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CALGARY-New blood.

New ideas.

New philosophies.That might be the best way to sum up the 2008 Canadian Football League season, and how it's already had an effect on 2009.When the '08 campaign began, there was a sense of renewal around the league as four teams — Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Saskatchewan — headed into the new season with coaches in their first year running the show in the CFL.The fact that two of those teams reached the Grey Cup — Calgary's John Hufnagel prevailed over Montreal's Marc Trestman — obviously sent a message that it's not a terrible thing to take a risk.Yes, it didn't work so hot in Toronto, where Rich Stubler flamed out midway through the season.

But when the Argos turned to a familiar face, Don Matthews, to right the ship, they lost eight straight to close out the season, emphasizing the point that recycling coaches is no longer the answer.Thus, another injection of new coaching blood: Richie Hall gets his long-overdue shot in Edmonton; Mike Kelly takes the helm in Winnipeg (and immediately establishes himself as the go-to guy in the league for interesting notebook fodder); and Bart Andrus establishes a nearly all first-year coaching staff with the Argos.How will it all shake down? Better to ask that question on Nov.

23, the day after the divisional finals.In the meantime, here are 10 other questions to ponder as the CFL season kicks off Wednesday:1.

Are the Eskimos a better team?They're certainly a tougher team under Hall than they were last year under Danny Maciocia, who was kicked upstairs to the general manager's office in the off-season.

There were times under Maciocia when the Esks could be accused of trying to be too tricky instead of simply playing tough.

That won't be an issue under Hall, one of the most respected defensive coaches of the past decade.Still, so much depends on the skill positions.

Can Ricky Ray stay healthy? More intriguingly, can Jesse Lumsden stay healthy? Those two players, more than anyone, will decide Edmonton's fortunes.

It doesn't help that the offensive line is in tatters because of injuries.Defensively, the Eskimos have upgraded with the signing of linebacker Maurice Lloyd, but that's an awfully young secondary that needs to learn in a hurry.2.

Is it easy being Green?Depends on whom you ask.

The CFL's most intriguing soap opera these days takes place in Regina, where the 'Riders constantly seem to be embroiled in a quarterback controversy since trading Kerry Joseph.And it doesn't help matters that Saskatchewan constantly seems to be battling injury issues, the latest of which will keep Gene Makowsky, the anchor of the offensive line, and star running back Wes Cates out of the lineup; Makowsky is out for up to four weeks, while Cates is a week-to-week issue.Then there's the question of whether Eric Tillman's legal issues will prove to be a distraction to this team.

The Saskatchewan general manager faces a sexual assault trial, and is on administrative leave from the team.

But you can be assured he is still taking an active role with this team, even if he's not setting foot in Mosaic Stadium.3.

Will Bart be a bust?You can't fault the Argos for being willing to take a risk, but this is exceptional.

Hufnagel, at least, had a strong CFL past to draw upon when he arrived in Calgary.

And Trestman, who had no CFL experience, surrounded himself with three-down experience in assembling his staff in Montreal.Andrus, on the other hand, went off the board.

In fairness, he does have special-teams co-ordinator Steve Buratto on staff to teach him some of the nuances, and linebackers coach Ed O'Neill spent a year as Hamilton's defensive co-ordinator.But, wow, that's a steep learning curve to overcome for 80 per cent of the staff.

Coaches and players will tell you that football is football, regardless of which side of the border it's played on, and it still comes down to throwing, catching, running and tackling.We'll see.4.

Does Kelly have a mute button?Hopefully not.

The new Bombers coach hasn't been shy about voicing his opinion, and on one hand you wonder if that's going to rub some coaches the wrong way.

On the other, how refreshing is it for a coach to be willing to be entertaining and speak his mind? Kelly seems to understand that this is a game, this is entertainment, it's about selling tickets.

For instance, his well-publicized, and apparently tongue-in-cheek comments about his disdain for the shotgun offence; that it's for "flag football, and guys that haven't coached quarterbacks very well." The next day at practice, the Bombers spent a pile of time operating out of the shotgun; so much for flag football.But it's also about winning, and that's the real question in Winnipeg.

Kelly rubbed some people the wrong way by releasing quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie during training camp, and Stefan LeFors has to prove he's ready for prime time.Even if Winnipeg struggles, at least the news conferences will be entertaining.5.

Is Hamilton finally a playoff team?Why not? Outside of Montreal, there are no sure bets in the East Division, and if you're looking for an early candidate as the league's most improved team, the Ticats are it.Now, before you go planning Grey Cup parades in Steeltown, this is still an average football team on the best of days, but that's an improvement over the past few years when injuries, controversy and a general malaise all combined to produce just 15 wins in 72 games over the past four years.Quarterback Quinton Porter showed some good signs toward the end of last season, and while tailback Kenton Keith won't be back until November, wee Terry Caulley might turn some heads this season.The Ticats, too, stand to add by subtraction after letting go quarterback Casey Printers and deciding against re-signing running back Jesse Lumsden.

Undoubtedly, they were distractions last season, and quite likely the Tabbies are better off without them.6.

Is Cameron Wake irreplaceable?C'mon.

This is the Canadian Football League.

Anyone can be replaced, and B.C.

Lions coach Wally Buono is just five wins away from breaking the coaching victories record for a reason: he knows how to restock the shelves.Yes, losing Wake — not to mention Stefan Logan, not to mention Jason Clermont, not to mention Otis Floyd, just to name a few — and his 23 sacks will be a chore, but Buono and his director of player personnel, Roy Shivers, have a history of being able to find talent."I'll give you my classic line: I didn't lose sleep over any of these guys," Buono told the Vancouver Sun.

"I love them all.

But in 1995 (when Buono was still in Calgary), when I got a phone call from the league that we must give Doug Flutie to Toronto because our owner (Larry Ryckman) was in default, we still survived.

I came to the conclusion that we're all replaceable."7.

Does Anthony Calvillo still have it?Based on his regular-season numbers in 2008, a resounding yes.

That's not the issue with the 36-year-old Calvillo.

He can still thread a needle with his passes, he can still avoid sacks, he can still take advantage of a symbiotic relationship with Ben Cahoon that has been a sheer joy to watch over the years.But, can he do all those things in Grey Cup games? That's the real question.The future Hall-of-Famer is just 1-5 in CFL title games, and has lost four in a row, including last November on his (sort-of) home turf in Montreal.

He was 29-for-38 for 352 yards in that game, but with no touchdowns and two interceptions.Yes, Calvillo is the pro's pro.

A consummate quarterback.

But you have to think that his Grey Cup frustration will start wearing on him at some point.8.

Will Rob Murphy make a difference in Toronto?There's a piece of videotape floating around team offices that features the Argos' first offensive play in their first pre-season game.

Murphy, the import left tackle signed in the off-season from B.C., is in a passing stance, and as a defensive end approaches, Murphy simply takes a vicious straight-arm swing and plants the rusher on the turf.It's a typical Murphy play.

Is he the best tackle in the league? Nope; Calgary's Mike Labinjo exposed him badly during that memorable West Division final goal-line stand last November at McMahon Stadium.But what Murphy does is set a tone.

The Lions' O-line was talked about as one of the league's nastiest over the past few years, and don't discount how important a message that can be to send to opposing defences.Now Murphy will try to instil that nastiness in Toronto, and the early returns look promising.9.

Is the CFL headed in the right direction?This time last year, we were wondering about what kind of effect the intrusion of the Buffalo Bills into the Toronto market might have.

As predicted in this space, it was a non-story.

The CFL is far more resilient than we give it credit for these days, and the fact that the league is coming off one of its finest seasons, economically and artistically, speaks volumes.The tweaks continue.

Getting the fans involved in voting for proposed rule changes was a stroke of genius (whether the fans had any real effect is a moot point; what counts is the feeling that you're involved).

The retro jersey campaign will be a hit.And the relationship with TSN is thriving (despite the unfortunate decision to move the division finals to Saturday; as of right now, the schedule says they'll be moved back to their traditional Sunday home).All we need is for Ottawa to get its act together, and for someone in either Quebec City, Halifax or Moncton to build a stadium.10.

Can the Stampeders repeat? And can they win on home turf?History would indicate the answer is no.

There hasn't been a repeat Grey Cup champion since 1997 when the Argos pulled it off.And as for being the home team in the Grey Cup, well, yikes: since the CFL started rotating the championship game from city to city in 1955, the host city has qualified just nine times in 54 years, and won just three times — none since the B.C.

Lions did it in 1994.In other words, it's a daunting challenge.But, this might be the year the stars line up.

You could argue that the Stamps won ahead of schedule last year in Montreal, and that perhaps Hufnagel's greatest achievement last season was being able to keep his players' focus merely on the next game instead of looking at the big picture.

That's precisely the approach that is needed in 2009.Yes, history isn't on the Stamps' side, but it says here this is the team to pull it off.canwest news service© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
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