Bombers take backseat to Als, Riders

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' head coach Paul LaPolice during CFL action between the Winnipeg Blue Bombes...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' head coach Paul LaPolice during CFL action between the Winnipeg Blue Bombes and the British Columbia Lions in Winnipeg at Canad Inns Stadium Monday, Ocotober 11, 2010. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers went on to win in overtime. (QMI Agency/Marcel Cretain)

Kirk Penton, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 PM ET

The off-season is almost over, and it’s time for the CFL’s eight teams to see how good their winter work was.

The defending champion B.C. Lions didn’t do much, aside from finding a new head coach in Mike Benevides, while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were one of the busier franchises, replacing their head coach, starting quarterback and No. 1 tailback.

In between were a wide variety of moves, and the following is your seven-minute guide to those changes to bring you up to speed.

Rookie camps start on Wednesday, and training camps begin in all their glory next weekend.

Here is a look at each team’s winter transactions and its off-season grade.

EAST DIVISION

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

Last Year

10-8, 1st in East, lost Grey Cup

Who’s In

RB Chad Simpson (NFL)

DT Ryan Lucas (Montreal)

Who’s Out

DT Doug Brown (retired)

OL Brendon LaBatte (Sask)

WR Greg Carr (Edmonton)

DE Odell Willis (Sask)

OL Obby Khan (retired)

RB Fred Reid (released)

LB Joe Lobendahn (Calgary)

Overview

The Bombers need to improve their offensive production this year, but losing LaBatte and Carr won’t help. The good news is head coach Paul LaPolice has given up the play calling to new offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton.

For the second straight off-season GM Joe Mack didn’t sign or a acquire a veteran CFLer. It worked for him last year, but can it happen again? He’s playing with fire.

Off-Season Grade: D

MONTREAL ALOUETTES

Last Year

10-8, 2nd in East, lost East semi

Who’s In

LB Rod Davis (Edmonton)

DT Aaron Hunt (B.C.)

LB Mark Restelli (Edmonton)

DL Luc Mullinder (Hamilton)

S Kyries Hebert (Hamilton)

Who’s Out

WR Kerry Watkins (retired)

DE Anwar Stewart (released)

DT Eric Wilson (retired)

LB Ramon Guzman (released)

Overview

Montreal’s defence was devastated by injuries last season, and it really showed in their 52-44 overtime loss to Hamilton in the East semifinal. You’ll notice every one of their notable newcomers this off-season plays defence.

The Als should, with quarterback Anthony Calvillo at the helm, be the team to beat in the East once again if the defence can get back on track and stay healthy.

Off-Season Grade: A

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS

Last Year

8-10, 3rd in East, lost East Final

Who’s In

Coach George Cortez (NFL)

QB Henry Burris (Calgary)

SB Andy Fantuz (Sask)

RB Martell Mallett (B.C.)

DE Greg Peach (Edmonton)

Who’s Out

QB Kevin Glenn (Calgary)

KR Marcus Thigpen (NFL)

OL Simeon Rottier (Edmonton)

DE Justin Hickman (NFL)

K Justin Medlock (NFL)

RB Avon Cobourne (released)

DE Stevie Baggs (released)

OL Jason Jimenez (unsigned)

Overview

The Ticats never could get over the hump, so they cleaned house. They fired head coach Marcel Bellefeuille, they traded Glenn to Calgary for the aging Burris, they got rid of Cobourne and signed 2009 rookie of the year Mallett, and they bought local boy Fantuz in free agency.

The only problem is their defence and special teams took significant hits. Stud defensive end Hickman, speedy kick returner Thigpen and reliable kicker Medlock all departed for the NFL.

Off-Season Grade: B

TORONTO ARGONAUTS

Last Year

6-12, 4th in East, missed playoffs

Who’s In

Coach Scott Milanovich (Montreal)

QB Ricky Ray (Edmonton)

OL Marc Parenteau (Sask)

WR Jason Barnes (Edmonton)

QB Jarious Jackson (B.C.)

OL Wayne Smith (Hamilton)

Who’s Out

QB Steven Jyles (Edmonton)

WR Jeremaine Copeland (retired)

DB Lin-J Shell (B.C.)

OL Dominic Picard (Sask)

CB Byron Parker (B.C.)

LB Kevin Eiben (Hamilton)

OL Rob Murphy (retired)

Overview

The Boatmen have been a disaster for several years, and they finally took a huge step towards respectability with the acquisition of a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ray.

Milanovich will no doubt bring some fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the fold, but he is relatively young and unproven as the man in charge.

And looking at the list of who’s in and who’s out in T.O., it’s difficult to declare the Argos are going to be vastly better in 2012.

Off-Season Grade: B+

WEST DIVISION

B.C. LIONS

Last Year

11-7, 1st in West, won Grey Cup

Who’s In

Coach Mike Benevides

DB Lin-J Shell (Toronto)

CB Byron Parker (Toronto)

Who’s Out

LB Solomon Elimimian (NFL)

DT Aaron Hunt (Montreal)

QB Jarious Jackson (Toronto)

DE Brent Johnson (retired)

CB Davis Sanchez (retired)

RB Jamal Robertson (retired)

Overview

The Lions never seem to do much tinkering to their roster, and they stuck to the game plan once again.

The defending champs took a hit with the loss of Elimimian to the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, but the rest of their departures won’t hurt them.

Shell and Parker will provide depth on the defensive side of the ball, while reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player, quarterback Travis Lulay, will lead one of the CFL’s most dangerous offences.

Off-Season Grade: A-

EDMONTON ESKIMOS

Last Year

11-7, 2nd in West, lost West Final

Who’s In

QB Steven Jyles (Toronto)

OL Simeon Rottier (Hamilton)

DE Rashad Jeanty (NFL)

WR Greg Carr (Winnipeg)

P Burke Dales (Calgary)

Who’s Out

QB Ricky Ray (Toronto)

WR Jason Barnes (Toronto)

OL Patrick Kabongo (released)

KR Jason Armstead (released)

RB Jerome Messam (NFL)

LB Rod Davis (Montreal)

DE Greg Peach (Hamilton)

WR Andrew Nowacki (released)

Overview

The Esks took huge strides in 2011, but many were wondering what in the world GM Eric Tillman was thinking when he traded Ray to the Argos for Jyles.

The last time Tillman traded his starting quarterback (Kerry Joseph from Saskatchewan in 2008), his team took a step back. Many are expecting the same thing to happen to the Eskimos in 2012.

If that wasn’t enough of a connection, Joseph will battle Jyles to be Edmonton’s starting quarterback this season.

Off-Season Grade: C

CALGARY STAMPEDERS

Last Year

11-7, 3rd in West, lost West semi

Who’s In

QB Kevin Glenn (Hamilton)

WR Chris Bauman (Edmonton)

LB Joe Lobendahn (Winnipeg)

Who’s Out

QB Henry Burris (Hamilton)

RB Joffrey Reynolds (released)

P Burke Dales (Edmonton)

DB Brandon Isaac (Toronto)

Overview

Not much will be new in Cowtown this season. Most of the new and departed players aren’t starters, so the depth chart should remain effectively the same. The brass spent the winter handing out contract extensions to its current players.

The Stamps obviously feel starting quarterback Drew Tate will improve in 2012, and running back Jon Cornish is developing into a dangerous tailback. The defence was nothing to write home about in 2011 and needs to improve. Not sure how that’s going to happen.

Off-Season Grade: B-

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

Last Year

5-13, 4th in West, missed playoffs

Who’s In

Coach Corey Chamblin (Hamilton)

OL Brendon LaBatte (Winnipeg)

OL Dominic Picard (Toronto)

DE Odell Willis (Winnipeg)

QB Colt Brennan (NFL)

WR Dwayne Jarrett (NFL)

Who’s Out

LB Barrin Simpson (released)

LB Sean Lucas (retired)

LB Jerrell Freeman (NFL)

RB Wes Cates (unsigned)

OL Gene Makowsky (retired)

WR Andy Fantuz (Hamilton)

SB Jason Clermont (retired)

Overview

The 2011 season could not have been much worse for the Green and White, so there’s nowhere to go but up.

The loss of Fantuz via free agency stings, as does Freeman’s decision to go south of the border, but the Riders shored up some holes by landing LaBatte and Picard for the offensive line, and Willis for their nonexistent pass rush.

Saskatchewan got rid of a lot of veteran talent, with an emphasis on veteran. That’s a good thing.

Off-Season Grade: A


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