Wild West a crapshoot

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

Where's Maggie, the TSN prediction monkey, when you need her most?

How the CFL West Division will be won in 2006 is anyone's guess. The four-team loop is one big riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Will the Calgary Stampeders, who made hardly any changes in the off-season, use that continuity to rise to the top?

Do Kerry Joseph and Jason Armstead turn the Saskatchewan Roughriders into instant contenders?

Will the B.C. Lions function more proficiently now that Casey Printers is out of the picture?

And why shouldn't the Edmonton Eskimos repeat as Grey Cup champs?

Let's try and figure this thing out for ourselves, but keep the monkey on standby.

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

(11-7, second in West, lost West semifinal)

CONFIRMED: Almost every position has been upgraded, and they were all pretty solid to begin with.

Among the returnees are QB Henry Burris, RB Joffrey Reynolds, receivers Jeremaine Copeland, Nik Lewis and Ken-Yon Rambo, LBs John Grace, Scott Coe, George White (currently injured) and Brian Clark, and DBs Coby Rhinehart, Jermaine Chatman and Trey Young.

The recruiting class, while not star-studded, just adds to the already impressive depth. Players like DB Crance Clemons, WR Markus Howell, RB David Allen and WR Elijah Thurmon won't make the Stamps worse, let's put it that way.

The offensive and defensive lines remain largely intact, and their kickers, Sandro DeAngelis and Burke Dales, both have a year under their belts.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Not much, really.

Sophomore centre Godfrey Ellis had a fair bit of trouble snapping the ball in the pre-season, but that's a problem that can be corrected easily.

Another potential problem is a handful of first-year players in the secondary.

CONUNDRUM: Can Burris finally get over the hump and lead a team to a Grey Cup title?

PREDICTION: First.

B.C. LIONS

(12-6, first in West, lost West final)

CONFIRMED: QB Printers is no longer in the picture, which means this is once again Dave Dickenson's team.

Almost all of the key parts from last year's team that started 11-0 are still in place, including SBs Geroy Simon and Jason Clermont, RB Antonio Warren, LB Otis Floyd, DB Mark Washington and DE Brent Johnson.

Head coach Wally Buono upgraded his punting and placekicking with the addition of Paul McCallum, and the secondary got better when the Leos plucked Korey Banks in the Ottawa Renegades dispersal draft.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Middle linebacker Barrin Simpson left for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the off-season, and the offensive line, which was woeful last year, will feature a pair of first-year CFL imports at the tackle spots.

CONUNDRUM: Can Dickenson stay healthy for an entire season?

PREDICTION: Second.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

(9-9, fourth in West, lost East semifinal)

CONFIRMED: QB Joseph and WR/KR Armstead, who were picked up in the Renegades dispersal draft, have Rider fans feeling mighty fine about their chances this year.

The 'Riders were excellent defensively last season, and a good chunk of that unit is back to wreak havoc once again. It was at quarterback and receiver where the team floundered, and Joseph and Armstead will be looked upon to turn that around.

And a healthy WR Matt Dominguez will only help Gang Green put more points on the board.

The offensive and defensive lines will be sturdy once again.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: There are a few potential soft spots in the lineup, including the middle linebacker spot that is currently occupied by non-import Mike McCullough.

RB Kenton Keith is entertaining to watch -- when he's healthy -- and head coach Danny Barrett wants to see how rookie P/K Luca Congi performs when it really counts.

CONUNDRUM: How much will the Roughies miss RB/KR Corey Holmes, who was traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats?

PREDICTION: Third.

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

(11-7, third in West, won Grey Cup)

CONFIRMED: QB Ricky Ray, who guided the Eskimos to Grey Cup glory last November in Vancouver, is the undisputed No. 1 now that Jason Maas is in Hamilton.

RB Troy Davis, one of the league's best, is back, as is a superb receiving corps that includes Jason Tucker, Ed Hervey and Derrell Mitchell.

Electrifying kick returner Tony Tompkins is back as well.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: There are question marks everywhere.

They've moved DB Shannon Garrett to linebacker, middle linebacker A.J. Gass missed almost all of camp due to the death of his mother, DB Donald Brady will begin the year on the injured list, and it sounds like LB Singor Mobley retained a starting spot by default.

Other than that, everything is fine on defence.

The offensive line, meanwhile, appears to be the most inexperienced in the league with the retirements of Bruce Beaton and Kevin Lefsrud.

CONUNDRUM: How will sophomore head coach Danny Maciocia handle all these hurdles?

PREDICTION: Fourth.


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