Five questions to ask

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

There are questions floating around every CFL team as the regular season is about to start.

But in no city in the league are there more serious questions than in Edmonton.

So, with the Eskimos regular season opener set for Saturday in Saskatchewan's capital city, here are five key questions to ponder on a team that has missed the playoffs for two straight years.

1. Can Agustin Barrenechea become a top-level middle linebacker in the CFL this year?

Replacing A.J. Gass is a huge task.

With the defensive line entirely new this year and opponents surely wanting to try to run the ball down the Esks' throat after a horrible 2007 campaign, Barrenechea is in a critical spot on the field.

Edmonton gave up an average of 120.3 rushing yards per game last year, second worst in the league.

That number has to drop in dramatic fashion.

Barrenechea is also a key ratio player because he fills a non-import role.

If he can't do the job or gets hurt in the first half of the year, the Eskimos will likely have to drop an import receiver from the starting roster to make room for another Canadian receiver to make the league-mandated quota of seven starting non-imports.

"He is a very capable, intelligent, physical ball player," said Edmonton linebacker coach Danny Kepley on Barrenechea, who starts his first real game at MLB for the Esks this week.

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2. Can Fred Perry be a dominant defensive end for the entire year?

There are whispers from league insiders that Perry's play tailed off in the second half of 2007.

Perry finished with eight sacks for the Riders last year.

Edmonton needs at least that many out of him this year.

They also need his relentless downfield pursuit on the ball when it leaves the line of scrimmage.

"I had 70 tackles last year. For a defensive lineman that is pretty good," said Perry in response to his critics.

But at 33, Perry is creeping toward the wrong end of the age chart.

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3. Can Dan Comiskey stay healthy for an entire season?

This might be the most important question facing the club.

The heart-and-soul of the offensive line, Comiskey played just four games last year because of calf and tricep injuries.

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4. Can Jason Tucker be productive the entire year?

Ricky Ray's No. 1 receiving target finished with 792 yards last year because he struggled with a knee injury.

From 2004-06, Tucker had more than 1,000-receiving yards each season.

If the gifted slotback battles back spasms - which was the case in this spring's training camp - throughout this year, there's double-team trouble coming for other receivers.

If Tucker is healthy and feared by defenders, that opens up the field for Kelly Campbell, Kamau Peterson and Fred Stamps.

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5. Will the left side of the offensive line be a brick wall?

It appears Garrick Jones will start the year as the starting left tackle, protecting Ray's blindside.

If Jones can't stay healthy -and that is the knock against the import - will rookie Calvin Armstrong be a suitable replacement?


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