Pre-season scouting report

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

The 2005 Canadian Football League season is approaching as quickly as Stampeders linebacker John Grace closes in on opposition quarterbacks.

In Calgary, rookies report to McMahon Stadium Friday and the veterans Saturday, while training camp officially opens Sunday.

Meanwhile, the league's other eight teams also are making preparations for their pursuit of the Grey Cup.

Sun football writer Dan Toth presents daily scouting reports of the teams the Stampeders will face this season. Who are the contenders and the pretenders? Who's in rebuilding mode and who needs that one final player?

Moving west to east, Toth looks at the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers today:

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'RIDERS RAISING THE BAR

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ROUGHRIDERS

2004 RECORD -- 9-9,

THIRD IN WEST DIVISION

LOST TO LIONS IN WEST FINAL

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If it's true CFL teams are only as good as their quarterbacks, the 2005 Saskatchewan Roughriders are covered in question marks.

It may all work out in the end with the Roughies back in the playoffs come November. But only time will tell who will end up leading the offence.

After losing free-agent pivot Henry Burris to Calgary in the off-season, veteran Nealon Greene has been pencilled in as the starter but there's plenty of competition for the No. 1 spot in Regina.

Although free agent Marcus Crandell had fallen out of favour the past couple of seasons in Calgary, he could challenge Greene for the ball this season. Backup Rocky Butler is also still waiting in the wings after getting a brief chance to show his wares early last season when Burris and Greene were on the shelf.

The 'Riders are in fine shape at running back with Kenton Keith and Corey Holmes offering them the CFL's best 1-2 punch in the backfield, while wide receiver Matt Dominguez has signed long-term.

Gang Green's defence should again be a force in 2005, with a formidable pass rush and a solid secondary that should provide 'Riders offence many turnovers to capitalize on.

The 'Riders were on a roll late last season, winning their final five games, knocking off Edmonton in the West semi before a disappointing loss to the Lions in the West final.

And Roughriders GM Roy Shivers expects that roll to continue.

"I would expect us to go 12-6 or better," he said in a recent CFL state-of-the-franchise teleconference. "Our talent's as good or better than any team in the league. I expect us to win every ball game."

Seconding the motion is head coach Danny Barrett.

"Prior to last year, we were picked to be No. 1 in the West with Nealon as our starter and I don't know why that would change," said Barrett.

"And we have a proven entity in Crandell as well. Nealon will pick up where he left off last year. Expectations are always high here.

"Each year, we raise the bar on expectations for ourselves.

"But you've got to win to be successful in this league and we've got to get over the top."

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HELLO, GOODBYE

ADDED -- QB Marcus Crandell (Calgary), OL Tango McCauley (NFL), WR Ibrahim Tounkara (Hamilton), OL Antonio Hall (NFL), OL Doug Kaufusi (NFL).

GONE -- QB Henry Burris (Calgary), DB Lawrence Deck (Calgary), DL Phil Gibson (Montreal), OT Charles Thomas (NFL).

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BOMBERS BLOW IT UP REAL GOOD

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BLUE BOMBERS

2004 RECORD -- 7-11,

FOURTH IN WEST DIVISION

MISSED THE PLAYOFFS

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are odds-on favourites to finish dead last in the CFL West this season and it's easy to see why.

The B.C. Lions still boast the best QB tandem in Canada and the Edmonton Eskimos have re-signed pivot Ricky Ray.

Saskatchewan, despite losing QB Henry Burris, will still field a formidable squad while the new Stampeders organization has been aggressive in the free-agent market.

Then there's Winnipeg.

The Bombers finished fourth in the West last season with a 7-11 record, ahead of only Calgary, and have been a team rebuilding ever since Jim Daley replaced Dave Ritchie as head coach last season.

Understandably, the Bombers expect to swap out about a third of their starting lineup from the end of last season. And Bombers GM Brendan Taman is optimistic.

"We were just a couple of wins away from making it to the playoffs last year," he said during a recent state-of-the-franchise teleconference call.

"The West will be very competitive but, with the changes we've made, so will we."

The most significant transition is anointing Kevin Glenn the starting quarterback, stamped official with Khari Jones' trade to Calgary late last season.

"Sometimes it takes a year of working together (to mesh)," said Daley, who also has Tee Martin and Spurgon Wynn waiting in the wings. "It's very, very important in our case we have a starting point and a clear picture of who our quarterback is and it's Kevin Glenn."

The Bombers are expected to bring in as many as 13 offensive linemen for training camp and could start two imports there this season. The club still is also revamping its porous secondary, including the addition of cornerback Omar Evans and William Fields from Calgary, along with the late-season acquisition in 2004 of safety Wes Lysack.

The Bombers also have reason for optimism at the gate with expectations of some 18,500 season tickets sold for 2005.

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HELLO, GOODBYE

ADDED -- WR Wane McGarity (Calgary), OL Mike Abou-Mechrek (Ottawa), DB William Fields (Calgary), WR Dimitrius Breedlove (Hamilton), WR Vinny Sutherland (NFL), QB Spurgon Wynn (B.C.), LB Willie Fells (Calgary), LB Sean Woodson (Hamilton).

GONE -- WR Markus Howell (Ottawa), OL Moe Elewonibi (B.C.), DB Eric Carter (released).


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