The first few days of Calgary Stampeders training camp is in the books, and there is very little of big news emerging from McMahon Stadium.
Considering that most of camp news is injury related, that might be a good thing for the defending West Division champions, who entered this spring with a few lingering issues already and don’t need any more to deal with right now.
With their two pre-season games coming quickly (June 6 at home to B.C., and then June 11 at Edmonton), the Stamps have to move and make decisions faster than normal.
There will be a few answers the Stamps need answered over the next few weeks, so we’ve picked out five of them:
Who will step up as the backup quarterback?
For the past several seasons, it was veteran Drew Tate waiting in the wings behind Bo Levi Mitchell, and that gave the team a sense of comfort. Mitchell has proved to be quite durable in his tenure as the team’s starting quarterback, but the Stamps do put their second and third quarterbacks into some key situations (see fourth quarter of the Grey Cup). Will local product Andrew Buckley continue with the same role he had as last year, which meant he ran the short-yardage unit? Buckley was brought down short of a touchdown in the loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks in a key turning point play. Buckley is up against Mitchell Gale, who has CFL experience with Toronto and Saskatchewan, and newcomer Ricky Stanzi, who has plenty of NFL experience. The two pre-season games will be crucial to see which of the three emerges as the No. 2 man.
Will there be any hangover from the Grey Cup loss?
The Stamps can talk all they want about leaving the crushing defeat in the past, but it will play a factor this season. It could serve as motivation, seeing as how the core players are all returning and have stewed over the loss all off-season. The 2016 Stamps went from threatening the record for best record in the 18-game era to walking off BMO Field with their heads down, knowing they missed out on a huge opportunity to be an all-time great team. There is a long regular season ahead before they can make anyone forget about last November.
So how will this team improve during the regular season?
Exactly how will this team make an encore is something they need to work out. Mitchell expects to keep improving, and at age 27 you can believe he hasn’t yet hit his prime. But being better than 15-2-1 will be a tough challenge. Everything went the Stamps way last season, even when they got down in some games and managed thrilling comebacks. It will be tough for things to fall into place again, but they have to work on building a new identity for the new season, and that will be worked out now.
Can the offensive line be patched together?
There are plenty of players vying for the money position on the offensive line. CFL veteran Randy Richards is the favourite to start at left tackle, but this will be something to watch during the pre-season. If more than one international player stands out during camp, there is a chance the Stamps start another American to patch over some injury situations. The easiest way to cover for injured Canadians is to add another American, but when at full health, the Stamps should be playing four homegrown players on the line. Over the past couple of seasons, the offensive line has often been a mishmash, but if the same five guys can play regularly, then that will be ideal for what head coach Dave Dickenson wants to do on that side of the ball.
Are there any spots for youngsters on defence?
Last year, the Stamps had a rookie defensive co-ordinator in DeVone Claybrooks, but there were plenty of ‘coaches’ on the field, which helped with rookies or sophomores in three starting positions. The same thing should be true this year. The secondary is especially veteran now. Halfback Brandon Smith is in his 10th season, while Jamar Wall is entering his sixth season. Those players are 32 and 29, while three of the other starting players — Joshua Bell (32), Joe Burnett (30) and Tommie Campbell (29) — are not exactly young in terms of football years. With Deron Mayo and Junior Turner working back from injuries to start camp, there are a couple ‘openings’ but virtually the entire defence is the same as last year. Campbell has yet to arrive in camp due to an off-season arrest, but he’s been cleared of charges and should get here on Sunday. At some point the Stamps will need to turn over the defence to youngsters, but it probably isn’t this year.
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