Pre-season scouting report

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 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?

Continuing with the Eastern Division, Toth looks at the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts today:

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ALS COPE WITH CHANGE

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ALOUETTES

2004 RECORD -- 14-4

FIRST IN EAST DIVISION

LOST IN EAST FINAL TO ARGOS

Despite having their roster raided in the off-season, the Montreal Alouettes are on the road to recovery in time to avenge their loss in last year's CFL East final.

Thanks to GM Jim Popp, the Als are expected to battle for first place in the East again this year despite losing two 1,000-yard receivers and their starting tailback while a number of defensive stars have also moved on.

Wide receiver Jeremaine Copeland signed as a free agent with the Stampeders while receiver Thyron Anderson and running back Autry Denson will chase the NFL dream.

So, Popp got on the phone.

"I've got to think a year ahead of time," Popp said in the recent state-of-the-franchise teleconference.

"When I look at guys like Copeland and knew what kind of money they can demand, I started looking."

Popp acquired veteran receiver Terry Vaughn from Edmonton and a gaggle of former NFL speed merchants to compete for spots once occupied by Copeland and Anderson.

Popp also added former Toronto back Michael Jenkins, who claims he's fully recovered from a foot injury.

Three key performers on defence have also moved on, with Canadian CB Davis Sanchez (Edmonton) and import safety Barron Miles (B.C.) leaving as free agents while non-import safety Will Loftus was dealt to Edmonton.

In their place, Popp signed DBs Serge Sejour (Ottawa) and Darrel Crutchfield (Edmonton).

The multiple moves have left head coach Don Matthews beaming at the prospect of returning to the East final in 2005.

"The MVP of our football operations has got to be Jim Popp because he has always brought in outstanding football players," he said.

"And the players he has brought in are very much in demand."

The Als will retain slotback Ben Cahoon and wideout Kwame Cavil while Matthews is claiming veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo could push five pass-catchers over the 1,000-yard mark this season.

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HELLO, GOODBYE

ADDED -- RB Michael Jenkins (NFL), WR Terry Vaughn (Edmonton), RB Mike Villimek (Ottawa), CB Serge Sejour (Ottawa), DB Darrel Crutchfield (Edmonton) DL Phil Gibson (Sask.)

GONE -- WR Jeremaine Copeland (Calgary), DB Barron Miles (B.C.), DB Davis Sanchez (Edmonton), OL Sherko Haji-Rasouli (B.C.), RB Bruno Heppell (Retired), DB D.J. Johnson (NFL), WR Thyron Anderson (NFL), DB William Loftus (Edmonton), K Matt Kellett (Ottawa).

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ARGOS HOPE TO HOG MARKET

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ARGONAUTS

2004 RECORD -- 10-7-1

SECOND IN EAST DIVISION

WON THE GREY CUP

The Toronto Argos are experiencing a modest resurgence at the box office, thanks to a Grey Cup title and renewed faith in ownership.

Although a season-ticket base pushing past the 10,000 mark would be a huge disappointment in many CFL centres, the Argos are proudly boasting totals three times greater than what owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon inherited a little more than a year ago.

The team's championship run last fall coupled with heightened CFL interest in Hogtown also has head coach Michael (Pinball) Clemons' arguing Argos tickets will be a hot item this year. Pinball claims his Argos could even find themselves competing with the currently dormant Maple Leafs, darling's of the Toronto sports market.

"The Maple Leafs are so deeply entrenched into the fibre of our community and really the nation, that maybe we can't be a hotter ticket than them but I'll die trying," Clemons said in a recent state-of-the-franchise teleconference.

"But even if we get into the area of being able to compete in that stratosphere with the other teams that are in our marketplace, I think we're heading in the right direction and that has to be our goal."

Despite reports the Argos were interested in quarterback Ricky Ray before he chose to re-sign with Edmonton, Toronto GM Adam Rita has chosen to essentially stick with last year's lineup, making few off-season changes.

Damon Allen, who turns 42 this season, will run the offence once again while the Argos recently announced the signing of former Brigham Young pivot Charlie Peterson.

Meanwhile, there is some concern whether backup Michael Bishop will be in camp to honour the final year of his contract.

Although Allen seems immune to aging, the Argos' fate will be in the ancient pivot's hands in 2005 and that has to be of some concern.

The Argos are also expected to have former Calgary Stampeders non-import receiver Brian Nugent in camp. The Ontario-born product was drafted by the Stamps in the first round of the 2002 Canadian college draft but was released the following spring due to disciplinary issues.

The Argos have also beefed up their defence with the addition of NFL castoff Riall Johnson, a 27-year-old linebacker/rush end.

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HELLO, GOODBYE

ADDED -- DE Riall Johnson (NFL), QB Charlie Peterson, R Brian Nugent (Montreal), DB Jason Horton (NFL), OL Brian Crawford (NFL).

GONE -- OL Sandy Annunziata (Edmonton)


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