Leos still best in West

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

The only trouble the B.C. Lions had in 2006 was keeping the Grey Cup trophy in one piece.

Other than that they barely broke a sweat, and it doesn't look like they will need much antiperspirant again in 2007.

The star-studded list of returnees make the Lions the team to beat once again in the West Division. Quarterback Dave Dickenson, slotback Geroy Simon, defensive end Brent Johnson, linebacker Otis Floyd, running back Joe Smith ... the list goes on and on.

The Lions made hardly any off-season moves. Perhaps their most well-known off -season acquisition was receiver LaDaris Vann, who played only 10 games for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2003 before getting cut. And the Bombers were terrible that season.

The Leos did take a few offseason hits, however. Th ey lost defensive end Chris Wilson to the NFL's Washington Redskins, and promising, young defensive lineman Nautyn McKay-Loescher left for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The other notable players who left the organization -- receiver Ryan Th elwell, offensive lineman Bobby Singh and linebacker Carl Kidd -- did so on GM and head coach Wally Buono's terms.

And Buono, the reigning coach of the year, has always shown the ability to replace aging veterans with young talent. We have no reason to believe he won't do it again. So where does that leave everyone else? Likely batting for second place.

The Calgary Stampeders, who are coming off their second straight playoff disappointment but kept the core of their roster together, look to be the front-runners there.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders defence took some hits over the winter, while the Edmonton Eskimos, who missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 1971, parted ways with many veterans and are looking to rebuild.

Training camps are only a week away, so here's a closer look at the West Division:

BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS

- In the year 2006: The Leos were the class of the eight-team loop. They finished first in the West Division with a 13-5 record, beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West final and downed the Montreal Alouettes in the 94th Grey Cup. Most of it was done with ease.

- Head coach: Wally Buono (fifth season).

- Projected starting quarterback: Dave Dickenson.

- Three significant returnees: SB Geroy Simon, DE Brent Johnson, OL Rob Murphy.

- Three significant acquisitions: No notable names.

- Three significant departures: DE Chris Wilson WR Ryan Thelwell, DL Nautyn McKay-Loescher.

- Three significant questions: How long will Dave Dickenson and Buck Pierce continue to coexist? How will the defensive line look with the departures of Wilson and McKay-Loescher? Can the defending champs stave off complacency?

CALGARY STAMPEEDERS

- In the year 2006: The Red and White were solid once again in the regular reason, compiling a 10-8 record, but their playoff dreams were dashed at home for the second straight season when they suffered an upset loss to the Roughriders in the West semi final.

- Head coach: Tom Higgins (third season).

- Projected starting quarterback: Henry Burris.

- Three significant returnees: RB Joffrey Reynolds, PK Sandro DeAngelis, LB Brian Clark.

- Three significant acquisitions: SB Marc Boerigter, WR Ryan Thelwell, OL Garrick Jones.

- Three significant departures: OL Alexandre Gauthier, LB John Grace, QB Danny McManus.

- Three significant questions: What will the new-look front seven look like? Will former NFL firstrounder Akili Smith back up Burris? Will J.R. Rufin and Markus Howell cement their statuses as the kick and punt returners, respectively.

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

- In the year 2006: The Esks went from first to worst, following up their 2005 Grey Cup win by missing the playoffs for the first time in 35 years with a dismal 7-11 mark.

- Head coach: Danny Maciocia (third season).

- Projected starting quarterback: Ricky Ray.

- Three significant returnees: OL Kevin Lefsrud (after a one-year retirement), WR Jason Tucker, DE Adam Braidwood.

- Three significant acquisitions: CB Omarr Morgan, RB Josh Ranek, LB Ronnie Heard.

- Three significant departures: LB Singor Mobley, RB Troy Davis, WR Ed Hervey.

- Three significant questions: Can the offensive line get its act together quickly enough to prevent Ricky Ray from getting destroyed again this season? Who will be on either side of middle linebacker A.J. Gass? Can Ranek get back to his Ottawa form?

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

- In the year 2006: The Roughies compiled yet another average 9-9 season but gave the faithful some hope when they upset the Stampeders in the West semifinal. Alas, the Lions crushed them in the West final.

- Head coach: Kent Austin (first season).

- Projected starting quarterback: Kerry Joseph.

- Three significant returnees: WR Matt Dominguez, DT Scott Schultz, LB Reggie Hunt.

- Three significant acquisitions: WR D.J. Flick, OL Wayne Smith, OL Mike Abou-Mechrek.

- Three significant departures: RB Kenton Keith, CB Omarr Morgan, DB Davin Bush.

- Three significant questions: What are they going to do about their defence, specifically the secondary? Who will replace Keith at tailback? Can Luca Congi keep the punting job this season?


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