The CFL's full training camps are set to get underway Sunday, June 2 (rookies have already reported), and there will be some significant changes in camp procedure this year thanks to the new league-wide limits imposed on contact practices. Beyond those, though, there will be plenty of other changes thanks to a tumultuous offseason that's seen substantial player, coach and executive movement. Here are five of the key storylines to watch as the full camps start.
1. How will Montreal's running back situation play out?
The Alouettes are coming off a strong season (11-7, with a narrow loss in the East Final), and most of their starting depth chart should carry over from 2012. There are some intriguing new additions, including Arland Bruce and Quinton Porter, but on the field, this team's going to look pretty similar to past editions. One area that's well worth watching is running back, though, where the team has an absolute glut of options. They brought Canadian RB Jerome Messam in from Edmonton during the offseason and drafted Calgary RB Steven Lumbala to serve as a non-import backup, but they have plenty of import options too, including veterans Chris Jennings and Noel Devine and NFL veteran Dominic Rhodes.
What makes this even more intriguing is that Montreal just brought back former all-star Brandon Whitaker. Whitaker may not be ready for a while thanks to offseason surgery, but he can be one of the league's best when healthy: he led Montreal in all-purpose yards last season despite suffering a season-ending injury in September. That leads to a crowded backfield with tons of options, and it's still a pileup despite the team cutting former Louisville star Victor Anderson Friday. Having depth is a good problem to have, but the team's going to have to make some tough decisions here: do they go non-import at RB with Messam/Lumbala, do they rely on Jennings or Rhodes until Whitaker's ready, and do they keep types like Jennings and Devine around as returners even if they're not playing tailback? This might be the most interesting positional battle anywhere in the CFL.
2. How will Dan Hawkins adjust to the CFL?
This year's going to mark a big adjustment for new Montreal head coach Dan Hawkins as well. Hawkins replaced the NFL-bound Marc Trestman in February, and that gave him even less time than most to get ready for camp. Hawkins marks an unconventional pick, as there aren't too many who have been given a CFL head coaching job without any CFL experience, and what really makes him unusual is that he's coming not directly from the coaching ranks, but from a job as an ESPN analyst. His Boise State tenure was impressive, his Colorado tenure much less so, but both are a long ways in the past. Will he be able to return to the pace of coaching, adjust to the professional ranks and adapt to the Canadian game?
3. How will Kent Austin work out in Hamilton?
The Austin situation bears similarities and differences to the aforementioned Hawkins one. Both have NCAA pasts, but unlike Hawkins, Austin had an extensive CFL background before that (he was a head coach for one year in Saskatchewan, an OC for three years in Toronto and a QB coach in Ottawa, plus a quarterback for 10 years with various teams). However, his recent tenure with Cornell didn't go all that well (the Big Red went 11-19 overall in three years under Austin), and he's been given a lot of power as a head coach/general manager. He's also already shown off his fiery personality, yelling at quarterback Henry Burris. Austin did well in his previous CFL stints, but how will he do as a personnel boss, and will he be able to readjust to the Canadian game?
4. Will Mike Reilly prove to be a bona fide CFL starter?
Edmonton's issues last year were far from all thanks to their quarterbacking, but the quarterback situation was problematic. Following the Ricky Ray trade, Steven Jyles, Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols all struggled at times, and the team didn't produce much offensively. They acquired highly-touted Lions' backup Mike Reilly in the offseason to upgrade that position, and although the Esks' brass wouldn't anoint him as the starter heading into camp, any other result would be surprising. What's going to be interesting to watch is how good Reilly looks in camp, though. He's shone in limited opportunities, but can he show that he can be a consistent, proven performer who's ready for the limelight?
5. What will B.C. do with all their receivers?
Similar to the Alouettes and their running backs, the Lions have a massive amount of talent in the receiving corps. That's a large reason why they traded Geroy Simon to Saskatchewan (cap space also played a role there), and it says something about their receiving depth that the main player they received in return (Justin Harper, another receiver, and one with NFL credentials) has already been cut. (That doesn't mean the Lions lost the trade, though: they still got a third-round pick, and they really didn't need Simon at his age and cap hit given the amount of receiving talent on this roster.) The receiving situation gets even more interesting with the return of Emmanuel Arceneaux from the NFL. With him, Shawn Gore, Marco Iannuzzi, Courtney Taylor, Ernest Jackson, Akeem Foster and others, this team is stacked with young and promising receiving options. Each of them will have to show that they deserve a roster spot and playing time, though. This should be an intense battle, and one well worth watching.