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CFL EASTERN DIVISIONPREVIEW COURTESY OF RANDALL THE HANDLE & MAJOR STATS
2003 CFL PREVIEW - Eastern Division
by Randall the Handle
For many, the Canadian Football League acts as an appetizer for its American counterpart, as the National Football League does not begin its season until September. For others, the CFL is a wide-open and exciting brand of the game that provides endless entertainment. Whatever the case, the 2003 season is upon us and here is a breakdown of what we might expect:
Last year's champions do not appear to be as dominating as they were last season but with the Eastern division being the weaker conference, the Alouettes could still be the superior squad in this grouping. The loss of nine quality starters leaves some serious questions that will need to be answered on the field. While Don Matthews is the winningist coach in league history, it will be interesting to see how he copes with the loss of skilled position players such as running backs Lawrence Phillips (signed by Calgary), Mike Pringle (released and signed by Edmonton) and Thomas Haskins (signed with Edmonton, out for season from brain surgery). In addition, the receiver corp. was depleted with the departures of Pat Woodcock (Wash., NFL) and Keith Stokes (Miami, NFL). Quarterback Anthony Calvillo remains one of the league's top pivots and the acquisition of C Paul Lambert (from Hamilton) will improve the offensive line but it will also be a test to replace last year's offensive co-coordinator Jim Barker (now head coach in Calgary) and having to implement a new system in Barker's absence. Despite all the changes that the Als have encountered this off-season, there is enough talent on this team to lead the division and we expect them to do just that.
Randall's Odds to win Grey Cup: 3-1
Never a dull moment in Argoland and this year is no different. Reports of Toronto's difficult financial situation has dominated the headlines lately but quietly, this could be one of the most improved teams in the league. The CFL's top running back in 2001, Michael Jenkins, returns after a stint with the Houston Texans of the NFL. The Argos have revamped there receiving game with several off-season signings such as Alfred Jackson (B.C.) , Tony Miles (Hamilton), Jimmy Oliver (Ottawa). With players such as Mookie Mitchell, Adrion Smith, Orlando Steinauer and Chad Folk still in the fold, the Argonauts look strong on paper. After much speculation, Damon Allen has become an Argonaut and that was a glaring weakness that Toronto needed to repair. Allen, now 40, may not be as fleet of foot as he once was but he still has the savvy and tools to lead this potentially lethal offence. Allen is certainly an upgrade over the distraught Reggie Slack who now looks like he is out of the Toronto picture altogether. Allen has just arrived but shouldn't take long to learn the Argo playbook as Allen is very familiar with offensive coordinator, Adam Rita. Allen will also have the luxury of teaming up with one of his favourite receivers from the Lions in receiver Alfred Jackson. There is enough talent on this team to contend. Coach Mike "Pinball" Clemons has been able to get more from less. Now with Allen in the fold and a productive off-season acquiring some proficiency, the Boatmen are more than capable of contending in this division.
Randall's Odds to win Grey Cup: 7-1
After their return to the CFL last season, the Ottawa Renegades are looking forward to a prosperous sophomore campaign. With a good football man in GM Eric Tillman leading the way, the Renegades could make some noise. While they may not be flashy, the Renegades will stick to fundamentals and approach the season with a quiet confidence instilled by veteran coach Joe Paopao. Having two players returning, both of whom suffered through injury filled 2002 campaigns, will help immensely as running back Darren Davis and linebacker Dave Thomas appear to be ready for the upcoming year. Both are impact players and are essential to the success of this young squad. Dan Crowley is slated as the starting quarterback and while the CFL veteran may not receive a lot of accolades, he has a quiet confidence and the ability to perform well. Unfortunately for Crowley, one of the areas of concern for this second-year squad is at the receiving position. After losing top receiver Jimmy Oliver to Toronto, the 'Gades are paper thin at that position. Canadian Dennis Montana may be looked upon as the go to guy but after inviting 11 hopefuls to training camp, the hope is that a couple of receivers will emerge. Possessing one of the top offensive lines in the country, led by veteran Mike Sutherland, will help ease some of the burden on Crowley's passing game as well as having ex-CFL great, Kent Austin as the team's new quarterback coach. Ottawa's defense should benefit from having a year under its belt. With an already strong linebacking corp., the team could surprise if they can improve on the corners and the hope is that a player like Wyoming's Eric Lee can provide that much needed enhancement. If all goes well, the Renegades second season could be a great one and they could finish as high as second place in this uncertain division.
Randall's Odds to win Grey Cup: 14-1
After finishing the 2002 season with a 7-11 record and losing almost their entire receiving team, there are plenty of challenges lying ahead for Ron Lancaster and his Tabbies. Incumbent quarterback Danny McManus has been erratic his past couple of seasons and now having to acquaint himself with some new receivers after the retirement of go-to-guy Darren Flutie and other reliables like Andrew Grigg and Tony Miles will not be an easy task. The Ti-Cats have invited 12 potential pass-catchers to camp, eight of whom are new faces. Things don't improve greatly in the running game. While Troy Davis is an adequate back, the team does not know who their starting fullback will be. With such uncertainty surrounding this offence, one can plainly see that this isn't exactly a squad to fear right now. On the bright side, the defence will be better with the return of one of the league's top defensive lineman as Joe Montford returns to Steeltown after a chaotic season with the Argos. His leadership and knowledge of the league will help all other members of the 'D' and that will be essential to a team that will be looking to its defence to remain competitive. Kicker Paul Osbaldiston returns after an injury-plagues season and having Ozzie back in good health is a positive for this squad. A veteran coach and an experienced quarterback will help keep this team in games but with all the challenges facing the Tiger-Cats, we don't see them finishing out of the basement in this division.
Randall's Odds to win Grey Cup: 20-1
Next week: The Western Division
551 Edmonton Eskimos +200
552 Winnipeg Blue Bombers +300
553 Montreal Alouettes +400
554 British Columbia Lions +600
555 Toronto Argonauts +500
556 Saskatchewan Roughriders +1200
557 Ottawa Renegades +1400
558 Hamilton Tigercats +1800
559 Calgary Stampeders +1500