Esks out front

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

The expression "wild, wild west" has never been more appropriate.

The CFL West Division battle promises to be a dandy this season, with new starting quarterbacks all over the place.

Actually, there are two pivots who are currently No. 1 on their depth charts after being in the same spot last year, but neither of them finished 2004 that way.

B.C.'s Dave Dickenson and Saskatchewan's Nealon Greene are No. 1 quarterbacks for the second year in a row. However, they both got hurt early last year and gave way to their backups.

So technically, there are five new starting quarterbacks in the West this season, and it's almost impossible to tell how it's going to play out.

Ricky Ray is back in Edmonton, Henry Burris bolted to Calgary, and Kevin Glenn has the controls in Winnipeg.

Let the fun begin:

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

(9-9, second, lost West semifinal)

CONFIRMED: Ricky Ray and Jason Maas are two fine quarterbacks, while Jason Tucker, Derrell Mitchell and Ed Hervey are three exceptional receivers.

Their offensive line remains solid with the addition of Sandy Annunziata and the un-retirement of Bruce Beaton, the defensive line looks better with Joe Montford wreaking havoc on the end, and the secondary kept ballhawks Donny Brady, Malcolm Frank and Shannon Garrett and added Davis Sanchez.

LBs Singor Mobley and A.J. Gass get the job done.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Ray and Maas may be two fine quarterbacks, but they both enter the season with nagging injuries -- Ray has a hyperextended knee and Maas is coming off shoulder surgery.

Their starting tailback spot looks questionable at best after the retirement of Mike Pringle. Elvis Joseph is apparently slated to get the start in Game 1 against Ottawa.

As Sun Media's Terry Jones wrote over the weekend: "Don't buy a house, Elvis."

CONUNDRUM: How quickly will it take Ray to return to greatness after more than a year off, and how well will new head coach Danny Maciocia do in his rookie campaign?

PREDICTION: first.

B.C. LIONS

(13-5, first, lost Grey Cup)

CONFIRMED: The Leos kept most of their West Division-champion squad intact, which doesn't bode well for the other four teams in the loop.

Their receiving corps is the cream of the CFL crop, with Geroy Simon, Jason Clermont and Ryan Thelwell leading the way -- this even after the departures of Chris Brazzell and Frank Cutolo.

RB Antonio Warren will run behind a similar offensive line to last year's, Barrin Simpson is back to lead the linebackers and Brent Johnson anchors the defensive line.

With QB Casey Printers in the background due to injuries and contract squabbles, Dave Dickenson might be able to focus on setting some passing records.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: If Printers gets healthy and finds peace in his contract negotiations, the quarterback controversy will rage once again. And how long can that go on before it becomes a problem?

The secondary has the most question marks.

PREDICTION: second.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

(9-9, third, lost West final)

CONFIRMED: QB Nealon Greene, coming off a broken leg, will take the snaps, and he will hand off to RB Kenton Keith, who could very well battle Winnipeg's Charles Roberts for the CFL's rushing title.

The Roughriders kept all of their starters from last season except for QB Henry Burris, who signed as a free agent with the Calgary Stampeders.

Gene Makowsky anchors an impressive offensive line, Nate Davis and Scott Schultz are bulls on the defensive line, while LBs Jackie Mitchell and Reggie Hunt, along with DBs Eddie Davis and Santino Hall, are all back.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The one and only spot that changed this year -- starting quarterback. There are many Nealon Greene doubters across the nation as well as right there in Regina. With so much stability around him, Greene will have a great opportunity to find his groove again.

K Paul McCallum will also have to deal with fans who haven't forgotten about his costly missed field goal in last year's West Division final.

CONUNDRUM: Can Nealon Greene lead this team to a home playoff game?

PREDICTION: third.

CALGARY

STAMPEDERS

(4-14, fifth, missed playoffs)

CONFIRMED: QB Henry Burris, also known as Smilin' Hank, will attempt to make fans in Cowtown smile once again after the disastrous and short-lived Matt Dunigan era.

Their four-man linebacking corps of John Grace, Brian Clark, Scott Coe and George White is a force to be reckoned with, and RB Joffrey Reynolds showed signs of becoming a capable tailback late last season.

The receiving corps, which already boasts 2004 rookie sensation Nik Lewis, got a huge boost with the free-agent signing of Jeremaine Copeland, formerly of the Montreal Alouettes.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: If Burris goes down, or he doesn't perform, where does that leave the Stamps? Jason Gesser is the backup, and they just picked up Danny Wimprine off Edmonton's practice roster to be No. 3.

They are green at placekicker and punter, and their secondary is suspect.

CONUNDRUM: Can Henry Burris lead the Stamps back to the playoffs?

PREDICTION: fourth.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

(7-11, fourth, missed playoffs)

PREDICTION: fifth.


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