Stamps search for identity with Dickenson in charge

The Calgary Stampeders seem dramatically different heading into 2016 because of the team’s conservative pace of change for the better part of the last decade.

Continuity still runs through the winningest team in the CFL for the past eight seasons. Coaching dynamics may have altered this year, but prominent personnel haven’t.

Longtime coaches Dave Dickenson and DeVone Claybrooks have shifted into positions with more responsibility.

General manager John Hufnagel handed his head-coaching reins to Dickenson, who will call Calgary’s offence for a sixth season.

Claybrooks makes his debut as a CFL defensive co-ordinator after four years coaching the Stampeder defensive line.

Corey Mace stepping out of the player ranks to replace Claybrooks and the addition of Ryan Dinwiddie to oversee the quarterbacks are the only coaching adjustments this season.

Hufnagel may no longer be on the sidelines, but remains a presence as GM.

“Our general is still Huff. Now we’ve got a different colonel,” Claybrooks says. “The message hasn’t changed and the people delivering it hasn’t changed.

“There’s no question it’s Dave’s team and not Huff’s, but our bottom-line message is still the same. We win football games the Stampeder way.”

Dickenson’s relationship and communication with starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is well established.

Calgary is blessed with depth at that make-or-break position. Mitchell is considered one of the league’s elite QBs and Drew Tate is one of the most experienced backups in the CFL.

But the Stampeder dressing room is in transition.

Departed defensive backs Juwan Simpson, Keon Raymond and Karl McCartney, running back Jon Cornish and long snapper Randy Chevrier were long-serving veterans who set the tone for a team that made the playoffs every year and won two Grey Cups under Hufnagel.

Who will form Calgary’s new leadership group is a question still to be answered, but Mitchell, linebacker Deron Mayo and safety Josh Bell are candidates.

“I think it’s a little bit of a feel-out period on that,” Dickenson said. “We’re not as ‘rah-rah’ of a team right now.

“We’re in a bit of a youth movement, this team. We feel like we need to get younger and we have to build something, that’s the truth.”

Fullback Rob Cote of Cochrane, Alta., is now the longest-serving Stampeder in his 10th season.

“We’re going to have to make our own identity,” Cote said. “That’s the evolution of things. You grow and grow and get to a certain point and you’re either going to slowly drop off or you’re going to have to mix it up or change something in order to keep growing.

“I think that’s what we’re trying to do. New leaders will emerge and people will step up and fill those roles.”

Calgary opens on the road Saturday against the B.C. Lions followed by their home-opener July 1 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Stampeders and eventual Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos posted the league’s best records in 2015 at 14-4. Calgary fell 45-31 to their Alberta rival in the West final.

The experience and chemistry of Dickenson and Mitchell have Calgary dealing from a position of strength on offence.

In order to be the league’s highest-scoring team again, however, the Stampeders need to replace the combined 2,067 receiving yards that left with NFL-bound receivers Eric Rogers and Jeff Fuller.

Calgary is also depending on veteran running back Jerome Messam to stay healthy and maintain the ground game established by the now-retired Cornish.

– CP

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