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Saskatoon Hilltops open training camp with more question marks than usual

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WATCH ABOVE: Over the years, the Saskatoon Hilltops have done a good job of replacing graduating talent, but as Ryan Flaherty reports, this season may present their biggest challenge yet – Aug 1, 2016

The Saskatoon Hilltops are facing a little more uncertainty than usual heading into the 2016 season.

The defending national champions opened training camp on Monday with an abnormally high number of openings on their roster. Over the years the Hilltops have done a solid job of replacing graduating talent but this season may present their biggest challenge yet.

“We’re starting at ground zero. It is a different feel. It doesn’t look the same, but I’m okay with that. We know we’ve got the right guys in the right spots, we know there’s some positions that are question marks,” head coach Tom Sargeant said.

READ MORE: Latest title cements Hilltops’ dynasty status

Fresh off their fifth national title in six years, the Hilltops are tasked with replacing several key pieces to their championship puzzle.

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The list of departed players includes receivers Evan Turkington, Evan Kopchynski and Chad Braun; all-Canadian defensive linemen Blake Adams and Matt Kozun; linebacker Quinn Pierce, defensive back Austin Thorarinson and placekicker Brett Thorarinsson.

But nowhere is the turnover more apparent than on the offensive line. Gone are all-Canadians Terry Thesen and Nathan Heide, and centre Jordan Hydomako.

“We’re going to find out what type of job we’ve done recruiting and what type of job my coaches have done the last couple of years getting these guys ready to play, because a lot of (the potential new starters) are in their third year. So it is their time. They’d better to be ready to go and if they’re not, we’re not going to be very patient waiting for that either,” Sargeant said.

Fourth-year Hilltop Tyler Hoath is one of the veterans expected to take a leadership role on the line this season.

“I think these guys are very confident with what they can do. They know their boundaries, they know their limits and I doubt those limits will be challenged,” he said.

READ MORE: Kevin Glenn and Montreal Alouettes hammer Saskatchewan Roughriders 41-3

The new-look O-line will be key to the Hilltops success this season. One thing already working in the unit’s favour is the guy they’re responsible for keeping upright.

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Quarterback Jared Andreychuk is entering his fifth and final year with the team, and he’s confident the new starters will be up to the challenge.

“(The coaches) put a lot of work into getting guys ready. There’s some exciting young guys. Lots of speed in the line, maybe not as much size as before but the guys are going to be good,” he said.

The vote of confidence from Saskatoon’s star pivot should help to soothe some of that pre-season uncertainty.

Training camp runs until Aug. 4, culminating with the team’s annual alumni game at 7 p.m. CT.

The Hilltops open the regular season Aug. 14 when they host the Winnipeg Rifles.

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