Argos look to be beasts of the East

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

The Montreal Alouettes are the defending CFL East Division champs.

However, you can expect the Toronto Argonauts, who finished first in the loop during the regular season last year, to be out for revenge.

Both teams have reloaded their rosters once again, and the rivals should battle it out for first until the bitter end, just as they did last season.

Meanwhile, it appears the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who, following the suspension of the Ottawa Renegades, are back in the East for the first time since 2001, will be scrapping for the third and final playoff spot.

Here's a preview of the four-team East, with last year's record, division placing, and playoff result in parentheses:

TORONTO ARGONAUTS

(11-7, first in East, lost East final)

CONFIRMED: QB Damon Allen, who finally won the CFL's most outstanding player award last season, returns for his 22nd campaign, and he still has his fine stable of receivers, including 1,000-yard pass catchers Tony Miles, Arland Bruce III and Robert Baker.

If that's not enough to keep the Argos among the league's elite, they now have a bona fide running game with the addition of RB Ricky Williams.

The Miami Dolphin might need a few games to get going, but he should be at or near the top of the rushing race when the season concludes.

They also have one of the top kickers in Noel Prefontaine and an embarrassment of riches at kick returner with Bashir Levingston and Keith Stokes.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The defence still boasts all-stars like DE Jonathan Brown, CB Jordan Younger and LBs Kevin Eiben and Michael Fletcher.

However, it lost some valuable experience when DT Noah Cantor and CB Adrion Smith retired.

We're being a little nitpicky here, because the defence still looks solid.

Another possible issue could be Williams, who will be under immense scrutiny all season long.

CONUNDRUM: It's the same question every year, but it never gets answered: Can the backup QB (this year it's Spergon Wynn) carry the load when Allen inevitably breaks down?

The soon-to-be 43-year-old just keeps going and going and going.

PREDICTION: First.

MONTREAL ALOUETTES

(10-8, second in East, lost Grey Cup)

CONFIRMED: Just as it is with the Argos, the Alouettes are set at quarterback and receiver.

Anthony Calvillo can choose to throw the ball to Ben Cahoon or Thyron Anderson or Kerry Watkins or Dave Stala.

And more often than not, those receivers are going to catch the ball.

They finally have relatively decent backup pivots in Nealon Greene and Marcus Brady, the offensive line is solid as always, RB Robert Edwards will chew up the yards, and P/K Damon Duval can more than hold his own.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Simply put, it's the defence.

There are a lot of new names on that side of the ball, and several veterans are starting the season on injured reserve.

DE Anwar Stewart, DT Ed Philion, LBs Duane Butler and Tim Strickland, and S Richard Karikari are the mainstays, but the other positions feature mostly fresh faces.

The return game is questionable as well, because Ezra Landry is finding himself in the sick bay way too often these days.

CONUNDRUM: Has head coach Don Matthews recruited talent on defence, and will it be able to come together quickly?

Since this is The Don we're talking about, the answer more than likely is 'Yes.'

PREDICTION: Second.

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

(5-13, fourth in East, missed playoffs)

CONFIRMED: Steeltown loves QB Jason Maas ... and RB/KR Corey Holmes ... and RB Josh Ranek.

Those were the three big additions during the off-season, and they don't come much bigger than that.

SB Terry Vaughn wasn't a bad addition, either, because he leads a fine receiving corps that Maas, the former Edmonton Eskimo, could very well use to light up the league's defences on a weekly basis.

The defensive line is solid with DEs Tim Cheatwood and James Cotton sandwiching DTs Adriano Belli and DeVonte Peterson.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN: The Tabbies gave up the most points last season, and their secondary certainly played a part.

Several of last year's starting defensive backs, including Wayne Shaw, Airabin Justin, Chris Martin and Jason Goss, are back this year, and, aside from backup S Scott Gordon, there are no proven CFLers among the newcomers.

The offensive line is also somewhat of an unknown, as only guard Wayne Smith was with the team at the beginning of last season.

And PK Jamie Boreham, a former University of Manitoba Bison, must improve in the field goal department as well.

CONUNDRUM: The offence last season was not worth writing home about, but the defence sank the Ticats.

And who can honestly say that won't be the case again this year?

Maas and Co. certainly will score more points this season, especially with Joe Paopao as their new offensive co-ordinator, but their teammates on the other side of the ball might give up just as many -- or more.

PREDICTION: Third.

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

(5-13, fifth in West, missed playoffs)

PREDICTION: Fourth.


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