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CFL Preview - Montreal (0-0) at Winnipeg (0-0)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Thursday, June 27, 9:00 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: A couple of clubs kick off the 2013 Canadian Football League season with back-to-back meetings, the first of those coming on Thursday night as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Montreal Alouettes collide to get the ball rolling in the 101st season of CFL action.

The biggest difference from last year to this for the Alouettes is a change in head coach. Marc Trestman had been tasked with directing one of the most explosive offenses in the CFL between 2008-2012, and while the program did finish atop the East Division standings with a record of 11-7, it was clear that the squad dominated against weaker division foes.

Trestman had no problem pushing the Als into the playoffs for the 17th straight season, the longest active streak in the CFL, but the team's results in the postseason fell far short of expectations. Winners of the Grey Cup in both 2009 and 2010, the Alouettes earned a bye all the way to the division championship, but the squad came up short against eventual league champ Toronto, 27-20.

Because of his success with Montreal, as well as his past experience in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Trestman was wooed back to the United States by Chicago and named the head coach of the Bears in January. With his departure, the Als went looking for a new head coach and found Dan Hawkins as the man to fill the role.

Hawkins, who most recently was a college football analyst with ESPN, had been the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes prior. While his stop in Boulder was far from encouraging (19-39), he had made the Boise State Broncos (53-11) into a BCS-busting machine.

The new head coach has the luxury of working with one of the all-time greats at quarterback in Anthony Calvillo. A fixture for the Als since 1998, and a competitor in the league since breaking in with the Las Vegas Posse out of Utah State back in 1994, Calvillo is the league's all-time leader in passing yards, completions and passing touchdowns.

Unfortunately for Calvillo, his active receiving corps is far from an experienced bunch. Brandon London did catch 44 passes for 848 yards and three scores a year ago, but this is just his fourth year in the league. Eric Deslauriers, now entering his seventh CFL campaign, has a career total of only 61 grabs for 865 yards and 3 TDs, while Tyron Carrier is a fresh face out of the University of Houston.

The good news for the Als is that the slotback position is chock-full of seasoned performers, featuring Jamel Richardson who has posted five straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving. S.J. Green has two such campaigns under his belt, while Arland Bruce figures to be the wild card of the bunch, an enigmatic performer who can be both a big-time producer, as well as an invisible entity.

Winnipeg is a team that is in dire need of a bounce-back season. The squad began 2012 with four consecutive defeats and setbacks in five of the first six outings overall. By the middle of September the squad had a total of just two victories in 11 opportunities, but then showed signs of life with a 4-3 mark down the stretch. Needless to say, a 6-12 record is not what the organization expected and even before the season came to a close the dismal effort cost head coach Paul LaPolice his job.

Taking over for LaPolice was Tim Burke, now heading into his first full season as Winnipeg's head coach.

The Bombers are coming off a campaign during which they were last in the league in scoring with only 20.9 ppg and were also second-to-last in points allowed with 29.5 ppg. A major issue for the club was in the turnover department where they were dead last with a minus-17.

Defensively, Winnipeg was tied for last in the CFL in interceptions with 11, although the squad was first in fumbles recovered with 20. However, that positive stat was offset by just five takeaways on downs, fewest in the league.

Coach Burke is keenly aware that the immediate future for the Bombers lies in quarterback Buck Pierce, but his backup signal-callers are also key pieces to the puzzle as well.

Pierce appeared in just seven games in 2012, throwing for a paltry 951 yards and 3 majors, equaling his number of interceptions on 113 attempts. As someone who is confident in his running ability, Pierce is constantly putting himself in harm's way, which is why the Bombers have been trying to get reserves Justin Goltz and Max Hall plenty of practice should their starter go down in a heap yet again.

Chris Matthews, who led the Bombers and placed sixth in the league in receiving yards last season (1,192), gives Pierce a more than competent target down the field, as does Terrence Edwards who finished eighth in the league in yardage (1,049) on 70 catches, but ended up in the end zone only four times. However, Matthews is still dealing with an ankle injury that has him listed as questionable for this game, although coach Burke is leaning more towards playing him than not.

Another positive for Winnipeg is that they also have running back Chad Simpson on the attack. Simpson, who played sparingly in the NFL while with several clubs, is one of only four players who ran for at least 1,000 yards in 2012 (1,039).

In 2012, the teams battled a total of four times during the regular season, with Montreal winning the first two (41-30 and 36-26) before the Bombers balanced the scales with a 27-22 triumph in Week 15 and an ugly 19-11 win in the final week at home as Calvillo watched from the sidelines.

In addition to meeting up again just seven days from now in Montreal, these teams will also go up against each other in Week 16 (Oct. 14) on the Als' home field as well.

Both of these clubs have to work out a few kinks, although the only major change for the Als really takes place on the sidelines, which means Calvillo remains the field general for a Montreal squad which should get off on the right foot.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montreal 28, Winnipeg 17

06/26 10:30:37 ET

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