2023 CFL PREVIEW- EAST DIVISION

2023-05-30 · 7 min read · CFL/Football
Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press | Jason Franson/The Canadian Press

The preseason campaign in the CFL is in full swing, and with the east finally coming out on top in the Grey Cup last year, there is a lot of optimism among the four teams that they could rule a league that the west has long dominated.
Three teams made it to the postseason from the east in 2022, and while the Ottawa Redblacks did not, many believe had they not suffered a slew of early injuries, their fate may have been different.
Here is a look at all four teams and where I project them to finish by the end of the regular season, which kicks off on June 8.
Toronto Argonauts
Key Additions
  • Rajae’ Johnson- Wide Receiver (Troy University)
  • Darius Ciraco- Offensive Lineman (Ottawa Redblacks)
  • Jordan Williams- linebacker (BC Lions)
Key Subtractions
  • McLeod Bethel-Thompson- Quarterback (New Orleans Breakers)
  • Justin Lawrence- Offensive Lineman (Montreal Alouettes)
  • Brandon Banks- Wide Receiver/ Kick returner (free agent)
Biggest strength
The defending Grey Cup champs had their share of reliable receivers to count upon in 2022, and with a new quarterback behind center, still having DaVaris Daniels, Kurleigh Gittens, and Markeith Ambles should take a bit of pressure off the perceived starter Chad Kelly.
Ryan Dinwiddie’s unit ranked second for passing yards in the 2022 regular season (4,764), and they had to be sharp through the air as Andrew Harris missed a significant portion of the campaign through injury.
They led the east regarding passing touchdowns (23) and had the third-most completions in the entire CFL (390).
With the addition of Rajae’ Johnson, we could see more razzle-dazzle from this group in 2023, as he was dependable in college, and his skills should translate well to the Canadian game.
Biggest Weakness
There will be questions about pass protection with two-time Grey Cup champion Justin Lawrence moving to Montreal.
They were middle of the pack in terms of sacks allowed last year, and his departure puts a ton of pressure on Darius Ciraco, one that may be too much for him to handle in a market like Toronto.
Projection- First in East Division
There’s too much experience up and down this roster to suggest they will have a significant drop-off this year, as their linebacking corps is still elite, and there are plenty of playmakers in the pass-catching department.
They will likely be in a more competitive division this time out, but I still think the Boatmen will be the team to catch out east in 2023.
Ottawa Redblacks
Key Additions
  • Jovan Santos-Knox- Linebacker (Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • Drew Desjarlais- Offensive Lineman (Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
  • Shaq Evans- Wide Receiver (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
Key Subtractions
  • Darius Ciraco- Offensive Lineman (Toronto Argonauts)
  • Darvin Adams- Wide Receiver (free agent)
  • Avery Williams- Linebacker (Montreal Alouettes)
Biggest Strength
Bob Dyce’s defensive line was a major bright spot in another campaign full of disappointments and what-ifs, led by Lorenzo Mauldin, who led the league with 17 sacks.
As a unit, Ottawa were third in the CFL regarding sacks (42), and if that group can stay healthy, they could be a difficult team to contend with along the line of scrimmage this year.
Biggest Weakness
Plenty of questions surround who will be that dependable ball carrier in short-yardage situations and who can make this team more dynamic offensively.
William Powell spent most of 2022 on the injured reserve list, and now there are some unproven running backs they may have to turn to this season in Jackson Bennett, Devonte Williams and Ante Milanovic-Litre, though who gets the starting role between those three when the season begins is anybody’s guess.
Projection- Third in East
Jeremiah Masoli’s broken leg early on last season seemed to spell the end of what looked like a promising campaign, and arguably, that was the final nail in Paul LaPolice’s coffin.
If Masoli is healthy, the offense should be able to move the ball efficiently, while adding Jovan Santos-Knox to the linebacking corps should improve their ability to stop the run.
I expect them to be in the playoff race until the bitter end.
Montreal Alouettes
Key Additions
  • Cody Fajardo- Quarterback (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
  • Greg Ellingson- Wide Receiver (Winnipeg Blue Bombers)
  • Justin Lawrence- Offensive Lineman (Toronto Argonauts)
Key Subtractions
  • Geno Lewis- Wide Receiver (Edmonton Elks)
  • Trevor Harris- Quarterback (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
  • Jake Wieneke- Wide Receiver (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
Biggest Strength
I expect this season to be a smash-mouth running style of offense in Montreal under Jason Maas, and it looks to me like they have the personnel to be a solid rushing attack with William Stanback leading the way, while Walter Fletcher and Fajardo could be a handful as well.
For me, this group is as deep in the rushing game as anyone in the CFL, and the expectation will be on them to deliver as they lost a lot of big-play ability when Lewis left for Edmonton.
Biggest Weakness
Montreal’s secondary allowed the third-highest completion percentage in the 2022 regular season (67.6), and if their defensive line can’t get to opposing quarterbacks enough, they could be susceptible to big plays.
They allowed the second-most passing plays of 30+ yards last season, and they were not disciplined defensively, taking 77 penalties, 18 more than the next closest team.
Projection- Fourth in East
I don’t know if Jason Maas is cut out to be a head coach, he’s a clever offensive mind, but I worry he has too much on his plate having to oversee everything.
Their running game will have to be on constantly for them to be effective, and I worry there are not enough game-changers at the receiver position to help take them to the next level.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Key Additions
  • Bo Levi Mitchell- Quarterback (Calgary Stampeders)
  • James Butler- Running Back (BC Lions)
  • Jameer Thurman (Calgary Stampeders)
Key Subtractions
  • Dane Evans- Quarterback (BC Lions)
  • Micah Johnson- Linebacker (Saskatchewan Roughriders)
  • Julian Howsare- Defensive End (Calgary Stampeders)
Biggest Strength
Hamilton’s linebacking corps was huge in 2022, leading the league in rush defense (1,419), and they’ve bolstered that consistent unit with someone who should add a lot in Jameer Thurman.
The middle of this defensive unit is experienced and solid as ever, so don’t be surprised to see them force their opponents into plenty of second and long situations.
Biggest Weakness
It’s good that they added an established running back in James Butler because I wonder about their pass protection.
They were pretty solid in that department last season; however, I’m not convinced bringing back Joel Figueroa was the right move.
I don’t think it’ll be too much of a deterrent, but it’s an area that opposing teams could exploit.
Projection- Second in East
Mitchell has been a thorn in Hamilton’s side for years, and I think he’ll be able to mend some of those fences with Ti-Cat fans this year.
Duke Williams should be a tremendous big-play option, while Butler can add another dimension to this offense.
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By: Joel Lefevre

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