Although they haven’t quite formed an identity, the Calgary Stampeders are starting to come together after a pair of entertaining outings against the Ottawa RedBlacks.
We knew the Stamps could be an offensive team, based on who they returned from last season, but as with the case in every season, this group should have a character that is different from previous years.
If the Stamps are going to dominate the West Division like they did last year and in previous seasons, some things will probably need to change, although escaping two close contests with a win and a tie is a good showing from a Grey Cup rematch and rematch of the rematch.
Here are some things that stood out in the first two games:
• Defensive lineman Micah Johnson is still hugely underrated in this league. His name doesn’t often come up when talking about end-of-season accolades, but his ability to control the centre of the line can not be overstated. In the second meeting, he plugged the middle and created plenty of pressure, registering three huge sacks of Trevor Harris. For a mainly defensive tackle, picking up three sacks is definitely a career night. The Stamps have lost some defensive leaders this season, with halfback Brandon Smith and linebacker Deron Mayo out with injuries right now, but Johnson is one of those ‘carry the team on his back’ types.
• In his third season, Canadian receiver Lemar Durant has become an important part of the offence. In the two games, he’s caught nine passes for 168 yards a touchdown. When the Stamps needed a big play late in the home outing Thursday night, Bo Levi Mitchell went deep to Durant and he hauled in a 48-yarder to ice the game. The Stamps haven’t had a big-time impact Canadian in the receiving corps for several years but Durant looks like he has the tools to become just that. He’s really making them look good for picking him in the second round two years ago.
• It could be the adjustments on the offensive line, or just a slow start, but running back Jerome Messam isn’t running well right now. Messam didn’t have much going on against the RedBlacks, although his final numbers turned out OK due to a couple of first-down runs late in the second outing. Messam managed 51 yards on the ground, but on 14 carries for an average of 3.6 per handoff. There were times he looked tentative to step into the hole, or maybe no hole emerged. It certainly didn’t help that road grader Shane Bergman went out early with an injury. The Stamps are using an international at centre (Ucambre Williams) while Canadians Spencer Wilson (left) and Dan Federkeil (right) are manning the tackle spots. Even with a ‘slow’ start, Messam is on pace for more than 1,000 yards, so maybe we’re just splitting hairs.
• Rene Paredes has a problem with converts. Although the outstanding kicker made two converts in the opener, he missed three times in the return outing. He missed a chance to win the first game by going wide right on a 37-yarder in overtime. The missed converts didn’t come back to hurt the Stamps, but those 32-yarders from the middle of the field seem to stump Paredes, who is still the kicker you want with the game on the line. Paredes is being forced to use a new holder this season as Andrew Buckley took over for Drew Tate, so maybe it’s a matter of comfort level.
• The Stamps secondary has some work to do. Obviously there are changes with the veteran unit due to Smith being out and placed on the six-game injured list. Joe Burnett moved over to corner and was beat soundly by the dynamic Diontae Spencer on a deep bomb with less than three minutes left. Ciante Evans will probably need some time to get acclimatized to the halfback role Smith made his own for 10 years, while Tommie Campbell made his season debut but needs to shake off some rust before he returns to the all-star form of his rookie season. Even the steady Jamar Wall missed an open tackle on a Brad Sinopoli touchdown reception so there is work to be done here.
• As much as the secondary struggled, the defence as a whole has shown the ability to make game-changing plays. Middle linebacker Alex Singleton has a nose for the ball. He recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown (although the play was called back), and then he forced a fumble that was returned for a Maleki Harris major that actually counted. Just like the opener, when the game turned on a Wall forced fumble, the Stamps defence contributes a game-changer once in a while and can help put points on the board, much like they did last year.
• The Roy Finch suspension created an opportunity for others, and boy did Tunde Adeleke ever take advantage of it. The 25th overall draft pick was inserted on punt returns for Finch and he promptly took back one 71 yards for a major. With a spin and high step, Adeleke took off from coverage and couldn’t be caught. The Stamps were hoping the 21-year-old would perform as advertised and he didn’t disappoint when given the chance. As a Canadian, it should be easy for him to stay on the roster, which gives the Stamps an extra weapon when and if Finch gets activated.
• There was no DaVaris Daniels in the second outing, but the Stamps didn’t miss a beat. The go-to guy right now is Kamar Jorden, who has come into his own after a long wait from the Stamps. Jorden made a great leaping grab for the first of two touchdowns and was solidly open a lot of the night. The actual replacement for Daniels, Marken Michel, ran a great route for a touchdown reception of his own. Obviously the Stamps want Daniels in there long-term, but it’s great to see their depth is shining through.
• The special teams units had an up and down night on Thursday. They blocked a punt, but allowed a punt-return TD, then scored a punt return TD of their own. Add in Paredes shakiness on converts, and it was a roller-coaster ride on teams.
• Buckley managed to score on a quarterback sneak … from 60 yards out. It was a bit of a bizarre play, but the second-year QB’s athleticism gives him a chance at making something happen when he has the ball.
• Blame a long weekend or a Thursday night, but the home opener attendance wasn’t great. A crowd of 24,613 might be great in other cities but it’s disappointing in Calgary. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are up next however, and it’s on a Saturday night in late July. If that atmosphere is lacklustre, then there is a real problem, but the chances of that are pretty slim.
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