Calgary Stampeders secondary coach Tim Burke was thrilled with his unit's potential when training camp opened two weeks ago.
Fourteen days of workouts and one pre-season game hasn't done anything to dampen that enthusiasm.
That promise is continuing to materialize among the crop of stingy ball-hawks, while it appears only one of five starters from 2004 -- import halfback Joey Boese -- will retain his job under the new regime.
Boese, second in the league last year with 91 defensive tackles, looks to have earned a return engagement in an all-American backfield, while four newcomers will take to the field for the season opener July 1.
Pencil in Ben Kelly and Jermaine Chatman at the corners -- although returnee Nate Terry is still battling to retain his position -- while free-agent acquisition Anthony Malbrough has lived up to all of the expectations at field halfback.
Don McGee looks to have locked up the safety spot, while Canadian halfback Pascal Masson and non-import safety Stephane Fortin should earn backup roles at halfback and safety, respectively.
"We're very athletic at the corners, improved our athleticism at the field halfback and free safety," said Burke, in his first year with the Stampeders.
"Athletically, we're faster and quicker and I'm hoping we're more assignment sharp.
"I just think Chatman and Kelly, through the course of practices and games, have exhibited an innate ability to make plays."
Burke said although Thursday's pre-season contest in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions could swing his evaluations, the re-tooled defensive backfield has definitely been upgraded for 2005.
"We have the B.C. game to go and, from there, we'll pick two of the three and hopefully keep the other one on the practice roster," Burke said.
Burke needs to decide between Terry, the incumbent boundary corner, and former 2000 NFL first-round draft pick Rashard Anderson for backup roles and practice roster.
Canadian Damony Simmonds is on the bubble.
"At halfback, we have Malbrough, who's an excellent player. Boese is another excellent player. Those guys are pretty well set at those positions," Burke said.
"Pascal Masson could be a starter with other teams in the league and I know he could and eventually he'll start here in Calgary.
"I think we'll see him play a lot during the season spelling guys -- go in for a series for Malbrough, then a series for Boese -- then come back later and do the same thing.
"Fortin has come in and although he hasn't played a game for us yet ... he's very smart and really knows the game," he added.
"He's a guy who will be battling Don McGee, who's leading right now at free safety."