Elks should show marked improvement this year under head coach/GM Jones

The ’21 Hec Crighton Trophy winner’s dynamic skills and athleticism gave Elks fans hope for a franchise that last reached the CFL playoffs in 2019.

Jones, who led Edmonton to a ’15 Gray Cup title during his first stint as head coach, has repeatedly stated that Ford, who was picked eighth overall in the ’22 CFL draft, is still in the club’s plans. But he also made it crystal clear that Bethel-Thompson, a two-time Gray Cup champion in five seasons with Toronto, was now signed as the club’s starter.

Jones also took Canadian receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. from Toronto for American defensive lineman Jake Ceresna and added kicker Boris Bede and returner Javon Leake in an eventful offseason. And he reduced his coaching load by hiring Jason Shivers as defensive coordinator.

Jones isn’t the only CFL official who will be in the top spot this season. Shawn Burke is also entering his third season as Ottawa Redblacks GM and is looking to end a lengthy playoff drought.

Ottawa was last in the CFL post-season in 2018, losing 27-18 in the Gray Cup to the Calgary Stampeders. The Redblacks have finished fourth in the East Division each of the past four seasons.

Burke was also busy this season acquiring the rights to quarterback Dru Brown from Winnipeg and then signing him to a two-year deal. He starts ahead of Dustin Crum, who was a bright spot as a CFL rookie last season.

Dominique Rhymes, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, also returned to Ottawa after three seasons with the BC Lions. Rhymes began his CFL career with the Redblacks (2017-19).

But Ottawa won’t have 1,000-yard rusher Devonte Williams, who suffered an Achilles injury this offseason and could miss the entire campaign.

Ottawa also signed linebacker Adarius Pickett, the East Division’s best defensive player last season with Toronto.

Bob Dyce is entering his second full season as head coach, but his future in Ottawa is consistently tied to Burke.

Last season, Calgary reached the CFL playoffs for the 18th straight season – the longest streak in the league – despite posting its first losing record (6-12) since ’07. Head coach/GM Dave Dickenson isn’t in a hot spot, but he could be making a tough decision if the Stampeders struggle again or miss the postseason in the competitive West Division.

That could put Dickenson in a position to leave his coaching duties and focus on his GM post full-time. Calgary already appears to have a head coaching candidate on its staff in longtime special teams coordinator Mark Kilam, who enters his 20th year with the franchise and his fifth season with the additional title of assistant head coach.

Rick Campbell, BC’s head coach/co-GM, is safe after leading the club to consecutive 12-6 records and a last-place finish in the West Division. But expectations are high for the Lions as the ’24 Gray Cup will be played at BC Place Stadium in November.

BC’s last Gray Cup title came in 2011 at BC Place Stadium and also won at home in 1994.

A turnaround is expected in Regina after the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost their last seven games and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. Head coach Craig Dickenson’s contract was not renewed.

General Manager Jeremy O’Day was given a three-year extension and promptly hired Corey Mace, Toronto’s former defensive coordinator, as head coach. The Riders then turned to free agency to sign running back AJ Ouellette (Toronto), tackle Jermarcus Hardrick (Winnipeg), linebacker Jameer Thurman and defensive end Malik Carney (both Hamilton), among others.

Most important, however, is the return of veteran quarterback Trevor Harris after missing most of last year with a knee injury.

O’Day has the certainty of a long-term extension, but another seems unlikely if there is no improvement in the short term.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press