When Baltimore's new Canadian Football League team waded into the available talent pool for players, Roy Shivers felt the ripples from as far away as Calgary. Then he felt a twinge of jealousy.
"I'd love to be in their position," the assistant general manager of the Calgary Stampeders said of the CFL's Class of 1994 expansionists. "I kind of envy them."
This was after he lost two of his best defensive backs -- cornerback Karl Anthony and halfback Ken Watson -- to Baltimore, after he watched the three new teams in the league load up with American-born players the CFL couldn't touch.
When Baltimore, Las Vegas and Shreveport began assembling their teams this year, they had one big advantage: They didn't have to abide by the CFL import rule that limits Canadian teams to 17 American players on a roster of 37.
"I think it will really begin to show midway through the season when those players begin to grasp the Canadian game," Shivers said. "I don't expect to see them dominate right off the bat, but I expect to see them play very good football midway through the season. If they didn't compete, I'd be very disappointed."
The jury is still out on which expansion team did the best job. But the early consensus is that Baltimore and the Las Vegas Posse have amassed the most talent and are ahead of the pace the Sacramento Gold Miners established when they came into the league a year ago.
"What became evident to us is that it is a crap shoot to begin with," said Tom Bass, president of the Gold Miners. "Not only are you looking for athletes to play certain positions, but you're also looking for the correct chemistry. That takes a while to come together.
"The hardest area to get stabilized is your offensive line. Last year we were not able to use the same offensive line [in consecutive games] for six weeks."
After going 6-12 in their inaugural season, the Miners revised their approach, at least on defense. This off-season they changed starters at eight of 24 positions and went after smaller, quicker defensive players.
It is a mistake Baltimore's team didn't make under coach Don Matthews and director of player personnel Jim Popp, who signed six one-time CFL all-stars on defense.
"Don Matthews is more of a defensive type coach," said Mike McCarthy, the Ottawa Rough Riders' personnel chief. "His forte is defense. In signing [Jearld] Baylis, [O.J.] Brigance, [Ken] Benson, Karl Anthony, he went with experience. They have a few field generals who will be able to control the situation."
MA McCarthy saw all three expansion teams in the preseason. What
impressed him in Vegas' 47-12 rout of the British Columbia Lions was the Posse's offense, especially the tandem of quarterback Anthony Calvillo and receiver Tamarick Vanover.
"Vanover will be exceptional once he learns to catch the ball," McCarthy said. "The kid can go, and he's an exceptional [kick] return man. Calvillo played well, too."
Shivers found speed as the common denominator on the building teams.
"Vegas has speed at all the skill positions," he said. "At Baltimore, Matthews signed a lot of free agents from the CFL. I assume Shreveport is starting Terrence Jones at quarterback, who was with us four years ago. They are a mystery team to everybody."
If Baltimore has an advantage among the expansion teams, Shivers said it was in having Matthews, a 17-year CFL veteran coach, calling the shots.
"I think Don would do it as good as anyone because he's so familiar with the CFL game," Shivers said. "He did a good job signing free agents defensively. [Ron] Meyer and his staff at Vegas seemed to put a good offensive product together."
McCarthy, who had to put together an expansion-like team after new ownership moved in at Ottawa, said he expects Baltimore to be in the pack behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Eastern Division. "I see Baltimore in the playoff picture," he said.
"I think these expansion teams all have exceptional talent. They can go through 30 offensive linemen to find the five or six guys they want. They can go through 40 linebackers to find the three or four they want. To find 25 Canadians, we have to go through 40 players. It's not fair, but it gives great spirit to the Canadian kids who line up against Americans."
Shivers, whose team competes in the Western Division, said he believes Baltimore will be a playoff team, and didn't rule out the possibility of it reaching the Grey Cup.
"Anything is possible," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me. I think Don is probably going to make it tough on a lot of people in the Eastern Division. I think he'll make a run at Winnipeg and Hamilton in the East. If he doesn't make a run, I'll be very surprised."