CFL East Division: Training camp preview | Football | CBC Sports

CFLCFL East Division: Training camp preview

Posted: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 | 10:41 AM

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Ricky Ray (15) proved elusive enough to win the Grey Cup last season, his first as the quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press) Ricky Ray (15) proved elusive enough to win the Grey Cup last season, his first as the quarterback of the Toronto Argonauts. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

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CBC Sports football contributor Malcolm Kelly offers a sneak peek at East Division training camps in the CFL.

Montreal Alouettes

2012: 11-7, 1st
Lost East final to Toronto

June 13 vs. Hamilton
June 20 @ Toronto

Dan Hawkins, formerly of ESPN, takes over as head coach from Marc Trestman, now with the Chicago Bears, and his first order of business is to straighten out a defence that suddenly became porous in 2012.

Alouettes general manager Jim Popp presented Hawkins with a brand new rubber ball he signed as a free agent out of Toronto to shore up the linebacking. That's him over there ... the talented Ejiro Kuale ... bouncing up and down, up and down.

Kuale could be just what Montreal needs back there and he's always fun to watch. Cornerbacks Geoff Tisdale and Byron Parker have been added to a secondary that simply gave up too many big plays.

Also key to watch in June is how the front seven adapts to the move back to a four-man front. Defensive lineman John Bowman's already thrilled.

Montreal camp is never short of stories.

Anthony Calvillo, 40, is back at quarterback to run the offence and he'll have a new backup in Quinton Porter (from Hamilton). Jerome Messam is slotted No. 2 at running back behind re-signed Brandon Whittaker. Arland Bruce's travelling circus act comes to town for one more try at keeping his receiving career going.

The best thing to watch will be coach Hawkins himself, who had a great career with Boise State, a poor one at Colorado and two years on the ESPN college football broadcast team. He's an enthusiast.

Toronto Argonauts

2012: 9-9, 2nd
Won Grey Cup over Calgary

June 12 @ Winnipeg
June 20 vs. Montreal

Head coach Scott Milanovich's offensive worries as the Argonauts head into camp as defending champs add up to who backs up QB Ricky Ray and what two guys get the fifth and sixth receiving jobs. Barring injury.

A lot of that has been handed to new offensive co-ordinator Marcus Brady, while the boss works with defensive head Chris Jones on a complete rebuild of the defensive line -- complete as in, all four spots.

The talented Kahlif (Arm Bar) Mitchell was acquired from B.C., where the drama became a bit much, and he's set for one tackle spot, assuming the club can keep him off Twitter. Jermaine Reid has arrived from Edmonton to help, and David Lee, who was an intriguing Canadian backup last year, could get a full-time job.

There's also rookie Cleyon Laing and a bunch of guys you've never heard of in camp.

Note: You'd likely never heard of Armond Armstead last year at this time and he was merely fabulous, so much so that he's in the NFL as a possible starter with New England.

Here's a potential headache, however. CB Pacino Horne (injured at least a couple of weeks) and Pat Watkins (dealing with personal issue, the team says) are not in camp, so there's an open audition at the most important secondary position.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

2012: 6-12, 3rd
Missed playoffs

June 12 vs. Toronto
June 20 @ Hamilton

If you can't take a hit, avoid one. That's the new approach for Buck Pierce, the talented and atrociously injury-prone QB who showed up at camp down 25 pounds and ready to dance out of trouble if necessary.

No chance you see more than about 20 minutes of him in June as head coach Tim Burke keeps him out of trouble while working with new backup -- and possible Week 2 starter -- Justin Goltz.

There's a lot to do because Goltz has only thrown seven completions in just over two years living in southern Manitoba and will earn a lot of reps in camp. Winnipeg is hoping he becomes himself by being hungry.**

Backing up the backup will be Max Hall, ex of Brigham Young and the Arizona Cardinals, who spent last year coaching at his alma mater.

The rest of the offence is actually pretty much set along the line, backs and receivers.

That bellow you hear over there is Casey Creehan -- WHO SPEAKS ONLY IN CAPITAL LETTERS - returning from his year as the co-ordinator of the worst defence in the league, at Hamilton, to take over the second-worst defence in the league. Makes sense to us.

Creehan has a big job on his hands rebuilding the pass defenders and, to that end, Cauchy Muamba was signed as a free agent from B.C. to play safety. Creehan's real challenge this month, however, is to get the same cast of defensive backs who were so dominant in 2011 and so porous last year to return to form.

(**That's funny in Winnipeg. If you don't get it, watch this Robin Williams' Snickers commercial and see if you can find a familiar face)

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

2012: 6-12, 4th
Missed playoffs

June 13 @ Montreal
June 20 vs. Winnipeg

Kent Austin comes back to the CFL as head coach of the kitties and finds a defence that quit at the end of last season, a fake stadium to play in at Guelph for 2013, a first-round pick who has gone south (Carolina Panthers) in Linden Gaydosh and a star returner/receiver in Chris Williams who won't come to camp and wants out.

"Pish," says Austin's super-competitive inner self. "Let's get to work."

While Austin thinks about whether Onrea Jones can replace Williams as his return star (possibly) and getting Brian Brohm and Dan LeFevour ready as backups to QB Henry Burris, his real problem will be finding a way to fix that awful, terrible defence.

His general manager's side brought in reinforcements for the secondary, including James Patrick from Saskatchewan and high-energy Evan McCollough from Toronto. There are a dozen more defensive backs in camp that new assistant coach Orlondo Steinauer can sift through. Also keep an eye on DE Shomari Williams and DL Brian Bulcke.

Back to the offence, one that showed last year it's nice to have Williams, but it can run without him. There are lots of weapons. The Tiger-Cats scored lots of points last season, even with injury troubles in the backfield, and this pre-season should show they can do it again.

If you'd like to watch someone develop through camp, try humongous rookie offensive lineman Joel Figueroa out of Miami, who stands 6-foot-6, 320 pounds and could bench press the 155-pound Williams 100 times without breaking a sweat. If Williams ever shows up, of course.
Follow Malcolm Kelly on Twitter @sportsnag

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