Big cats scratch out high marks

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

The long CFL off-season is almost over, and teams will soon begin to see just how good their work over the last six months really was.

Franchises always have unique needs to address, and that was quite evident this past winter. The Edmonton Eskimos, for example, blew up their roster, while others, like the B.C. Lions, did a little tinkering here and there.

No one can truly know for sure in late May if they have assembled the talent to win the Grey Cup -- but it doesn't stop us from offering our best guess.

Here is quick glance at each CFL team's off-season and our grade for their work.

EAST DIVISION

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

The Tabbies appeared to improve despite posting their second straight 9-9 season, but they lost the East semifinal at home to Toronto. That led to quite the off-season in Steeltown, with plenty of player movement in the southern Ontario city.

Marcel Bellefeuille is still the main man, but both his coordinators are new. Khari Jones got a promotion to take over for Mike Gibson on offence, while Corey Chamblin replaces Greg Marshall on defence.

WHO'S IN: RB Avon Cobourne (FA, Montreal); LB Renauld Williams (FA, Saskatchewan); OL Wayne Smith (FA, Saskatchewan); K Justin Medlock (trade, Edmonton)

WHO'S OUT: DE Garrett McIntyre (NFL, New York Jets); LB Otis Floyd (released); RB DeAndra' Cobb (released, signed in Montreal); K Sandro DeAngelis (released); DB Geoff Tisdale (FA, Calgary); DT Jermaine Reid (FA, Edmonton)

KEY RETURNEES: LB Markeith Knowlton; KR Marcus Thigpen; QB Kevin Glenn; SB Dave Stala; LB Jamall Johnson

WINTER GRADE: B+

They trimmed the fat, so to speak, but lost a few decent players in Tisdale, Reid and McIntyre. Williams is a solid pickup at middle linebacker, and it'll be interesting to see if Cobourne can produce at a high level. Two new co-ordinators with no previous co-ordinating experience is a bit of a gamble, but Jones and Chamblin are respected minds.

MONTREAL ALOUETTES

What more can you say about the Als? They cruised through the regular season with a 12-6 mark and then proceeded to win their second straight Grey Cup title over the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke left to take the same role with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, so the Alouettes promoted linebackers coach Tim Tibesar to replace him. Head coach Marc Trestman is 38-16 in his three years as Als head coach.

WHO'S IN: WR Jerry Porter; RB Ahman Green; WR Prechae Rodriguez; CB Dwight Anderson (FA, Calgary); RB DeAndra' Cobb (released by Hamilton); K Sean Whyte (trade, B.C.); DT Kitwana Jones (FA, Saskatchewan); RB Yvenson Bernard (FA, Winnipeg)

WHO'S OUT: SB Ben Cahoon (retired); WR Andrew Hawkins (NFL, St. Louis); OL Paul Lambert (released); RB Avon Cobourne (FA, Hamilton); S Matthieu Proulx (retired); QB Chris Leak (FA, Saskatchewan)

KEY RETURNEES: QB Anthony Calvillo; WR Jamel Richardson; DE Anwar Stewart; LB Chip Cox; OL Josh Bourke; DB Jerald Brown

WINTER GRADE: B-

Cahoon's retirement leaves the Als without one of the CFL's greats and Calvillo's go-to guy when a first down was needed, but it's not like they're losing a lot of production there. A big question mark will be their running game. But hey, these are the Als. They'll find a way.

TORONTO ARGONAUTS

The Boatmen (9-9) were much greater than the sum of their parts thanks in large part to special teams success, but the clock struck midnight against the powerful Alouettes in the East final.

Coach of the year Jim Barker is back to work his magic once again with the same staff, but this year he has the general manager duties as well after Adam Rita wasn't invited back.

WHO'S IN: S Wes Lysack (FA, Calgary); QB Steven Jyles (trade, Winnipeg); DT Miguel Robede (trade, Calgary), WR P.K. Sam (trade, Calgary)

WHO'S OUT: DT Eric Taylor (FA, B.C.); DT Adriano Belli (retired); P Jamie Boreham (released); WR Reggie McNeal (trade, Calgary)

KEY RETURNEES: RB Cory Boyd; KR Chad Owens; DE Ronald Flemons; DT Kevin Huntley; WR Jeremaine Copeland; LB Kevin Eiben; OL Rob Murphy

WINTER GRADE: C+

They probably could have used a bigger injection of talent, but getting quarterback Steven Jyles was a step in the right direction. He may not win 14 games, but he is probably a step up from Cleo Lemon. The interior of the defensive line is a question mark.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

The new Blue and Gold regime, led by GM Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice, went younger in 2010, and it showed on the field when the team posted a 4-14 record -- three fewer wins than Mike Kelly managed in 2009.

The only off-season change was at defensive co-ordinator. Kavis Reed left to become the head coach in Edmonton, so LaPolice scored Tim Burke, the defensive co-ordinator from the two-time defending champion Alouettes. Defensive line coach Richard Harris was promoted to assistant head coach as well.

WHO'S IN: DE Shawn Mayne (FA, Montreal).

WHO'S OUT: DE Phillip Hunt (NFL, Philadelphia Eagles); QB Steven Jyles (trade to Toronto); WR Brock Ralph (released); OL Luke Fritz (released); RB Yvenson Bernard (FA, Montreal).

KEY RETURNEES: SB Terrence Edwards, CB Jovon Johnson, DT Doug Brown, OL Brendon LaBatte, RB Fred Reid, QB Buck Pierce

WINTER GRADE: D+

While every other team added players with plenty of pro experience, the Bombers obviously believe their eye for new talent is pretty good. That's risky. So is trading away Steven Jyles, an experienced backup quarterback behind injury-prone starter in Buck Pierce.

WEST DIVISION

B.C. LIONS

The Leos scuffled when Casey Printers was still in the picture, but they found their quarterback of the future in Travis Lulay, who guided the team to an 8-10 record and almost beat Saskatchewan in the West semifinal.

The only off-season departure was defensive line coach Rich Stubler, who left to become Kavis Reed's defensive co-ordinator in Edmonton. Kelly Bates, released by the Edmonton Eskimos, joined Wally Buono's staff as an offensive assistant.

WHO'S IN: DT Eric Taylor (FA, Toronto); OL Ben Archibald (FA, Calgary)

WHO'S OUT: WR Emmanuel Arceneaux (NFL, Minnesota Vikings); OL Sherko Haji-Rasouli (released); S Tad Crawford (FA, Montreal); KR Yonus Davis (released); K Sean Whyte (trade, Montreal); WR O'Neil Wilson (released)

KEY RETURNEES: QB Travis Lulay; SB Geroy Simon; RB Jamal Robertson; K Paul McCallum; LB Korey Banks; DE Keron Williams; LB Solomon Elimimian

WINTER GRADE: A

The loss of Arceneaux will hurt, as will the forced release of stud kick returner Yonus Davis, who ran into legal trouble. Other than that, the Lions appear to be on the upswing after a strong finish to 2010. The addition of Archibald, the CFL's top offensive lineman last year, will only help.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

The Red and White were on top of the world, posting the best regular-season record of 13-5, but they watched it all come crashing down with a loss at home in the West final to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

John Hufnagel didn't do too much to his staff, officially naming Dave Dickenson the offensive co-ordinator and adding former Ticats OC Mike Gibson as the running backs boss. Chris Jones remains in charge of the defence.

WHO'S IN: KR Larry Taylor (formerly of Montreal); DB Geoff Tisdale (FA, Hamilton); WR Reggie McNeal (trade, Toronto); LB Tim St. Pierre (FA, Edmonton)

WHO'S OUT: CB Dwight Anderson (FA, Montreal); OL Ben Archibald (FA, B.C.); DT Tom Johnson (NFL, New Orleans); CB Brandon Browner (NFL, Seattle); WR Ryan Thelwell (retired); RB Jesse Lumsden (retired); DT Tearrius George (FA, Saskatchewan); DT Mike Labinjo (released)

KEY RETURNEES: QB Henry Burris; RB Joffrey Reynolds; WR Romby Bryant; WR Ken-Yon Rambo; LB Juwan Simpson; OL Dimitri Tsoumpas; SB Nik Lewis

WINTER GRADE: B-

They lost their two starting cornerbacks in Browner and Anderson, so securing Tisdale's services was a must. The Stamps also addressed a need with the addition of Taylor, but quite a bit of talent still vacated Cowtown.

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

It was a year to forget in the City of Champions, as they landed in the basement of the West Division with a 7-11 mark and head coach Richie Hall was fired at season's end.

GM Eric Tillman tapped old friend Kavis Reed to replace Hall. The former Bombers defensive co-ordinator filled his staff with notable names, including Rich Stubler (defensive co-ordinator), Marcus Crandell (offensive coordinator) and Rick Campbell (special teams).

WHO'S IN: WR Adarius Bowman; CB Donovan Alexander (released by Saskatchewan); WR Chris Bauman (released by Hamilton); DT Jermaine Reid (FA, Hamilton); DT Marcus Adams (released by Saskatchewan)

WHO'S OUT: DB Jason Goss (released); LB Mark Restelli (NFL, Miami); QB Jason Maas (retired); LB Maurice Lloyd (released); DE Kai Ellis (released); KR Tristan Jackson (trade, Saskatchewan); K Justin Medlock (trade, Hamilton); T Dario Romero (released, signed in Saskatchewan); WR Andre Talbot (retired); DE Adam Braidwood (released); SB Kamau Peterson (released); QB Jared Zabransky (released)

KEY RETURNEES: QB Ricky Ray; SB Fred Stamps; LB T.J. Hill; RB Daniel Porter; DB Chris Thompson; RB Arkee Whitlock; RB Calvin McCarty

WINTER GRADE: B

Tillman didn't just tinker here and there; he took a chainsaw to the Eskimos roster and went to town. He jettisoned a large chunk of veteran talent, but was it too much, too soon? Probably not the way the Esks have played the last few seasons.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

They finished second in the West Division at 10-8, turned it on in the post-season and reached their second straight Grey Cup. It wasn't as devastating a loss as the year before, but they still fell to the mighty Alouettes.

Ken Miller decided he'd had enough of the sidelines, so he moved upstairs and let Greg Marshall finally get a crack at being a head coach. Richie Hall returned to be the defensive co-ordinator, while Doug Berry remains in charge of the point getters.

WHO'S IN: OL Alexandre Gauthier (released by Hamilton); OL George Hudson (FA, Hamilton); DT Tearrius George (FA, Calgary); KR Tristan Jackson (trade, Edmonton); DT Dario Romero (released by Edmonton); QB Chris Leak (FA, Montreal)

WHO'S OUT: SB Andy Fantuz (NFL, Chicago); OL Jeremy O'Day (retired); DT Marcus Adams (released); LB Daniel Francis (FA, Hamilton); LB Renauld Williams (FA, Hamilton); CB Omarr Morgan (released); DT Kitwana Jones (FA, Montreal)

KEY RETURNEES: QB Darian Durant; SB Weston Dressler; S James Patrick; OL Gene Makowsky; OL Dan Goodspeed; RB Wes Cates; LB Barrin Simpson

WINTER GRADE: C+

The loss of Andy Fantuz to the Chicago Bears is a hit; the rest of the departures don't look like they'll have a major impact. As for the newcomers, GM Brendan Taman went the veteran route and added several players north of 30. The core is solid, but will the new pieces make an impact?


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