The replacements

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

He lost his starting quarterback, his star running back, one of his best receivers and he has almost no time to prepare for the season.

So why is this man smiling?

University of Alberta Golden Bears football coach Jerry Friesen has every right to be worried, but one day into training camp and just two weeks before the regular-season opener against Vanier Cup finalist Saskatoon, he isn't.

OFFENCE HAS BEEN GUTTED

Even though his offensive skill positions have been gutted - QB Daryl Salmon has graduated, running back Jared Winkle is with the Eskimos and receiver Andrew Ginther is trying out with the Calgary Stampeders - Friesen thinks the Bears can be just as dangerous as the club that finished 7-1 last season.

"Sure, we've got some big shoes to fill, but the players look at it as an opportunity. They know the door is open,'' said Friesen, who believes the backups will make the most of it. "We have some players who have been here a couple of years but they just lack game experience.

"They know the system, now it's just a matter of getting all those firsts out of the way. It's just a matter of how quickly we can close that gap (between inexperience and confidence). But the players have responded really well.''

Traditionally, when a team loses its starting pivot, it takes time for the offence to recover, and it will again this time. How long remains to be seen.

"That's usually the challenge right there,'' said Friesen, who doesn't want to overwhelm Cam Linke out of the blocks. "With a new quarterback, you want to make sure you don't go too hard, too fast, too early. You want to make sure you have a good, solid base to start with because you don't have enough time, with only eight games in the season, to recover.''

And there isn't a lot of time to get ready ... for a season that's so short there's absolutely no room for error.

"That's the way it is in college football,'' he said. "Whether it's here or down south. You have to be ready when you're coming out of the gate. And with a short training camp, you don't have as much opportunity to install as much, so you deal more with execution. A lot of it is offence and defence installation, basic packaging so we get a good foundation.''

TOO EARLY TO TELL

It's a little early to tell how everything is going to shake down in the West, but Friesen has been around long enough to know he isn't the only coach who has to deal with change.

"With the whole CIS this year, there's a lot of teams in that transition phase. Not only personnel change but coaching changes. Everybody's going to be feeling themselves out for the first couple of games, so the team that comes out and has a solid couple of games at the beginning is going to be in the driver's seat.''

The first pre-season game is in just five days, against Regina, and the season opener is Sept. 2 in Saskatoon.

"That (Saskatoon game) will test us right off the bat. That will tell us right where we are.''


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