuries on the offensive side of the ball prevented the Riders from being better last season. This year, they’ll enter late June with a brand-new, gorgeous stadium, a new starting quarterback (which remains to be decided still) and a number of new faces once again; the team will also be mourning the loss of RB Joe McKnight, the former Jet who was signed to become the starter midway through last year. McKnight was shot to death in a road rage incident outside of New Orleans in late December 2016. There’s a lot of change surrounding this team, but with a loud and passionate fanbase, expectations still remain high, even for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014. The QB position is probably the hardest to determine at this point in training camps, with just over a week to go for Saskatchewan to make a final decision. Kevin Glenn and Vince Young were expected to duke it out for the #1 job, but with Young tearing a hamstring in practise and likely missing 4-6 weeks of action, plus with projected #3 Brandon Bridge playing excellently in pre-season action against Winnipeg, the Roughriders have some difficult decisions ahead of them in the coming weeks.
Key Additions: QB Kevin Glenn, Vince Young, Brandon Bridge (FA), LB Glenn Love (FA), WR Bakari Grant, Chad Owens (FA), DT Zach Minter (FA), OL Ryan White, Derek Dennis (FA)
Key Subtractions: RB Joe McKnight (death), DT Corvey Irvin (FA), OL Andrew Jones (released), DB Andrew Lue (FA)
2017 Record Prediction: 7-11
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Home Stadium: Investors Group Field, Winnipeg, MB (33,500)
Grey Cups: 10 (1935, 1939, 1941, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1984, 1988, 1990)
2015 Record: 11-7, 3rd in West Division; lost to BC in West Semifinal
GM: Kyle Walters
Head Coach: Mike O’Shea
Starting QB: Matt Nichols
- Milt Stegall, WR (played 3 seasons in the NFL for the Bengals before coming north to WPG, where he holds the CFL record for all-time touchdowns with 144; also a 9-time CFL All-Star but never won a Grey Cup)
- Tom Clements, QB (won 1976 Grey Cup with the Ottawa Rough Riders, as well as the 1984 Grey Cup with the Bombers; currently serving as the Green Bay Packers’ assistant head coach)
Fun Facts: The Blue Bombers are owned by a community-based collective, in extremely similar fashion to the Green Bay Packers, and are the second of two CFL teams still with this model of ownership. They were also the first team not from Ontario or Quebec to win a Grey Cup, with their initial 1935 victory.
The Training Camp Scuttlebutt: With a defense that led the league in interceptions last season, and after finally cutting ties with longtime underachieving quarterback Drew Willy in a trade to Toronto, the Bombers’ resurgence surprised many last year, especially since the team now has the longest Grey Cup drought in the CFL (no titles since 1990). With receiver Weston Dressler now having a reliable arm for him to catch passes from in Matt Nichols, and with a very shrewd signing in versatile hybrid running back Andrew Harris, the offence had a new dynamic that it had lacked for a number of years previously. The big questions for this year will be whether the Bombers’ secondary can be as productive in coverage as they were last season, and if Winnipeg can improve their record in close games, particularly in a West Division that’s going to be a dogfight once again.
Key Additions: DT Corvey Irvin (FA), WR Matt Coates (FA), QB Dan LeFevour (FA)
Key Subtractions: WR Rory Kohlert (FA), DT Euclid Cummings (FA), LB Khalil Bass (FA)
2017 Record Prediction: 10-8