CFL Season Kicks Off: Canadian Football League In Great Shape For 2011 (PHOTOS)
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The 2011 Canadian Football League season kicks off tonight in Montreal, where the Grey Cup champions, the Alouettes, face off against the B.C. Lions in the first of the league’s 72 regular season games.
So what does 2011 hold for fans of Canada’s other great game?
Will the Winnipeg Blue Bombers be able to emerge from the cellar they inhabited last season? Will the Hamilton Tiger-Cats find a running game? Can the Calgary Stampeders fill some critical voids? Will the Alouettes make it three in a row?
One thing is certain: As it embarks on its 53rd season, the CFL is on the surest footing it has been in recent memory — while its American counterpart, the NFL, is mired in a destabilizing labour dispute.
With TV ratings at all-time highs and a new random drug testing policy set to push the league into the 21st century, it’s time for Canadian football fans to kick back and enjoy the gridiron offerings for 2011.
Here's what each team faces:
<strong>MONTREAL ALOUETTES</strong> Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks in sports is to repeat as champion in any league. In the Als' case, they're looking at taking it one step further and making it a three-peat. But there are a couple of holes they'll need to patch up before it can happen. The biggest name dropped from the roster is Ben Cahoon, who retired after 13 seasons as the CFL's all-time top receiver with 1,017 catches. His sure hands and cool efficiency will surely be missed by quarterback Anthony Calvillo. Still, the ageless Calvillo, who turns 39 in August, has a stable of reliable receivers to whom he can turn, except for 2009 Grey Cup MVP Avon Cobourne, who took his rushing act to Hamilton. (Anthony Calvillo celebrates the team's Grey Cup win. AP Photo)
<strong>CALGARY STAMPEDERS</strong> The quest for new talent has become urgent for Stampeders' head coach and GM John Hufnagel, who lost a handful of all-stars over the off-season. Defensive backs Brandon Browner bolted to the NFL and brash Dwight Anderson moved to Montreal, while Ben Archibald, the league's most outstanding lineman, opted for the B.C. Lions. Offensively, the Stamps should again be the gun-slinging, turf-chomping club of old, led by 36-year-old Henry Burris. Calgary QBs will have no shortage of horses to throw to, be it a healthy Ken-Yon Rambo, the indefatigable Nik Lewis or the speedy Romby Bryant. When it comes to the running game, the one-two tandem of Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish is second-to-none. (AP Photo)
<strong>SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS </strong> Calgary's perennial rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will badly miss Andy Fantuz, the league's leading receiver, who landed a two-year deal with the Chicago Bears. But new head coach Greg Marshall has other weapons in his offensive arsenal, including Darian Durant, above, a threat as a passer and runner, and receiver Chris Getzlaf, who is eyeing a larger role with the absence of Fantuz. (AP photo)
Eskimos Alouettes Football
<strong>EDMONTON ESKIMOS</strong> The Eskimos, meanwhile, are in rebuild mode after a highly-forgettable season. With GM Eric Tillman busy house cleaning (he replaced head coach Richie Hall with Kavis Reed) Edmontonians sincerely hope for better things. Ricky Ray will need time, protection and some sure hands at the other end to be as effective a quarterback as possible. Fred Stamps will be his key target. (Ricky Ray is tackled by Montreal Alouettes linebacker Chip Cox Sept. 19 2010 in Montreal. AP Photo)
<strong>HAMILTON TIGER-CATS </strong> The Tiger-Cats made great strides last season, but fans expect them to take a giant leap closer to the Grey Cup this time around, as head coach Marcel Bellefeuille begins his third year at the helm. The addition of Avon Cobourne will be a boon to an offence that fell last in per-game rushing. Cobourne will also take some pressure off veteran QB Kevin Glenn, who did a nice job in 2010 with a one-dimensional offence, throwing for 5,102 yards and 33 touchdowns. On defence, the effervescent Stevie Baggs will bear the brunt of the sack attack, while a dominating linebacking crew will create havoc for any offence. (Avon Cobourne holds up the Grey Cup as he celebrates with fans during a championship parade in Montreal, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. AP Photo)
<strong>TORONTO ARGONAUTS</strong> The Toronto Argonauts head into the season with some injuries. Quarterback Steven Jyles was acquired from Winnipeg and his health is uncertain, so look for Cleo Lemon to once again handle those duties. Cory Boyd, who as a rookie romped for 1,359 yards on the ground, will be counted on in his sophomore year, while flashy returner Chad Owens should once again be a handful. (Cleo Lemon hands the ball to running back Cory Boyd Nov. 21, 2010 in Montreal. AP Photo)
<strong>B.C. LIONS</strong> The last team to win a Grey Cup at home was the B.C. Lions in 1994 and how they'd love to do it again this year! B.C. will be a team to contend with depending on the progression of young QB Travis Lulay. Lulay rose from backup to starter in 2010 and head coach Wally Buono has placed the reins firmly in his hands. (Travis Lulay, right, runs the ball past Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end Stevie Baggs, left, on Nov. 6, 2010. AP Photo)
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
<strong>WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS</strong> On the heels of a lamentable 4-14 season last year, Winnipeg fans are wondering, first and foremost: will QB Buck Pierce stay healthy, just for a change? And the more things change in Winnipeg, the more they stay the same as their Most Outstanding Canadian for the past five straight seasons, defensive tackle Doug Brown, returns to anchor the defence for his 11th season. Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Adarius Bowman bobbles the ball during the first half of a Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, Ontario, Friday, July 16, 2010. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)